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Guide to Choosing the Best Travel Insurance for Indonesia

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
When I speak with short-time travelers in Indonesia, I am baffled to realize only a few have a proper travel insurance or a medical evacuation insurance. Among long-term residents and expats, there are also many who do not have health insurance, particularly among those without a working permit.

The objective of this article is to convince you that spending a few dollars per day on an insurance is not a waste of money. Even if you are on a tight budget, you can get a cheap one (as low as 3$ per day if you take a yearly subscription - check here) that will at least save your ass in case of a serious illness or accident. If you cannot afford it, then you probably should not travel to Indonesia.

Why you need a travel insurance in Indonesia
While you certainly need insurance everywhere, there are even more reasons to get it when you travel in Bali, Jakarta or the rest of Indonesia:

You are exposed to more risks
There are several risks specifically related to being in Indonesia. Some are unfortunately too common: Dengue fever, malaria, dog bites, food poisoning or motorbike accidents are really not that rare. If you've lived in the country long enough, you probably know a few people who had these problems.

There are generally lower safety standards in everything in Indonesia: Construction, food, transportation, roads, activities, etc. This increases the likelihood of an unfortunate event as well. You can read more tips about this topic here: WorldNomads Travel Safety Tips.

Medical care in Indonesia is very expensive
According to the AAMI, a day in an intensive care unit in Indonesia can cost up to 3,000$. Even in the cheapest hospitals you can expect to pay 800$/day.

Facebook groups like Bali Expats or Jakarta Expats are full of horrible stories of people who had their lives ruined in a few minutes because they did not plan their trips properly. Here are just a few examples (click on the photos for the whole story):
Some of them actually had an insurance, but they didn't read the fine prints. Not having a a motorbike license is often a reason for not being reimbursed for instance. I will give you tips later in this review on what you should be looking for to make sure your risky activities are covered.

More banal problems can be quite costly as well. Among my friends, several ended up in shitty situation for common accidents or diseases:

First one hit his head by diving into a pool: 1000$ in Sanglah Hospital (local one) for a few stitches and X-rays.

Second one got bit by a street dog in Legian: 3,000$ including anti-rabies medication.

Third one got a very bad case of dengue fever combined with malaria. He went into a coma and he had to stay 4 weeks in hospital. Total bill: 25,000 dollars. Luckily, he was covered and everything was paid for. It was after this unfortunate event that I rushed to get an insurance actually.

Private hospitals will never accept you if you cannot pay
In Indonesia, the decent hospitals are run as a strict business and not a charity. If you arrive bleeding to death after an accident, the doctors will not treat you until they make sure you can pay. If you can't, you'll be left outside. It's as simple as that.

An American will probably understand that. For a French, this concept is a bit hard to grasp as we are used to get healthcare for free.

Hospitals will overcharge you
You should know that as a foreigner with or without a working permit, you will be charged more for medical treatment in Indonesia. Expect to pay at least 2 times more than locals, more if you don't have a resident visa.

Many doctors have a poor ethic. If they can find a way to inflate your final bill, they will probably do it. It is a bit like going to a random auto repair shop in Europe: Most likely you will be charged for stuff you don't need.

Serious accidents will need a medical evacuation
Since many hospitals cannot treat the most serious patients, medical evacuation is often needed. To give you an idea of current prices:

Evacuation from Indonesia to Singapore: From 25,000$ to 50,000$
Evacuation from Indonesia to Australia: From 40,000$ to 70,000$
Evacuation to Europe: Up to 100,000$

Don't expect compensatory damages
The concept of third party responsibility is foreign to most Indonesians. If you are hit by an Indonesian drunk driver, don't expect you'll get any money from the person who was responsible. Actually, even if he is at fault, he could possibly still manage to get money out from you if he is a well-connected assh*le. The same thing apply if you have an accident within your hotel or while doing an activity with a company. If you are dealing with a local company, don't even think about getting compensatory damages.

What types of insurance do you need in Indonesia?
The type of insurance you need in Indonesia depends on your activity (working, retired, tourist, etc), your length of stay, your activities and your area of travel.

Travel Medical Insurance:
An insurance that will cover your medical bills for a limited duration (usually less than 90 days) when you are traveling outside of your home country. If you are traveling to Indonesia, it is the minimum you should get. For expats it is not necessary as long as they have an expat insurance.

Travel Insurance:
A generic term for an insurance that will cover several aspects of a trip: Medical problems, but also flight cancellation, theft, lost luggage, etc.

There are several websites where you can get a price estimate for your travel insurance in Indonesia. You can check WorldNomads which is a partner of Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. Among the famous ones you also have SmartTravel from AXA and Travel Guard from AIG.

You can find more options in your home country. The advantage of WorldNomads is that it is very easy to apply online and you do it even if you've already left home.

You can also search through the comparator Insure My Trip.

International Health Insurance or Expat Medical Insurance:
Travel insurance is for travelers and covers emergency situations. If you live permanently in Indonesia, you need coverage for regular health expenses such as dental care, optics, medical check ups, pregnancies, cancer treatment, etc. Those are typically not included in Travel Insurance policies.

Expats working in Indonesia should subscribe to the mandatory BPJS health insurance scheme. It is cheap, but don't expect to much from it. Many will also have their employer's insurance.

For the other expats without a company plan, you can either purchase a normal travel insurance for long term travel (but then you won't be covered for non-emergency situations) or purchase a dedicated Expat Health Insurance from a private company.

The latter is usually more expensive, but you should consider that you'll get more reimbursements as well. Reputed companies include Allianz, April-International, AXA, GMS, etc.

Repatriation/Medical Evacuation Insurance: An insurance that guarantees your medical evacuation will be paid for if needed.  The cost is usually reasonable, as little as 150$ per year, and it can save you tens of thousands of dollars. Remember that for serious injuries, you will not be able to be treated properly in Indonesia. This insurance is particularly needed if you plan on visiting remote areas.

If you purchase an insurance from WorldNomads, it is already included.

Things to check before purchasing a travel insurance

The obvious first step before purchasing a travel insurance is to make sure you don't already have one. You are probably aware that when you buy your plane tickets with a Visa or Mastercard, you are entitled to some kind of (limited) insurance. If you are traveling on a tour group, you may also already have one automatically added (though you can refuse it and buy your own instead).

Once you know for sure that you will need a travel insurance in Indonesia, you should be careful to check the following:

What is the maximum payable amount that I can get?
I think 200,000$ is the minimum amount to get considering how high some hospitals bills can be in Indonesia.

Is the medical evacuation included or not?
If not you will have to pay extra with another company. This is an essential part of your insurance and you need a high ceiling as well (minimum 150,000$).

Can you contact your insurance company 24/7? Can they approve a quotation 24/7?
This is a must in case of a major emergency. If you cannot prove quickly that you can pay for your treatment, the best hospitals may refuse you.

Do you have to advance the money?
Some insurance can give a guarantee to the hospital that your bill will be covered so you don't need to pay upfront.

Are there any exclusions?
There are always a lot of exclusions (things that the insurance does not cover). Read carefully to avoid any surprises. If you are planning to do dangerous sports and outdoor activities in Indonesia, ask for instance if surfing, scuba diving, diving, rafting, hiking, jet-skiing or paragliding are included.

What is the motorbike situation?
Motorbikes are a major cause of accidents for foreigners in Indonesia. Be careful as almost all insurers require a valid international license for the driver (even if you are a passenger). A specific motorbike license is also required for vehicle with more than 150cc. If you were drunk, high or not wearing a helmet at the time of your accident, you can also say good-bye to any potential claims.

What if you hurt someone?
Check if you can get reimbursement for third party damages.

The website of WorldNomads provides a lot of great tips to help you choose the right insurance. You can also make a simulation for your trip so you'll know exactly how much it will cost you and how long you will be protected. Don't forget to read the fine print very carefully to make sure you won't have any unexpected surprise.

How to save money on travel insurance?
The companies I've mentioned before are quite affordable. You'll only pay a few dollars per day for coverage. You can try to make a test on WorldNomads to see how much you will pay depending on your age, your country of origin, and the number of people you want to protect.
Click to get a a travel insurance quote from WorldNomads
If the amount is really to big for you, there are a few ways to lower the price even more:

Buy longer
This need some commitment, but naturally the longer you purchase, the cheaper it get. I made a test on WorldNomads for myself and got the following:

  • 7 days travel insurance to Indonesia (for a French): 26.70 euros (3.8 euros per day)
  • 4 weeks travel insurance to Indonesia (for a French): 93 euros (3.3 euros per day)
  • 365 days travel insurance to Indonesia (for a French): 804.30 euros (2.2 euros per day)
Make your own simulation here: Quote from WorldNomads.

Buy for several people at once
If you travel with your girlfriend or your family, you should choose the same reputed company for everybody.

Don't insure flights and valuables
This is what I do. Considering I travel alone with cheap flight tickets, last minute hotels bookings and few valuables, I don't really care about getting reimbursements on those things. The only thing I care about is not jeopardizing my whole life with an accident I can't afford to have.

Choose high deductibles and excess
Your insurance deductible and your excess are minimum amounts your insurance will charge you on any claims, not matter what. If your deductible for an accident is 1,000$, the insurance will reimburse you any medical expenses above 1,000$.

The philosophy of choosing a high deductible is the same as the previous point: It is for people who only want help if they are in big trouble. Having to pay 1,000$ from your own pocket sucks, but you can always find the money.

Don't buy it from your airline
When you book a flight, your airline or your tour operator will offer you to buy an insurance. Those are usually pretty bad deals and the prices are not interesting.

You can use Insure My Trip to search for the best deals. Be careful with cheap insurance companies though. If they can give a very cheap price, it probably means they don't reimburse much. You cannot have it all.

Rely on your credit card insurance only
This is possible but you must know the limitations of this strategy. In general, when you pay your trip with a classic Visa or Mastercard, you get 3 months of insurance with maximum reimbursement of less than 15,000$ (please check again with your banker to be sure). This ceiling is really too low in my opinion. You also have a lot of restrictions on what you can claim as well as high deductibles.

What insurance do you use?
This article would be greatly improved with your input. Which insurance did you choose for traveling to Indonesia? Did you succeed in making claims? If you are an expat, do you have a health insurance? Do you recommend it?

Personally, I have an expat insurance company that only insure French nationals. The name is CFE, if you are French and need more information about it you can email me I pay 100 euros per month and I've made 2 claims that went well. The main one was for a gallbladder infection that kept me a week in Kasih Ibu hospital in Denpasar. The total bill was 7,000$ for 8 days and I had 5,000$ reimbursed.

Online Prostitution is Booming in Indonesia

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
With the current crackdown on red light districts and massage parlours everywhere in the country, for instance in Kalijodo in Jakarta or Dolly in Surabaya, online prostitution has been booming in Indonesia.

Surprisingly, sexual services are not necessarily advertised through specific adult sites. Many of these, like the famous Adult Friend Finder, are blocked by the government and only available if you download a VPN (see Best VPN for Indonesia to see how to do). Prostitutes, pimps and mafias use mainstream websites and apps instead like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, BeeTalk, Instagram, Badoo or Tinder. If you are using any of these, you have probably noticed that there are more and more profiles of prostitutes, to the point that it can ruin the experience for "normal" users.

This is the case on WeChat. They have an interesting feature called "Look Around" that can be used to meet people near you. In Indonesia, it has been completely hijacked by organized online prostitution. As soon as you turn it on, you'll receive chat requests from various "spas" and "massage girls" offering to visit you in your room 24/7. You can barely see normal people anymore.

On the dating app Badoo, it has become very difficult to meet girls who are not looking for money, directly or indirectly. They rarely mention openly that they are prostitutes but they will often say in their profiles things like: "Butuh uang (need money)", "Tidak suka cowok pelit (I don't like stingy guy), "I like shopping", etc.
Typical "soft" prostitution profile on Badoo ("I like generous guys who can make me happy")
Some are more straight-forward and will write: "Open for BO (Booking Out) to your hotel for LT /ST (Long Time/Short Time).

In this case, it is likely that the person behind the profile is a pimp and not the actual girl. It's only after you agree to a transaction and pay a down payment (DP) that he will contact the girl, pick her up, and bring her to your place. In some cases, the girls have a hotel room or an apartment where they can meet customers. Kalibata City is famous for having many apartments used entirely for online prostitution. 

On Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, prostitutes can easily be found using some specific hashtags such as #bokingcewek#wanitabayaran, #cewekbispak and many more. Those looking for girls in a specific location will add a city name, for instance: #bispaksurabaya (bispak means "bisa pakai" = "can be used"). For any of these keywords, hundreds of girls profiles will show up.

They manage their fan pages in a professional way, teasing their fans with pictures and exclusive videos, posting screenshots of clients bank transfers, giving information about their whereabout and their availability.
A girl post the proof of bank transfer from a client and informs she has 2 slots available
Some will also do packages and promotions, just like any real, well-organized massage parlour, spa or bordello. On Twitter, Riri Manja 28 does a phone sex promotion for April for instance:
Phone sex promotion from a girl on twitter
Prostitutes and their pimps rely also on Whatsapp, Line and BlackBerry Messenger to communicate with clients and set up meeting locations and time. 

Recently, some bigger groups have emerged, managing several girls at once. For instance, the Silvi Group that operates on instagram has a network of girls in Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya and Palembang. Go Crot operates on twitter, managing dozens of girls in Surabaya.
Advertising for Silvi Group on Instagram
The Police has made very few arrests so far. It is probably impossible for them to stop this trend as both the demand and offer for prostitution is so high in Indonesia.

Considering this though, I wonder if it is a smart move for the Government to go ahead with its plan to close down all red-light districts by 2019. We see that the sex trade will just move from the streets to the virtual world.

Are the girls safer online? Wouldn't it better, as Ahok suggested, to legalize prostitution and to organize it in dedicated spaces? This could make the job easier for the Government and NGOs to protect sex workers from abuse/violence and to give them counseling and regular medical check-ups.

7 Reasons Thailand Attracts More Tourists Than Indonesia

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
Thailand welcomed over 29 million foreign visitors in 2015 while Indonesia only had 10.41 million. Almost 3 times less. 

This is quite an abnormal situation considering Indonesia is a much larger country with better beaches, better surfing, better diving and better hiking. The cultural and natural diversity of Indonesia is unmatched in Southeast Asia. There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Indonesia and only 5 in Thailand. If only Indonesian cuisine was more famous, it could compete with Thai food (similar Malaysian food was named 6th Best in the World by CNN). Indonesians are just as nice as Thai people, and they speak English better. 

Despite this potential, why are there so few foreigners visiting Indonesia compared to Thailand? 

1) Bad Location and Less Flights
As with any businesses, location is always the main factor to explain success or failure. Thailand is closer from China, from the rest of Asia and from Europe. Unsurprisingly, it receives more visitors from all the countries in those areas.

For a European, a Chinese, an Indian, a Japanese or a Russian, it is always shorter, cheaper and easier to go to Thailand.

Logically, the only two nations that send more tourists to Indonesia are Singapore and Australia, both its direct neighbors. Unfortunately they are dwarf countries with a combined population of less than 30 million people.

Being wider, Indonesia is more difficult to visit. You often need to take an additional internal flight, making a trip even more long and costly. For instance, the famous diving site of Raja Ampat in Papua is 4 hours and 300$ away from Jakarta.

The impact of China alone is crucial. In 2015, Thailand received over 7,9 million Chinese visitors, 27,5% of all their tourists. In the meantime, Indonesia had only about a million.

The number of direct flights from China to Thailand is impressive. There are over 30 cities in China with direct flights, arriving to 8 Thai destinations (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chiang Rai, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Krabi, Surat Thani). Direct flights from China to Indonesia are much more rare: Only Jakarta, Bali and Manado have some, from only 10 Chinese cities.

The prices from China to Thailand are much lower as well, not only because it is shorter, but also because there are a few low-cost airlines operating on these routes (Thai Smile, Air Asia, Spring Airlines).

A Chinese can get a return ticket to Thailand for less than 100$, but he'll need to pay at least $400 if he wants to travel to Indonesia.

2) Poor Infrastructure
Flights and location cannot explain everything. Americans are just as far from Thailand as they are from Indonesia: Both destinations require a 24-hour flight that costs about 500$ one way. Yet, in 2014, Indonesia was visited by 251,000 Americans and Thailand by 763,000.

Reading the 2015 Global Tourism and Travel Report, the major difference between the two countries resides in the "Tourist Service Infrastructure" (number of hotel rooms, car rental companies, ATMs, etc). On this criteria, Thailand ranks 21st globally and Indonesia 101st.

With a GDP Per Capita about 30% lower than Thailand, Indonesia is also a few years behind Thailand in terms of economic development. Jakarta is still waiting for its first mass transportation system whereas Bangkok has had one since 1999. Bangkok has cheap and world-class hospitals while in Bali any serious accident requires medical evacuation. Modern highways connect Thai cities, while in Java, it takes an hour to drive 30 kilometers.

The fact is, it is more comfortable and easier to travel within Thailand compared with Indonesia. If you've been to both, you probably know what I mean.

3) Mismanagement
As I see it, the Indonesian government just does not care about its citizens or visitors: It does not care to repair the road or to clean the streets, it does not care to create parks or proper sidewalks, it does not care to improve education or hospitals. It only seems to care about making money by awarding contracts and privileges.

The result is chaotic: Roads in Indonesia are clogged with traffic, even in small towns. You cannot walk safely and public transport is dreadful. Wherever you go, you see huge piles of trash, even in remote rural location.

It is not a money issue: In Senopati, one of the richest neighborhoods in Jakarta, sidewalks are broken as well and streets are dirty. The local government in South Bali is really wealthy, yet they need the help of Coca-Cola to clean the beaches. Tackling issues is just not their main priority.

Some backpackers may find Indonesia more adventurous and fun to visit, but for most people, a holiday should be simple, relaxing and safe. Thailand wins hands-down on these three points.

4) Negative Perception
According to a 2015 survey, 43% of Australians had a positive image of Indonesia and 59% a positive image of Thailand. Their main concern was a perceived lack of stability, safety and cleanliness.

In international news, Indonesia rarely makes headlines unless there is an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcano erupting, a terrorist attack, a giant forest fire, or a foreigner being executed. You'll also hear about Indonesia in the bizarre news section: The Man Tree, The Sex Doll Fallen From Heaven, the 2-Year Old Smoking child, the World's Fattest Kid, etc.

Local politicians are populists who don't care about the image they give abroad as long as they get votes at home. It is common for them to boost their popularity by stirring nationalist sentiment, even if it means bullying another country. The Vice President Yusuf Kalla's is a good example of these methods. He was the one who initiated the campaign to pay back the tsunami relief aid before the Bali 9 execution. He was the one who declared that Singapore should be thankful for 11 months of clean air, in the middle of the haze crisis. This gave such a disastrous image that some Indonesians wondered whether public officials should hire a PR agency.

Any effort to push forward sharia law will also get a fair amount of publicity: The proposed ban on alcohol, the threat to the LGBT community, the virginity tests, the criminalization of casual sex, the canning in Aceh or even the debates over whether it is allowed to wish "Merry Christmas" gave the impression that Indonesia is a borderline extremist country, which it is not.

In fact, when I say that I live in Jakarta, the first question people ask me is often: "Is it Muslim there?". I think the fact that Indonesia is a majority-Muslim country turns off some potential visitors who are afraid there will be too many restrictions. It is not surprising that the most popular destination in Indonesia is a majority-Hindu island.

Finally, I remember talking to a Malaysian friend a few years ago who told me that for many Chinese, Indonesia was not considered a safe country following the 1998 riots in which hundreds lost their lives. The recent beating of a young Indonesian Chinese will certainly not improve the situation.

5) Protectionism
Like most country on earth, Indonesia and Thailand are both suspicious of foreigners. Thailand seems more pragmatic though, and its laws are more relaxed when it comes to visa requirements, imports, ease of doing business, and property rights.

Even though things I've changed in Thailand in the past few years, it is still less of a hassle for a foreigner to work, to retire, or to start a business there. As expats open cafés, restaurants, hotels, travel agencies or attractions, they also contribute to the development of tourism.

Last year, a crew of foreign photographers and models were arrested and deported for doing a photoshoot in Bali. Even though they didn't have working permit, they were actually promoting the island through their pictures so I'm wondering about the logic of spending 3 days to chase them. The crew probably regretted they didn't go to Thailand instead.

6) Higher Prices
According to official figures, Indonesia is supposed to be cheaper than Thailand but I find this statement to be far from the truth. In reality, I know Indonesians who fly to Bangkok just to do some shopping or to get medical treatment.

The quality of services and products you buy in Thailand is often superior, for instance for Western food, health, clothes, electronics, hotels, fruits and vegetables, alcohol and transportation. The main reasons for this, I believe, are the lack of competition and the import restrictions mentioned above.

The high price of alcohol is a deal-breaker for many tourists. A glass of the most basic wine can easily cost 15$ ; a can of beer 4$ ; a cocktail in a regular nightclub 10$. I know several people who prefer Thailand only because of this (yes my friends are drunkards).

High import taxes on gourmet food also hinder the development of tourism. Few visitors want to eat Indonesian-style during their whole trip: They want cheese, bread, steaks, deli, a variety of fruits, etc. All of these are more expensive in Indonesia than in Thailand.

7) Less Sex Tourism
Even though Indonesia has a naughty nightlife (read Sex Tourism in Bali), it is nothing compared to Thailand. In Jakarta, there are only 6-7 prostitute bars catering to foreigners (double that number if I include Little Tokyo). In Bangkok, there are probably several hundreds and just as many in Pattaya and Patong.

I don't have official data about the number of sex tourists traveling to Thailand every year, but I'm sure that it accounts for a significative portion of visitors.

How Dangerous Is It to Use Drugs in Indonesia?

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
From time to time, I receive an email from a reader asking me if it is safe to use drugs in Jakarta. The obvious reply is that it is extremely dangerous, as even carrying a small joint might land you in jail. 

But Indonesia is much more complicated than that, hence the need for a longer article to explain you the subtleties of drug use in the country.

Why foreigners should be extra careful when using drugs in Indonesia
From my personal perspective, the law in Indonesia only exists to give a pretext to powerful people to extort some money or benefits. Most often, it is used when the authorities want to target someone in particular, with some categories that are more at risks than others. The most vulnerable are poor people, ethnic and religious minorities, foreigners, or anyone without a network among government officials.

The laws of Indonesia, including drug laws, will normally apply to them with greater severity, meaning they will either receive harsher sentences or pay a bigger bribe.

Foreigners are particularly at risk for several reasons. They are considered rich (therefore prime targets), they don't know anything about the legal system and they rarely possess powerful connections.

More importantly, there is a creeping racism/xenophobia among a large portion of the Indonesian population. From an early age, they are taught a one-sided story about the morally-corrupt West, whose influence must be limited. Alcohol, homosexuality, crime, rape, communism, atheism, porn, and of course drugs are all considered imported vices. As a foreigner, if you get caught using, or worse selling drugs, you are guaranteed to make national headlines and become a matter of national security. Once your name appears in the media, it becomes almost impossible to buy your way out.

The statistics speak for themselves: In 2015-2016, among 18 persons executed for drug offenses, only 3 were Indonesian. This is in spite the fact that there are over 125,000 Indonesians in prison for drug offenses (70% of a total prison population of 180,000 inmates) for less than 100 foreigners.

Are some drugs more safe than others? Is there a risk if I have a very small quantity?
Indonesians do not see any differences between soft and hard drugs. They have no idea what drugs are, how they work, which ones are lethal and which ones are addictive. All they know is that it is a foreign-imported problem and that it is killing the youth of the country.

Judges will send heroin junkies to jail and people who take barely-addictive ecstasy and marijuana to rehabilitation center, depending on mysterious factors.

Even Budi Waseso, the head of the BNN (the Indonesian drug enforcement agency) once said that he saved 21 million lives by seizing a 2-ton shipment of marijuana, obviously not knowing that it is not a lethal drug. For this reason, don't assume that you are taking less risks by smoking pot instead of crack.

The quantity in your possession does not really matter as well: Marlon Eduardo Bezrutchaka was arrested with 0.13 grams of hashish and 0.14 grams of marijuana in 2014 and it made national news. A year after, Nicholas James Langan was sentenced to 1 year in jail for possessing 0.9 grams of marijuana. An American, Scott Wikoff O'Dowd was also sent to jail for 8 months for having 3 grams on his suitcase. There were several similar cases this year as well.

You won't be executed if you have small quantities, but you are still likely to go to jail.

Why people still do drugs despite the risks?
In spite of the risks, you would be surprised to find out that drugs are very easy to buy in Indonesia. If you are in Bali, it is offered on the street by dealers who are just a few meters away from policemen. Drugs are also very common in places like Akasaka or Deejay Café. In Jakarta, some nightclubs are notoriously filled with ecstasy and shabu-shabu (crystal meth). In Mille's, Golden Crown, Exotis, Illigals, Puja Sera or Sydney 2000, you can buy it easily by simply asking a waiter or the security. It was true when I first arrived in the city in 2004, and it is still true until today.

The police conducts raids from time to time, including urine tests, but the owners are tipped off beforehand so barely anybody is caught red-handed. If you look at who owns North Jakarta nightlife, you will understand why.

For those reasons, some Indonesians and expats may tell you that it is relatively safe to buy and use drugs within those clubs. They will recommend you to consume on the spot and never carry anything on your body. If you get caught, they will say that the key is to avoid escalation: While the policeman who arrested you might settle for a reasonable bribe, everything becomes more complicated once his boss is involved, and then the boss of his boss, and then the media.

Some people don't care about the risks because they benefit from connections and/or have enough money to pay their way out of jail.

It is rather common to read about police officers, prison guards or military personnel getting caught, at least once or twice a month. In South Sulawesi, the police itself considers that the involvement of its personnel in drug abuse is "alarming". Yet you rarely see those arrested in jails, and even less on the death row. The Head of the Jakarta Police for Drugs only recommends 1 month of counseling for such officers.

Similarly, there are many cases of celebrities, politicians or VIPs who manage to receive preferential treatment. A recent case is Ivan Haz, a politician from the Islamist party PPP and the son of ex-Vice President Hamzah Haz. He is accused of both abusing is maid and attending a drug party. His trial was delayed several times because he missed police questioning twice, saying he had work to do. I get the feeling he won't spend a lot of time in prison.

You can get more names of people who got away with drugs in my article 13 Illogical Facts About Drugs in Indonesia (check number 9).

My personal advice would be to forget about drugs and stick to alcohol when you are partying in Indonesia. Even though your chances of getting caught are thin, as a foreigner you are a prized target for the police and therefore you are more at risk.

Denunciation by neighbors are common, as well as traps set up by policemen themselves. Never buy from the street or from people you don't know well. Again, if you get caught, you must make a deal with the person who arrests you as soon as possible: Don't let others be involved.

The price for recreational drugs in Indonesia is high. For instance, you can expect to pay up to US$30 for just one ecstasy pill. Be aware that the quality is often poor. The dealers don't care if they sell you something poisonous as long as they get your money.

Is It Better to Date a Javanese or a Sundanese Girl?

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
Until today, I had never dared writing an article about ethnicity in Indonesia. I didn't want to appear racist and also because my knowledge on the subject is limited. As I'm growing older I start to care less, so here I am giving you advice on whether it is best to date/marry a Javanese or a Sundanese girl.

Be aware that I am basing this whole piece on personal experience only. This is not a scientific paper, it's just entertainment. You may have a completely different opinion and I would love to hear it (especially if you are an Indonesian reader). Please just write a comment below.

The two main ethnic groups in Indonesia are the Javanese (90 million people, 40% of the population) and the Sundanese (36 million people, 15.5% of the population). Both have distinct traditions, languages, cultures and cuisines. Javanese live mostly in East Java (Yogyakarta, Surabaya) while Sundanese are from the Bandung region.

In Jakarta, most of the girls you meet will be either Javanese or Sundanese. It is also common to come across Bataknese (Medan), Betawi (pure Jakarta), Indonesian-Chinese, Manadonese (Manado) and Makassarese (Makassar). In Bali, apart from Balinese, you will see more Madurese (Madura) and ethnicities from Eastern Indonesia (Flores, Timur, Maluku).

Most expats don't really care about that and they consider it's pretty much all the same. On the contrary, Indonesians like to point at the differences between the people of each provinces. They will give specific traits to some ethnicities, negative or positive, and based on these stereotypes they might deem that some mixed "race" couples are not desirable. For instance, a persistent myth among Indonesians is that a couple between a Javanese men and a Sundanese women cannot work well.

For better understanding, let's review what are the stereotypes about the three main Indonesian ethnical groups:

The Sundanese Character:
Sundanese Model Melli Voo
What Indonesians say:
Sundanese are considered soft and easy-going. It is said that due to their welcoming nature, the penetration of Islam among them was faster and easier compared to the Javanese. For this reason, they are overall more religious compared to the Javanese.

Some will say that they lack ambition and they are not willing to live far from their home. One of the consequences is that there are less of them in top jobs and positions. Among ministers or ex-presidents of Indonesia, very few were Sundanese.

Sundanese girls are often called the most beautiful women in Indonesia, mainly because of their lighter skin color.

If you date a Sundanese, you might experience a surge in your monthly expenses. Sundanese girls love to spend on clothes, cellphones, laptops, shoes, beauty products and entertainment. Such gifts are expected as a part of the relationship and it is sometimes hard to know how sincere the love is.

Sundanese girls are sometimes criticized for behaving like divas: High maintenance, spoiled, overly dramatic and proud of their appearance. It seems they are aware of their value and they know how to get the best from it.

My personal experience:
Regarding the beauty of Sundanese girl: They are indeed pretty but I prefer Manadonese (because they look a bit like Filipinas). Girls in Malang are also just as attractive.

About their open mindset, Sundanese are hospitable like anywhere in Indonesia. I didn't notice any differences staying in Bandung or Surabaya. I also don't feel they are less ambitious than other Indonesians.

Regarding the materialistic mindset of Sundanese girls: I found it to be generally true, with several exceptions though. You must differentiate educated girls from Bandung's middle and upper class with countryside girls from Indramayu. Girls from poorer background may be expected by their families to marry with someone who will take care of them. Those girls are usually popular among Indonesian men and expats so they have a wide range of option. Naturally, they will not choose the stingy ones. Beauty in Indonesia often comes with at a price and I've learned to be careful with gorgeous Sundanese. I normally avoid them.

The Javanese Character:
Miss Indonesia 2015 - Maria Harfanti - is Javanese
What Indonesians say:
Javanese are often characterized with the "nrimo" concept of life, which means accepting your fate by seeing the bright side of it. For instance, if you cannot afford a car, you will think that walking keeps you healthy. As a result, Javanese are said to be obedient and submissive. They are also avoiding conflicting situations, preferring to keep their feelings to themselves rather than expressing them.

My personal experience:
My relationships/dates with Javanese girls have been more successful than those with Sundanese girls. I've never really noticed that they were more submissive, but they were less money-oriented and less childish.

Expats with passive-aggressive and shy personalities may feel more comfortable with a Javanese girlfriend.

The Batak Character:
Zivanna Letisha Siregar is half Batak
What Indonesians say:
Bataknese have quite a unique reputation in Indonesia. Because Dutch set up missionary schools early in the 20th century around the Lake Toba area, many Batak were able to get a good education, sometimes in Holland, and then high positions in the government. Until today, they occupy many prestigious jobs (lawyers, engineers, doctors, etc) and they are seen as a smart ethnic group.

For centuries, they were living isolated in the mountains, and therefore they developed a strong character. They are tough to negotiate with, feisty and they like to stay between themselves.

My personal experience:
I've met quite a lot of Batak, men and women, while I was in Indonesia. As far as I can tell, the stereotypes about them are rather true. The two Indonesian lawyers I ever dealt with were Batak, and they were tough and uncompromising. My first Indonesian girlfriend was also a Batak and our relationship was mostly fights and screams. Most of her friends were also Batak.

Overall: Is It Better to Date/Marry a Javanese, Sundanese or Batak Girl?
As I mentioned, I've had better experiences with Javanese girls, but there are more factors at play than just the ethnicity. My feeling is that the socioeconomic and the education background is what matters the most. You may also feel more attracted to certain personality traits as well. Among expats, I noticed that many are dating or marrying Batak girls. They may enjoy their outspoken and confident personality which is more similar to that of a Western girl. In my case however, I tend to avoid them because I prefer someone quiet and easy-going.

Is Jakarta Worth Visiting?

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
There are barely any tourists visiting Jakarta. Most foreigners you see are expats or businessmen. In the backpacker street of Jalan Jaksa, you will have a maximum of 50 travelers on any given night. For a capital city with 10 million inhabitants, this is exceptionally small. 

It is not difficult to understand why most people avoid Jakarta: It is noisy, smelly, dirty, polluted, hot and messy. Getting around is difficult with massive traffic jams, no sidewalks and bad public transportation. There are no spectacular tourist sights and the attractions are disappointing compared to those in Bali, Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur

Things are not as bad as they seem though. If you can get past your first negative impression, you will discover that Jakarta is home to museums, modern malls, authentic neighborhoods, traditional markets, monuments, religious buildings, parks, cultural centers, art galleries, a beachfront and of course one of the best nightlife in Asia.

As the most diverse and liberal city in Indonesia, it is the best place to meet Indonesians from various background. You'll be surprised how easy it is to start a conversation with anybody in Jakarta. It often starts even before landing, when you're still on the plane. Unlike in Bali, most people are genuinely interested in you and not trying to sell you something.

It is also in Jakarta that you will find the best Indonesian food. All the cuisines of the archipelago are easy to find, from the ubiquitous warung Padang to fine dining restaurants.

For all these reasons, I would say that yes, it is worth visiting Jakarta for at least 2 days. On the first, you'll have enough time to visit the National Museum, the Monas, the Istiqlal Mosque and Taman Fatahillah. In the evening, you could try some local street food, have a drink at a rooftop bar and end up in a nightclub.

On the next day, get a massage in a luxury day spa and wander in huge malls like Grand Indonesia. If shopping is not your thing, an exciting experience is to walk inside smaller streets, also called "gangs", where Indonesians live in a surprisingly peaceful, almost rural atmosphere.

If you choose a strategic location, you can do all of the above without suffering too much from the traffic. You can read Where to Stay in Jakarta for more details. It is best to come during the weekend as the streets will be more quiet. You'll also have the opportunity to try one of the city's numerous weekend brunches. Sunday morning is also car-free day on Sudirman street (the 2nd, 3rd and 4th photos of this article were taken during that day).

Jakarta is not for everybody though. To enjoy it, you need to have an open and positive mind. The standards are lower than in any Western countries for almost anything you'll do (except the malls and the cinemas). If you compare it with other cities, you'll keep on being disappointed. You should also be a bit adventurous, particularly if you are on a budget as you'll rely on public transport.

If you are preparing a trip to Jakarta and need more informations about things to do, hotels and general advice, don't hesitate to drop me an email Jakarta is safe but you should get a travel insurance for the duration of your trip. Read my advice here: Choosing a Travel Insurance for Indonesia.

Many Indonesians Cheering at the Orlando Shooting on Social Media

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
I had already written about my surprise after reading Indonesian Facebook comments regarding the Paris attacks in November 2015.

I was even more surprised today reading the comments on the Orlando gay nightclub shooting. I checked the Facebook page of mainstream Indonesian media (not the religious ones) and found out that a lot of people were actually cheering at the event. Not everyone, but at least between 30% and 50% of the comments. Not only are they cheering about it, they are also calling for more murders and more attacks on gays.

My Indonesian is not perfect but I translated a few here:
Sane shooting, I applaud! If the shooter comes to Indonesia he will be my honored guest!!!
1= Thank God those who died are gay!
2= Thanks God 50 contaminated by the disease are dead, I hope there is more poison for the rest
3= Hope that gays can learn from this event...

What a happy event... hoorah...
Waiting for the next shooting... hopefully in Indonesia next time... Hahahaha....
Great so LGBT people can go to hell as soon as possible... Because they always refuse and challenge Allah and so they can see by themselves what will happen to them for Judgement day... they must be afraid now of their punishment, etc...
Kill them all until the last... so there are no more LGBT...
Great... please continue... so the earth goes back to normal...
I'm sad why the shooter killed only 50 people... it should have been all...
hhmmm lgbt destroyed... that's a lesson for the other ones, why don't you get together again? Anyone else wants to get shot?
Too bad the shooter can only kill only 50 people why not all
It's ok to shoot them, if needed just bomb them... they are useless people...
It needs to be done again... hopefully next time it can be thousands... so the gay community can die
I could go on and post thousands more. Really. Again, they are not just one or two isolated comments but a huge part of the reactions. You can check for yourself on the facebook pages of Merdeka, VOA Indonesia, Tempo, Kompas, Tribunnews, Detik, Liputan 6, etc.

Actually, for most of the articles regarding the shooting, one of the two dominant emojis is the "Haha" face (sometimes with the sad face as well).
Facebook Haha Emoji
For instance on Merdeka, VOA America and Liputan 6 (and unfortunately many more - virtually every Indonesian language news site):
On, the most popular news website in Indonesia, 71% of the people who expressed their feelings after reading the main article about the shooting said they were "Senang" (happy).
A big contradiction is that those who are cheering are also the ones talking about a conspiracy. So they seem to want people to die, they call for more murders, yet they don't believe that one of them could possibly do it?

To what extent do these comments represent the opinion of Indonesian people is something I don't know. But it is certainly troubling and scary. It is obvious that the government's constant bashing of LGBT is not helping.

How I Became Fat in Indonesia

By Thibaud (Jakarta100bars) →
One thing I didn't expect would happen in Indonesia was that I would get fat.

I come from France, a country where we use sugar, syrup, butter, cream, sauces or oil in almost every single dish. And yet, in Paris my weight was a steady 70 kilograms.

While in Indonesia, I reached almost 90 kilos within a year, even though I was eating less. I tried to understand how it could happen, and I came up with a few possible explanations. Here is the 6-step story of how I became fat in Indonesia:

Step 1: Eating Indonesian Food All The Time
I love Indonesian food and I think it is one of the most underrated cuisines in the world. Needless to say, when I'm in Indonesia, I eat Indonesian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The problem is that most dishes are extremely fat. Ingredients are rarely boiled in water, they are fried, sautéed, stir-fried or cooked in coconut milk, for instance Beef Rendang or Gulai.

Coconut milk has a 20% fat content, the equivalent of light cream. This percentage raises further as the water evaporates during cooking. In the end, a meal like Nasi Padang can easily reach 1000 kcal and 80 grams of fat (see here). That's the equivalent of a Double Whopper with Cheese from Burger King AND a can of Coca-Cola. Even a simple Nasi Goreng (without fried chicken) has 740 calories (see here)!

Some Indonesian dishes like Gado-Gado or Tempeh are considered more healthy. Yet if you look closely, they aren't.

Gado-Gado is a salad with boiled vegetables, rice and ... peanut sauce, which is made with fried peanuts, sugar and coconut milk. A typical serving of the sauce (100 grams) will have 300kcal and 25 grams of fat (see: Is Peanut Sauce Healthy?). So unless you eat it with almost no sauce, Gado Gado will also make you fat.

Tempeh is a healthy food too, but it is usually served deep-fried. If you want a fruit salad, you can also expect it will come with copious amounts of sugar and sauce.

Step 2: Doing My Groceries in Convenience Stores
When you live in Jakarta, bad food habits are easy to catch. The Government is obsessed with alcohol, but it seems unaware of the risks of high fat and high sugar diets.

Enter a convenience store in Indonesia and all you see are candies, sodas, juices, chips, cookies, ice-creams (and cigarettes). In a Circle K in Jakarta, I counted only a handful of products that didn't have added sugar or fat: Water, eggs, rice, milk, pasta, flour and oatmeal. All the rest was industrial, heavy-processed food.

For comparison purposes, this is what the equivalent of a 7-Eleven or Circle K looks like in France:
You'll find fruits, vegetables, salads, bread, dairy products, meat, pasta, sauces, condiments, eggs, etc. Actual, nutritious food. The chips, candies and biscuits section will take about half a shelf each. Oh, and yes you can buy alcohol and wine.

Even with the best intentions in the world, it is much more difficult to eat well in Indonesia when healthy food is harder to find.

Step 3: Blending in the Snack Culture
Indonesians have a great snack culture: They love to gather, discuss, smoke and try one of the hundreds of snacks available in the country. They even have a word for that: "nongkrong" (≈ hangout).
If you have Indonesian colleagues, you'll know that people here never stop eating, especially in the office. Whenever someone comes back from holiday, you can be sure she/he will bring a few of the local snacks from there. It's a fun tradition, but again more fat and more calories: 104 grams of "Krupuk" (Prawn Crackers) contain over 600 kilocalories. And trust me it does not take long for me to eat that. Indonesian "Gorengan" (Fritters) are even worse, reaching over 220 kcal each (see here).

Step 4: Visiting Bars and Clubs as a Main Activity
Honestly, there aren't many things to do in Jakarta at night apart from hanging out with other people in restaurants, lounges, bars or clubs. It's great for your social life, but again, it means more snacks, more alcohol and more sugary drinks. A typical week means at least 2 after-work drinking session, and a night out.

Technically, I could order just sparkling water each time, but I don't. I drink juices, beers, shots, spirits with mixers, etc. And when the party end, I have no better idea than having a burger or a porridge.

Step 5: Becoming Lazy
I've never really been into sports, but when you live in Paris, you easily walk several kilometers a day because the city has proper sidewalks and the weather is pleasant.

In Jakarta I barely walk 200 meters every day. In the morning, I go to the elevator, get a taxi in the lobby that takes me directly to the lobby of my office, sit down all day, then go back home in the evening again with a taxi.

Walking can help you burn a lot of calories actually. According to this paper, a 70kg man will burn around 5kcal every minute he walks, or 300kcal an hour. So by constantly using taxis, ojeks, lifts and escalators, I should have compensated by eating less. Of course I didn't.

Step 6: Dating an Indonesian Girl
One of the reasons I didn't mind being fatter in Indonesia was that my girlfriend would keep telling me that I looked better with some extra kilos. This was not only coming from her, but from all my Indonesian colleagues and friends.

The more weight I would gain, the more I would hear: "You look good Thibaud!".

When I came back from a 2-week holiday in France where I had lost a few kilos, people asked me: "Are you ok? What happened to you?.

Many Indonesians consider that being too skinny is a sign of poverty or malnutrition. A chubby person looks happy, rich and healthy. It does not help motivating you to be more careful with your diet.

Conclusion: Why Aren't Indonesians Getting Fat?
Considering what they eat, one could be surprised there aren't more fat people in Indonesia. In the street, most Indonesians are thin, especially those from the working class.

It is not difficult to understand why. Poorer people don't take the taxi, they walk. Poorer people don't sit all day behind a desk, they do hard job and chores. Poorer people also eat and drink less, particularly alcohol, fast food, candies, cakes, etc.

Among the middle class though, I've noticed there are more and more people who are overweight, especially among the middle class. According to the Indonesian Ministry of Health, the number of people who are overweight in the country has grown from 12 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2010. That's a massive 9 points in only 3 years!

So the truth is: Indonesians are getting fat too, just like I did.