Indonesia travel guide
Sengigi is Lombok's sad attempt of a resort area. Though the stretch of beaches has a few fine hotels and eateries, the whole place has an abandon feel to it. Never finished hotel projects lie side by side with overgrowing land slots and pretentious concrete malls with vacant shops. The fairly nice palm fringed beach is patrolled by bored looking beach boys and friendly vendors. So use Sengigi for what it is good at, namely as a base. Eat some nice food, rent a scooter, and then explore the rest of Lombok - or go straight to Gili Islands.
Tana Toraja is a region of exceptional beauty and soaked in the rich Toraja culture. The pretty countryside is a patchwork of mountains, terraced rice paddy fields, and small villages with rows of traditional Torajan houses with boat-shaped roof. Since death plays a central role in the Toraja culture, many of the region's sights have something to do with that. There are cave graves, hanging coffins, "baby in a tree" grave, and the very bloody Torajan funerals, where pigs and buffaloes are slaughtered in great numbers. Strangely – or should we say luckily – the Toraja people don't mind uninvited guests to these mind blowing events, as long as you act accordingly (wear dark and bring a gift). The main town in Tana Toraja is Rantepao and where most travellers base themselves, while exploring the region, but there are homestays throughout the region. It is recommended to hire a guide for the graves can be hard to find, and they know when and where the funerals are and what to bring.
The Toraja people have several ways to get buried. Babies can get buried inside a trunk of a particularly chosen tree. Grown ups can get a house grave in a more normal looking mausoleum made of concrete and tiles. A more fascinating burial tradition are the cave graves, where a small cave is hollowed out of a boulder and mounted with small door and maybe guarded by tau-tau statues who looks like the deceased. This kind of graves are still in use today. Previously they also hang the coffins inside natural caves. There a family could have a hanging coffin and restuff it every time a family member passed away. Though this tradition has more or less eased out, there are still a lot of hanging coffins left in the Tana Toraja region, some not dating more than 20 years back.
A Toraja funeral is a full on event that can last for days, sometimes even weeks, all depending on the family wealth. As funerals are expensive the deceased has often been dead for a long time, up to several years, before the funeral is held. During that time the body is injected with formalin and kept in the house, where the deceased will be considered "sick" and offered to join meals. During the funeral ceremonial slaughtering will take place. Pigs are tied up and killed with a deep stab to the lungs, while buffaloes have their throat sliced. Sometimes, a buffalo get loose during the killing and run with spraying blood into the screaming funeral crowd – hopefully not resulting in another funeral. When the coffin finally has to be taken to the final resting place, let it be a cave or mausoleum, it will get push around, as the carriers on each side of the coffin are "battling" each other. Expect a lot of waiting at a Toraja funeral, but when the action starts, it will be one of the most mind blowing thing you have ever attended.
Tangkuban Perahu is an dormant volcano, which last erupted in 1983. It's perhaps one of the most visited volcanoes in whole Indonesia, mainly because you can drive all the way up to the crater rim. From here you have nice panoramic views over the massive caldera, along with an insane amount of souvenir shops and hawkers, who luckily mostly pray on local tourists. Adding to further frustrations, Tangkuban Perahu is hard to reach with public transportation, the entrance fee is rather steep, and if you want to see the nearby bubbling mud hot springs of Kawah Upas and Kawah Domas, you are forced to use expensive locals guides. If you do visit Tangkuban Perahu, go in morning before the mist rolls in, and keep in mind the crater rim lies at 2084 m, so it can get quite chilly.
Tired of the crowds on Bali and the Gilis? This quiet corner of Lombok might just be for you then. The sand may not be white, but the beaches are generally free of other travellers, and the water is just as warm as elsewhere. With a backdrop of volcanic mountains, its palm-fringed shores facing the Gili islands, Tanjung is surrounded by rice fields rather than souvenir shops and nightclubs. Still, there is plenty here to keep visitors busy. For those in search of active pursuits, there are several nearby peaks to scale, including Mt Rinjani (3,726 m), the waterfalls at Gangga and the neighbouring Segara Anak Lake. If that is too strenuous, bike rides through the rice paddies and local villages provide a more relaxing way of soaking up the atmosphere. For those wishing to dive, the Gili islands are but a short boat ride away.
The Togean Islands are a handful of jungle covered islands surrounded by aquamarine water and coral reefs. They are as pretty and postcard perfect as one would imagine with secluded white beaches and shady coconut palms. Thankfully, it takes a long time to reach the Togean Islands, so the Bali crowd haven't found their way here (yet). There are small fishing villages on the islands, but most resorts and guest houses lie isolated with their own beach and reef. The main things to do are snorkeling, diving, and, of course, lying in a hammock, but you can also go on excursions. There are sea gypsies living on the sea, the odd Jellyfish Lake full of harmless jellyfish, hordes of hornbills, and you can even climb volcano Gunung Colo on Pulau Una Una.
Tomohon town lies between two volcanoes at the altitude of around 800 m. Due to the fertile soil and the temperate climate, the local market is flooded with spices, fruits, and vegetables - but it's not the only thing the market is known for. The meat section is a slaughter house full of local specialties, like wild boars, rats, civets (or are they cats), bats (pictured), snakes, and dogs. There are blood everywhere and often bits of meat fly off the fast cutting knives. Most of the animal are already dead, but dogs are sometimes kept alive in cages until sold. They are then killed with a knock to the head, blow torched, and chopped into pieces suited for a shopping bag – it's not a sight for the fainthearted. The stall owners are friendly and don't mind a curious traveller, but leave your opinion about animal rights at home.
On each side of Tomohon is a volcano. The largest is Mt. Lokon (1580 m) which has a perfect cone. The smaller is Mt. Mahawu (1324 m) which has more gentle slopes. You can drive almost to the top of Mt. Mahawu, where you can walk all the way around the crater rim. Mt. Lokon is a slightly more challenging hike - but it's active. If not spewing ashes out, the peak can be reached within tree hours of trekking from the base (which on the other hand can be hard to find). Whatever volcano you choose to summit, you will be rewarded with magnificent views over Tomohon, Tondano Lake, and all the way to Manado.
If you end up in Luwuk and don't know what to do, go and see the waterfall at Hanga-Hanga. It's claimed that the waterfall should be 75 m high, but it's not possible to see the full length of the fall, only the last couple of cascades, as its covered by the forest. To reach the fall take a ojek (motorcycle taxi) from Luwuk to the power plant in the suburb Hanga-Hanga, about 3 km from the town center. The guards will let you through, so you can reach the base of the last cascade. There are several shelters in bad shape, which locals use for picnics – a strange discovery, as hardly any of the locals we met knew about the waterfall.