Kuta & Legian
Loud, frenetic and brash are just some of the adjectives commonly used to describe Kuta and Legian, the centre of mass tourism in Bali. Today's wall-to-wall cacophony has become notorious worldwide through often over-hyped media reports and the Australian TV show What Really Happens in Bali, with its focus on tourists behaving badly.
Even a country as full of adventure as Indonesia has its final frontier. And here it is: Papua, half of the world’s second-biggest island, New Guinea. It may be the youngest part of Indonesia, but Papua's rich tribal traditions span centuries. This is a place where some people still hunt their food with bows and arrows.
Welcome to the original Spice Islands. Back in the 16th century when nutmeg, cloves and mace were global commodities that grew nowhere else, money really did ‘grow on trees’. It was the search for the Moluccas' (Maluku’s) valuable spices that kick-started European colonialism and, thanks to a series of wrong turns and one auspicious land swap, shaped the modern world.
Picture three miniscule desert islands, fringed by white-sand beaches and coconut palms, sitting in a turquoise sea: the Gilis are a vision of paradise. These islets have exploded in popularity, and are booming like nowhere else in Indonesia – speedboats now zip visitors direct from Bali and a hip new hotel opens practically every month.
Seminyak is flash, brash and arguably a bit phoney. It's also the centre of life for hordes of the island's expats (many of whom own boutiques, design clothes, surf, or do seemingly nothing at all). It may be immediately north of Kuta and Legian, but in many respects Seminyak feels almost like it's on another island.
For many visitors, this is the sole slice of Sumatra they’ll taste. And with good reason: here you can ogle the orangutans in Bukit Lawang, veer over the volcanoes of Berastagi, laze away on the shores of Danau Toba, skim the waves off the Banyaks and Nias, and go underwater on Pulau Weh.
If Jakarta is Java’s financial and industrial powerhouse, Yogyakarta is its soul. Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogyakarta (pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ and called Yogya or Jogja for short), is where the Javanese language is at its purest, Java’s arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible.
Flores, the island named ‘flowers’ by 16th-century Portuguese colonists, has become Indonesia’s ‘Next Big Thing’. In the far west, Labuanbajo is a booming tourist town that combines tropical beauty with nearby attractions such as Komodo National Park, myriad superb dive spots and beach-dappled little islands.
The region's biggest city, Mataram, just keeps growing with the economy of West Nusa Tenggara. Meanwhile the famed beach resort Senggigi continues in a 1990s time warp. The greatest allure is south of Lembar port, where the peninsula bends forward and back, the seas are placid, and bucolic offshore islands beckon.
Sprawling, hectic and ever-growing, Bali's capital has been the focus of a lot of the island's growth and wealth over the last five decades. It can seem a daunting and chaotic place but spend a little time on its tree-lined streets in the relatively affluent government and business district of Renon and you'll discover a more genteel side.
Maybe Sanur is the Bali beachfront version of the youngest of the Three Bears, the one that's not too frantic (like Kuta) or too snoozy (like Nusa Dua). Many do indeed consider Sanur 'just right', as it lacks most of the hassles found to the west while maintaining a good mix of restaurants and bars that aren't all owned by resorts.
The land on the other side, that's north Bali. Although one-sixth of the island's population lives here, the vast region is overlooked by many visitors who stay trapped in the south Bali−Ubud axis. The big draw here is the incredible diving and snorkelling at nearby Pulau Menjangan. Arcing around a nearby bay, Pemuteran may be Bali's best beach town.
A city of punks and prayer, serious religion and serious coffee, almost everything great and terrible about Indonesia can be found in Bandung. 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.