Indonesia has an amazing range of arts and crafts to buy, usually at cheap prices.
Souvenir vendors swarm around heavily touristed places. Off the beaten track, shopping is more relaxed. If you're an art collector, you'll find plenty of chances to stock up on unusual items. Woodcarvings are on sale everywhere. Batik and ikat attract a steady stream of foreign art enthusiasts. Good pottery is available, mostly in Lombok and Java.
Many everyday purchases in Indonesia require bargaining. This applies particularly to handicrafts, artwork and any tourist items, but it can also apply to almost anything you buy. As a general rule, if prices are displayed, prices are fixed; if not, bargaining may be possible. The exception is tourist shops, especially those selling artwork, where price tags are often absurdly inflated for the unwary – hard bargaining is always required.
When bargaining, it's usually best to ask the seller their price rather than make an initial offer. As a rule of thumb, your starting price could be anything from a third to two-thirds of the asking price – assuming that the asking price is not completely crazy, which it can be in tourist areas. Then with offer and counter-offer you move closer to an acceptable price.
A few rules apply to good bargaining. First of all, it's not a question of life or death, where every rupiah you chisel away makes a difference. Don't pass up something that you really want that's expensive or unobtainable at home because the seller won't come down a few hundred rupiah. Second, when your offer is accepted you have to buy it – don't then change your mind and decide you don't want it after all. Third, while bargaining may seem to have a competitive element to it, try to apply it mostly to shopping. It's a mean victory knocking a poor becak (bicycle-rickshaw) driver down from 4000Rp to 3500Rp for a ride.
Don't get hassled by bargaining and don't go around feeling that you're being ripped off all the time – too many travellers do. It is very easy to become obsessed with getting the 'local' price. Even locals don't always get the local price. In Indonesia, if you are rich it is expected that you pay more, and all Westerners are rich when compared to the grinding poverty of most Indonesians.
Where to Shop
Bali is a shoppers' paradise, with crafts from all over Indonesia. Jl Legian in Kuta has kilometres of shops selling crafts, antiques, clothes and shoes. Sanur, Ubud and other tourist centres are also worthwhile. Yogyakarta is the best place to shop in Java, where you can purchase hand-crafted batik, silver, puppets and leatherwork. In Sulawesi shopping is not great, but you might find some woodcarvings or betel-nut bags you like.
Songket, which is silk cloth woven with gold or silver thread, is painstakingly made into ceremonial sarongs in parts of Sumatra, and exquisite examples are up for grabs in Palembang.
Kalimantan is also good for songket and excellent for sought-after Dayak rattan backpacks. In Nusa Tenggara, West Timor, Alor and Sumba have some spectacular naturally dyed ikat for sale.
Elsewhere in Indonesia you tend to see only locally produced crafts, but of course the price for those items will be much cheaper than in the tourist shops of Bali or Jakarta.
You can take some tasty packaged wares home; supermarket chains such as Hero and smaller general stores are well stocked. Look for things that will remind you of your trip such as sambal (chilli sauce), kecap manis (sweet soy sauce; ABC is a popular brand), sachets of jamu (herbal medicine), ready-to-fry keropok (crackers) and strangely flavoured lollies (candy) such as durian or asam (tamarind). A popular treat from the Banda Islands in Maluku is dried nutmeg fruit. If you can lift it, a cobek and ulek-ulek (mortar and pestle) is needed for making your own sambal.
Many foreigners get addicted to Indonesian coffee, which is superb. Both ground coffee and beans can be bought in supermarkets, but the best coffee is bought fresh in markets. In coffee-growing areas such as Bali, highland markets adjacent to plantations offer the best-quality beans. Indonesian tea – black, jasmine or green, loose leaf or in bags – is another popular product. And perhaps you'll want to pick up some tea lids to keep your brew warm.