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Indonesia's numbers astound: more than 17,000 islands, of which 8000 are inhabited and over 300 languages spoken across them. It's a beguiling country offering myriad adventures.
From Sumatra's western tip to Papua's eastern edge, Indonesia defies homogenization. It's a land of so many cultures, peoples, animals, customs, plants, sights, artworks and foods that it's like 100 countries melded into one. The people are as radically different from each other as if they came from different continents, with every island a unique blend of the people who live there. Over time, deep and rich cultures have evolved, from the mysteries of the spiritual Balinese to the utterly non-Western belief system of the Asmat people of Papua.
Venturing across Indonesia you’ll see a dramatic landscape, as diverse as those living upon it. Sulawesi's wildly multilimbed coastline embraces white-sand beaches and diving haunts, while Sumatra is contoured by a legion of nearly 100 volcanoes marching off into the distance, several capable of erupting at any time.
There’s the sublime: an orang-utan lounging in a tree. The artful: a Balinese dancer executing precise moves that would make a robot seems loose-limbed. The idyllic: a deserted stretch of blinding white sand on Sumbawa contrasting with azure surf breaks. The astonishing: Sunday mobs in a cool, glitzy Jakarta mall. The intriguing: the too-amazing-for-fiction tales of the beautiful Banda Islands' twisted history. The heart-stopping: the ominous menace of a Komodo dragon. The humbling: a woman bent double with a load of firewood on Sumatra. The delicious: a south Bali restaurant. The shocking: the funeral ceremonies of Tana Toraja. The solemn: Borobudur's serene magnificence.
Bali, the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth. With world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations, this is one of the world's most popular island destinations and one which consistently wins travel awards. Bali has something to offer a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich.
A city of punks and prayer, serious religion and serious coffee. Here are teeming markets and good shopping, thriving cafes in reclaimed Dutch relics, palpable warmth and camaraderie on street corners and mind-numbing, air-trashing traffic almost everywhere you look. Almost everything great and terrible about Indonesia can be found in Bandung. You may cringe at the young teens smoking and systemic poverty and nod with respect at the city's thriving and growing middle class. Yes, Bandung has everything, except nature and after the bottle-green hills of Cibodas, the sprawling bulk of Bandung is quite the urban reality check. But even if the local mountains are cloaked in smog, the city does make a good base for day trips to the surrounding countryside – high volcanic peaks, hot springs and tea plantations are all within reach.