Things to bring if visiting Indonesia and particularly if planning to travel overland/oversea across Indonesia
The following is a list of essentials, and a few 'semi essentials' that made our trip a lot more comfortable.
1) Mosquito Repellant
The Australian brand 'Bushman's' (especially their 80% deet version) is the best, although unfortunately it doesn't come in a spray-on form. It is available in Dili, although it is much cheaper to buy in Australia. For those staying in really good accommodation or in areas of less intense insect activity (i.e. high altitudes or on some islands with a lack of fresh water) Johnson and Johnson's 'Off for Family' does a good job with a spray version containing 14% deet. It is widely available throughout Indonesia for about 25,000RP.
2) Mosquito Net
This is essential, especially in Timor and Flores where there is a real risk of exposure to both malaria and dengue. Either buy a permethrin treated net or treat it yourself. Any good outdoors shop will sell some. Buy the largest size you can find and make sure it comes with screw in hooks. It is also a good idea to bring a good length of string to hang the net from high ceilings.
3) Baby Wipes.
Otherwise known as 'wet ones' these are invaluable on long Pelni ferry trips (which have the nastiest bathrooms afloat) and for using less than clean 'local' toilets when away from your guesthouse.
4) A swiss army knife.
A bit of a no brainer, but I found myself using mine to do everything between open bottles of coke when a hawker had lost his, to getting fish off hooks on islands. If you can get one with a torch tool then all the better.
5) A lighter and several packets of Marlboros
Even if you don't smoke or don't agree with smoking I would bring a packet or two. Cigarettes are an excellent way to get a reluctant driver to actually take you where you want to go or get some help from a cop of other official. Many locals (who pretty much all smoke, as much as possible, whenever possible) will invite you into their homes for a coffee or some lunch, and a couple of smokes is a welcome way of returning their hospitality.
6) 2 Pin circular plug adaptors for your electronic gear.
To my knowledge these are difficult if not impossible to get in Dili (although some places use 3 prong Australian style plugs due to the Australian influence) and you have zero chance of finding any in Indonesia before you hit Mataram in Lombok, or Denpasar itself. If you have a laptop or expensive camera gear it is a good idea to bring a surge / sag protector (voltage stabiliser) as the power supply before Denpasar is fairly unreliable.
7) An Indonesian Phrase Book and a dictionary.
In Dili some people speak English. Outside of Dili it is pretty rare and more people speak Tetum. In West Timor very few people speak English and in Flores, Sumbawa and Lombok it is spoken to varying degrees but only in the major tourist centres. Pretty much everyone will understand at least some Bahasa Indonesia, although in remote areas the predominant language will still be the local dialect, especially with the older people. I've found it is far easier to spend an hour every few days learning phrases than having to employ a complicated game of charades every time I wanted to find out where the bathroom was.
Additionally, many Indonesians will rather say 'yes' than appear not to know what you are saying, resulting in all sorts of problems, especially when navigating. Part Two is a brief but useful list of words and phrases in Tetum and Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesian is a reasonably easy language to pick up, and even if you completely murder your grammar and pronunciation (like I do) the locals will appreciate your attempts and will probably be more inclined to help you out. It goes without saying that being able to understand what the local guy in the queue ahead of you paid for water or cigarettes means you have a much better shot of not being constantly ripped off, especially in Lombok and Bali .
8) Medical Supplies.
Everyone's medical kit is different, but there are a few essentials for this sort of trip.
Sunscreen : It's pretty expensive in Asia and can be difficult to find, especially the SPF 30 and above varieties which you will need if you are fair skinned.
Antibiotics : If you can find proper medical treatment then take it. However many places off the beaten track have little or nothing in the way of medical care and although you can buy pretty much whatever you want at a pharmacy (assuming you can find one) the quality and age of the drugs is sometimes a little questionable. In the tropics, bacterial and fungal infections get underway pretty quickly if you get injured, so a combination of drugs that covers you for skin, respiratory and urinary tract (especially for females) is a good idea. If you stick to bottled water then you shouldn't need medication for giardia. Get your doctor to give you a weeks worth of each and a certificate explaining what and why you are carrying as you will have to declare all medications upon entering Indonesia . Extra contact lenses and fluid (if you use them) are a good idea. Emergency doxycycline is a good idea if you have decided not to take anti-malarial medication throughout your trip (which is difficult on a long trip over large distances).
Vaccinations : Shots for your stock standard nasties such as Hepatitis A and B, Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Tetanus, Whooping Cough etc are essential.
Immodium : This is great if you have had a dodgy satay ayam (and you will) and you ABSOLUTELY have to travel. If you can stay put (close to a toilet), do so and "ride the diarrhoea out". Immodium doesn't cure the infection that has caused you diarrhoea, it only stops you running to the toilet every 20 minutes. Immodium is a really bad idea if your stools (or watery versions thereof) contain blood or mucus and it shouldn't be taken by children under the age of 12.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications : If you are allergic to bees, wasps etc then a steroid based medication (i.e. something stronger than hay fever tablets) are a really good idea.
Iodine / Povidine : A small bottle of betadine is great for preventing infections after you inevitably cut your feet on a reef or find the only broken beer bottle on that 'pristine' beach.
Oral Re-hydration Salts : These are pretty expensive. Lemonade (i.e. 'Sprite') left to go flat or apple juice diluted 50:50 with water are far better and readily available everywhere.
General : A small selection of bandages, bandaids and some adhesive tape like leukofix or mefix are very useful.
9) A guide book (other than this one) : An up to date Lonely Planet or Rough Guide is pretty much essential. Just be aware that the guides (this one included) are fallible, and often (usually at 2am after a 12 hour bus trip) that losmen just isn't where the book says it is.
10) Several forms of money : Travellers cheques (in USD is best), cash (again in USD), your credit card (Visa or Mastercard, Amex is not terribly much use) and an ATM card (make sure it works on the cirrus / maestro banking systems).
11) A means of securing your valuables : This is a pretty variable option, and obviously depends on how much expensive gear you have with you. T-shirts and shoes are easy to replace. A satellite phone, your passport and 7 weeks worth of photos are not. If you have a lot of electronics you may want to consider getting a waterproof case as you will be taking quite a few trips on small boats, especially if you go out to smaller islands.
A company called Pacsafe make the best day bag on the market, called the 'daysafe'. It is a plain looking rucksack containing an internal mesh core with a steel drawstring and locking mechanism. This means that you can lock your bag to heavy furniture in your room when you go out and unless a thief has bolt cutters in his or her possession then your stuff is perfectly safe. It also means that someone can't use a razor to drop the contents out of the bottom of your bag in a crowded market or public bus. You can also lock the bag to your seat or belt when you take long bus or ferry trips, which means that you can get some sleep without someone blagging your stuff.
Pelican make the best waterproof cases available. They are completely waterproof and practically indestructible. The 1300 model has enough room for an SLR camera, a lens, handphone, batteries, passports, money, mp3 player and comes with foam inserts you can 'pluck' to fit your equipment. Conveniently it also fits snugly into the Pacsafe 'Daysafe'.
In the very least I would advise getting a couple of padlocks for your backpack and a holster type wallet you can wear under a shirt when you are out and about.
12) Snorkelling Gear.
Good snorkelling gear is very difficult to come across in Indonesia . For some strange reason even the dive shops tend to use the cheapest technisub gear they can buy. Masks rented from stalls are not only expensive but generally old and ill-fitting. At the very least bring a good quality mask and snorkel (CressiSub Matrix is a very good choice). A pair of cut down fins similar to fins for body boarding is also a very good idea. US Navy Divers (Aka aqualung) do an excellent model that give better thrust than most standard size fins at 1/3 the length.
Specific comments regarding this section should be directed to Matt Kemp . Comments or questions regarding any other part of the talesofasia.com website (except for sections noted as such) should be directed only to Gordon Sharpless.
Opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the owner, publisher, editor, marketing manager, or coffee girl of the talesofasia website. So there.
The text appearing on this page is © 2005 Matt Kemp. For the rest of the website, unless otherwise noted, all text and photographs © 1998 - 2006 Gordon Sharpless. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder(s) is prohibited.