Places with photo galleries in Asia
The world's biggest lizard is the Komodo Dragon that can grow to over three meters long. It is aggressive, fast, and its bite can be deadly due to the impressive range of bacterias in its mouth. The Komodo dragon lives not only on Komodo Island, but also on Rinca Island which is closer to Flores. On Rinca you actually have a better chance to see the dragons, since the island is smaller and there is less food available - meaning they hang out around the ranger station. To catch sight of a fully grown monster in its natural environment, go to Komodo, but you might risk not seeing any at all. The best option is, of course, to visit both islands.
Why would anyone go to Kuta? It's touristy, the town is ugly and the beach is not even that nice! Well, because Indonesia's most famous beach area is pleasure zone. There is something for everybody, whether they seek style or sleaze. Potbellied, beer drinking Australians are rubbing shoulders with tattooed surfer dudes and blonde, Scandinavian girls on holiday fun. Even families on vacation are crowding up the narrow lanes that are packed with endless supplies of t-shirts, pirate DVDs and tacky souvenirs (like wooden penis bottle opener, why?). But it is Kuta, and that is how Kuta is!
Lake Toba (Danau Toba) is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Going to Lake Toba usually means going to the island of Pulau Samosir in the middle of the lake. The island (well, actually a peninsula) is equally large and packed with stunning scenery of green mountains and ancient culture of the Batak people. Toba itself is a volcanic crater lake more than 500 m deep, so the clear water is always refreshingly cold. Once, Lake Toba was a must destination for groovy backpackers, but those days are long gone and the backpacker strip in the traveller friendly village of Tuk Tuk feels a bit deserted nowadays.
As always, the best way to explore any place is with your own set of wheels, and Lombok is no exception. Rent a scooter in Sengigi and take off on the Lombok Loop, that circles the majestic volcano cone of Gunung Rinjani (3726 m). Stop at deserted beaches, hidden waterfalls, small villages and ancient tombs, while driving through an ever changing landscape that passes rice paddy fields, palm groves, jungle and even a mountain pass. You can cut across the island and only do the northern half, or continue south to include the whole of Lombok. The full circuit can be rushed in four days, but deserves more, and can be done like this: Sengigi – Senaru – Pusuk pass (1600 m) – Sapit – Labuhan Haji – Kuta Lombok – Sengigi.
Sumatra is not just jungle, volcanoes and other wonders of Mother Nature, it also has Medan, the third largest city in Indonesia and the main gateway to Sumatra. Though it's polluted, dirty and noisy, it's actually not too bad. It still has some jalans with colonial appearance and some interesting markets. Motor becaks (rickshaws) roam the streets and Medan probably has some of the most pimped-out opelets (minibuses) ever - some of them hardly have any space left for passengers due to their oversized speakers which are turned up to max.
Mount Bromo, Gunung Bromo, is one of three volcanoes inside a larger caldera. Yes, volcanoes inside volcanoes. The whole Mt. Bromo experience normally involves seeing the sunrise from the viewpoint of Penanjakan overlooking the gigantic Tengger caldera (10 km across), which besides holding Mt Bromo (2,329 m), Mt Kursi (2,581 m), and Mt Batok (2,440 m) also has the Sea of Sand, a plain of volcanic ashes. From the viewpoint you descent into this lunar landscape (in jeep), for then ascent the smoking Mt Bromo on foot (or horse). You can walk on the rim and, if time, circuit the whole Mt. Bromo crater (1 h). Mt. Bromo is a major tourist attraction for both local and foreigners, so don't expect to get it to yourself. Most travellers go on an organised tour from Yogyakarta, but you can also do it yourself from Cemoro Lawang. For the true adventurer, there is a 3-4 day hike that can be done from the backside of the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park. It is a wonderful hike and gives you a chance to see some wildlife.
Mount Sibayak (Gunung Sibayak) is the other hikable volcano outside Berastagi beside Mount Sinabung (2,450 m). From the distance, Sibayak is less impressive than the perfect-cone Sinabung, but the hike to the crater is less strenuous and can be done leisurely in a couple of hours. The smelly volcano crater has two peaks, Puncak Antene (2,057 m) and Tapal Kuda (2,101 m). Both can be reached with a bit of scrambling and you will be rewarded with spectacular views, but don't underestimate the danger, for the cliffs are sheer and the rim is narrow. The highest peak on Sibayak mountain is Pintau (2,212 m) but it's remote, forested and inaccessible. The are several routes to the crater but some of them, if not all, can be a bit difficult to find at the start, so ask around. If you take the route down on the backside, you will pass the hot springs at Semangat Gunung (also known as Raja Berneh). Though Sibayak is considered to be one of the most accessible volcanoes to trek in Indonesia, people still get lost or hurt - an information displayed on a rusty sign at the bottom - so take care.
There are two volcanos near Berastagi that can be trekked; Sibayak (2,212 m) and Sinabung (2,450 m). The latest being the tallest one with the best view. The start of the trail can be difficult to find, but else fairly easy to follow to the top, where the stunning views are waiting. There are steep sections, where the use of hands is necessary. The trek can be done in one day from Berastagi town, but remember to get down from the summit in time before dark. Keep in mind that Mt. Sinabung is an active volcano, which can erupt anytime.
In the highlands at the foot of volcano Inerie, around Bajawa town, the people of Ngada lives. Though some Ngada villages are fairly modern, traditional ones still exist. The wooden houses are high roofed facing each other in two rows along an open courtyard with several ancestral structures. The ngadhu, a carved pole with an umbrella-like thatched roof, and the bhaga, a small spirit house, always come in pairs. The good spirited Ngadas are betel nut chewing and machete wearing, and very welcoming. The pretty village of Bena is probably the most famous, but also the one that sometimes receives busloads of tourists. Other villages, like Bea, hardly see anyone and can be more rewarding regarding traditional life. If you are lucky, you might bump into a ceremony with a traditional pig or buffalo sacrificing. It is best to bring a guide from Bajawa to translate and make sure you don't commit some cultural suicide.
Sumatra and Borneo are the only places in the world to see wild orangutans. The best place in Sumatra is probably Bukit Lawang in the rainforest at the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park. The rehabilitation centre is placed up river on the jungle side from the village. In good Indonesian easy-going-style, nothing is fenced off at the feeding platform, so you will get VERY close to the orangutans, so keep your distance to the big ones. It's also possible to do different treks through the jungle with a local guide to see the same orangutans, and maybe some others, in their natural habitat.