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Holiday Guides for Oceania - Indonesia

Indonesia Holiday

The islands that constitute Indonesia are like a rare collection of precious stones - each unique, all beautiful.

Indonesia's 17,700 islands have lured explorers and travellers to their sandy shores and treacherous mountains for centuries.

Straddling the equator between the Indian and Pacific oceans, Indonesia - the largest group of islands in South-East Asia - has borders with Malaysia to the west, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the east and Australia and East Timor to the south.

To the north it shares borders with Palau, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and India.

Surrounded by exotic and beautiful countries and utterly gorgeous itself, Indonesia is an unmissable destination.

But the mesmerising beauty of the country's verdant, jewel-like islands cannot hide the fact that Indonesia can be a problematic country for travellers.

Centuries of religious sparring, racial divides, destructive natural disasters and government corruption have all tainted Indonesia's idyllic paradise image.

However, the country is so incredibly vast and diverse, it often feels like a small continent within itself. So, while some regions may experience some form of unrest, others are perfectly safe for travellers to enjoy.

Nonetheless, travellers are advised to keep abreast of the news in particularly troubled regions such as Aceh and West Timor before they plan any trips.

Simply deciding where to get your teeth into this vast country is not an easy task. Provinces are grouped under main islands and their surroundings. There are a family of seven provinces, each with their own unique beauty and culture.

Sumatra - the big brother of the seven - is the sixth largest island in the world. It is home to the now troubled region of Aceh and the popular Riau islands just off Singapore.

Accessible only by boat, the Riau islands of Bintan and Bantam, offer travellers a 'safe' resort-style atmosphere with typically sandy beaches, peachy sunsets and tropical splendour.

However, visitors are warned not to stray to the seedier southern regions of the islands, particularly Bitam where there is a disarming mix of prostitutes and eerily quiet beaches.

More adventurous travellers should head for Borneo (Kalimantan) where they can scale mountains, trek through jungles and perhaps even meet a few orang-utans who have claimed the island as their own.

The third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea, Borneo is divided between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Highlights of a trip to this stunning island include: a tour of Gaya Island to see the coral reef and the giant clams; a sojourn to Labuk Bay to see the ginger-haired Proboscis monkeys; or a visit to Mulu National Park to see the wrinkled-lipped bats.

However, if you're seduced by the frenetic allure of the city, head to Java - home of the capital, Jakarta, and 65 per cent of Indonesia's population of 200 million.

Famous for being a blend of coffee as well as the most populated island in the world, Java is where Indonesia's diverse cultures meet.

The main thing Indonesians have in common is religion (almost 90 per cent are Muslim) while each island has its own unique, delectable culture.

Bahasa Indonesia, a modified form of Malay, is the official language, while English, Dutch and a plethora of other dialects are spoken, the most common of which is Javanese. And it is in Java where travellers can experience the diversity of Indonesian culture.

Other island groups include: the famous, largely unexplored 'Spice Islands' (Malauku); Irian Jaya, one of the most wild, remote places in the world; Nusa Tenggara, home of the beautiful - but now troubled, Bali; and Sulawesi, home of Indonesia's largest marine park.

Travel in Indonesia is rewarding despite its recent bad luck with natural disasters, terrorist attacks and racial violence.

However, visitors who do their homework and remain vigilant while travelling in Indonesia will be richly rewarded.