Kuta, Lombok- While Kuta Bali is pretty disgusting, Kuta Lombock is absolute paradise. For around $25-a-day you can eat mouth-watering Indonesia food, surf, and have a place to stay with decently comfortable and clean beds, as well as WIFI. Whichever direction you head from the main town you are surrounded by idyllic beaches only seen in dreams or on post cards. Kuta is literally paradise.
Food - Indonesian food is delicious and diverse. Whether you want seafood, fried rice, noodle soup, or an array of vegetarian dishes, you are golden. Most main dishes cost less than $2. Add in the fact there is an abundance of fresh fruit for juice or desert, and you will realize why Indonesia food is one of the best in Southeast Asia.
Boat travel - If you prefer salt water and fresh air to cramped buses and overnight trains, Indonesia is for you. With the nation being comprised of islands, traveling from one to next is definitely possible by boat. The best of the best? A four day, four night trip from Lombok to Flores that includes a stop in Komodo National Park.
Music - While most touristy bars throughout Southeast Asia offer some live music, Indonesia is a hotbed of talent. With many bands from the island nation having made it to international acclaim, the degree of musicianship needed to play at local bars and clubs is very high. Live music in Indonesia, be it at a western bar or a local concert hall, is real good. If you like music, you will like Indonesia.
Komodo Dragons - Apparently the fabled creature only exists on a few small islands in the eastern part of Indonesia. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize this before I came, but getting to see them was pretty incredible. While the lazy ones that hangout next to the visitor center on the island of Komodo aren’t that impressive, seeing them in the wild is a treat. The lucky traveler will come on one of the few days in the month where the Komodo actually feed.
Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang – While not everyone makes it over to Sumatra, the big island known for its strict Islamic law has lot to offer. While the driving from destination to destination is terrifying, getting to visit the volcanic Lake Toba and the river city of Bukit Lawang is something special. One offers a chilled out vibe, great views, and great food, while the other offers tubing, trekking, and orangutans.
Trekking up volcanoes – What else needs to be said? You get to walk up effing volcanoes! Do it!
Snorkeling/diving with Manta Rays – They come so close you can touch them. It is almost scary how interested they are in people, but it is also awesome! Head to Nusa Lembongan to get your underwater fix and also get to learn a thing or two about some of the most groundbreaking research on Mantas in the world.
People - While some of the places in Southeast Asia have been hit so hard by some not-so positive tourism (including Indonesia) leading to a dislike of foreigners, Indonesian has yet to be jaded. In fact, while the Indonesians have good reason to dislike travelers, the truth is, they don’t. Indonesians are incredibly kind, loving, and friendly. They are still interested in tourists, and even if you don’t find yourself buying what vendors are offering, you can normally find a warm conversation. Especially if you venture away from Bali (even though most Balinese are great), the locals are incredible. Learning some Bahasa Indonesia, sharing some Bintangs, and laughing with locals is the best experience you can have while visiting Indo.
Photo courtesy of University of Texas