Last year I visited Asia for the very first time, something that’s been on my list for a long time! I was a bit nervous beforehand, because I had no idea how I would like it. All in all I had a great time and it was definitely less ‘weird’ than I thought. But obviously there’s more to it: here are the things that stood out for me!
Of course I was in Asia for only a week, and it was also a press trip, so my experience might be a bit different to that of a ‘normal’ traveller. But since you follow me as a person I thought it would be nice to share my experiences anyway :).
One of the things I was most worried about beforehand was the toilet situation in rural Asia. My only experience with squatting toilets is from French gas stations, and those don’t look really inviting – to put it mildly. So when I got confronted with a squatting toilet for the first time I had to do my best to keep my cool. Especially since there’s no toilet paper anywhere and everyone uses a hose to rinse everything, which turns the toilets into a big pool. But what I’ve found out is that squatting is actually super clever! After I did it a few times I could really understand the benefits. It’s definitely a lot easier than squatting above a dirty toilet seat, and actually a lot more hygienic than sitting on one too!
What struck me the most when comparing Asia to the western world, was how the traffic was organised. My god, it’s so hectic! I will never drive a car in Indonesia! I hardly have the nerves to park a car in The Netherlands, haha. Jakarta is just one big traffic jam. There’s traffic everywhere. It takes you forever to drive a few kilometers. But I actually found the less busier cities even scarier, where there’s less traffic on the roads. It’s completely normal to drive really fast, overtake on both sides and tailgate everyone. My heart was beating in my throat! But I do think that everyone pays a lot of attention because of this chaos. You have to. In The Netherlands you can easily drive around while thinking about other things, but in Indonesia everyone definitely pays attention.
The people in Indonesia are really friendly. I haven’t encountered one rude person. What struck me though, was how all Indonesians want to take photos with white people. Everywhere we went there was a group of teenagers waiting for us from a distance to ask if they could take a photo with us. The number of photos of me with random grandma’s, kids or teenage girls… hundreds, seriously. Sometimes they were cheeky enough to pull your arm, or even asked someone in our group to change seats so that they could take a better photo with the rest of us. It made me laugh though. It’s just a really strange experience. What also surprised me is how busy it is in some places, especially Jakarta. So many people! It’s funny to see that about every person owns a selfie stick and a scooter. You’ll also hardly find any female drivers, but the cars are quite modern!
At first I was a bit hesitant to haggle, I actually don’t like it that much. For instance, I have a set price for people who want to advertise on my blog, and if an advertiser would offer me half I would be really offended. I mean, when you go shopping, don’t you just pay the price instead of half? But people ensured me I really had to haggle in Asia and never pay more than half of what they would ask. And so I tried. Turned out it was a lot of fun! No one was offended, it was just like a little game. I usually ended up paying about two thirds of the price, but nevertheless I always walked away with an adrenaline rush because I got myself a discount. Super fun!
From December to February it’s rain season in Southeast Asia, which includes Indonesia. I’ve seen some videos of that in the past and it really comes pouring down for hours on end. Luckily this wasn’t my experience. If it rained, it only rained at night, we never saw any rain during the day. And if it rained, it was only a little bit. I also noticed the weather can be really different depending on where you go. Jakarta is warm and sticky, but Solo is a lot cooler!
In The Netherlands we variate a lot with what we eat. One night it’s Mexican, then it’s Indian, Dutch, Italian… I hardly eat the same thing twice in a row. Indonesia is definitely different: everyone eats Indonesian food, every night. In the streets you’ll only find Indonesian food as well. There are some fast food chains, and in bigger cities you might find some international cuisine here and there, but usually it’s just rice and chicken. I found it a bit hard sometimes, eating Indonesian twice a day (I like some variation!). Having said that, the food is delicious! We found a local restaurant in Solo that served a rice dish for less than 1 euro – and it was so good! What surprised me was that the Indonesian cuisine has a lot of fried food and hardly anyone drinks soda: the fruit juices are delicious and loved by everyone.
The nature is unbelievably beautiful. So green! And those rice fields! I know we’re not used to a lot back in The Netherlands, where we have a few meadows and a lost hill somewhere in the south, but Java is really, really pretty. Especially the middle of Java. The drive from Semarang to Solo is absolutely stunning, with so many lookout points. Highly recommended!
All in all my trip to Indonesia was amazing, and my first encounter with Asia not as overwhelming as I thought it would be. In the bigger cities they speak enough English to understand you, and hotels are usually accustomed to western tourists which I found quite nice (sitting at a nice toilet at the end of the day is highly underestimated in life ;-)). Because I was on a press trip we didn’t have a lot of trouble with the traffic: we had our own driver every time. I didn’t get sick one (contrary to when I visited Egypt) and I could actually handle the heat quite well as well. I did get bitten by mosquitos a ridiculous amount of times (despite the DEET), but for now I’m still alive.
I loved being in such another environment. Even just staring out the window in the car was fun! Everything looks so pretty and so different than what you’re used to, I just couldn’t get enough. I think Indonesia is a really good country to start with when you’ve never been to Asia before. In my opinion the people were friendly and helpful, they communicate quite well (probably because they use the same alphabet too), and there’s a good infrastructure for tourists. I felt safe, even when I was walking on my own. The nature is absolutely stunning and the temples were just magical. All in all I had a great trip, even though it was just for one week, and I can’t wait to go back!