Local leader Maman Suryaman is a little bit like the sun-blessed island nation of Indonesia itself.
He peppers conversations with quotes like “life is for living” and is basically the laid-back local who would be perfect to show you around when travelling. Luckily, that’s exactly the treatment you can expect from the Jakarta-based Intrepid Travel leader.
Maman has worked as a trip leader with Intrepid for over 10 years, and his passion for both job and country shows no sign of waning. “I really enjoy it,” he says. “Everything I know about Indonesia, I love to share with my tour groups.”
Until you book yourself onto one of the incredible tours he leads, you can get a sneak preview of his expertise below. Here, he goes through his Indonesian hidden gems, must-try foods, and so much more.
Of the 17,000 islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, it’s fair to say that Bali is the best known. It’s also fair to say that this can make it pretty crowded, especially in tourist hotspot, Kuta. Thankfully, Maman knows how to get off the beaten track in this beachy paradise. He advises going to Ubud at night or exploring its outskirts for a more authentic experience.
He also recommends the village of Sidemen, in the south east, where there are far fewer tourists. Peaceful and friendly in equal measures, it’s set against the backdrop of Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak. Even better, if you venture to Sidemen with Intrepid you can visit local craftspeople and enjoy a traditional village lunch.
This scenic spot is also super near Mount Batur, a volcano offering a sunrise trek that’s simply a must (read what the hike is really like here).
So, how best to see Bali’s beauty? Take up Maman’s recommendation and try out the nine-day Beautiful Bali tour he often leads. Not only does it cover all the above (and more), it’s one of his favourite trips. Why? “There are no long-distance journeys, everyday is active, with different things to do.” For travellers who are strapped for time there’s truly no better option.
If you haven’t heard of Flores, you wouldn’t be the only one. As Maman puts it, the island is “untouched”. However, Lonely Planet has dubbed it “Indonesia’s next big thing”, meaning checking it out is something to be done ASAP. This is hardly a chore – it’s lush and exotic, full of volcanoes, rice fields, hidden beaches and more.
This goes some way towards explaining why the newly-launched 11-day Komodo and Flores trip is another of Maman’s favourites. Not only is it super off-the-beaten-track, but it offers a tonne of unique experiences (think hiking to a tribal village and staying the night) and the freshest local food. It takes a while to get there, and as Maman advises, “you have to leave your comfort zone at home” (read: facilities are basic), but the rewards more than make up for it. “It’s awesome,” Maman gushes. “It’s just brilliant.”
Bet you haven’t heard of this one. Well, this fishing village in West Java is one special place, and not just because it’s Maman’s hometown. Why? Google ‘Green Canyon’, as the leader instructed me to do, and you’ll get an idea of just how heavenly the landscapes are here. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many travellers find it to be a highlight of the 14-day Jakarta to Ubud trip. After all, who doesn’t like swimming in canyons and exploring the jungle by boat?
In describing Pangandaran, Maman calls it “Kuta about 50 years ago”. In other words, a slice of stunning, authentic Indonesia. Other attractions nearby include the Penanjung Nature Reserve, home to quite the array of flora and fauna, and (arguably) the best seafood you’ll ever try. As Maman proudly states, “Don’t miss the seafood in my hometown – it’s just beautiful, it’s so fresh.”
There’s so much more to see in Indonesia that this article barely scratches the surface. (In fact the attractions are so plentiful, and Maman’s enthusiasm so contagious that mid-Skype I genuinely started researching flights on Skyscanner.)
And it’s clear the archipelago is a a dream for those who love the active life – with cycling, hiking, diving, white water rafting and more on offer.
But what if someone wanted to take advantage of the unique landscapes and they just had one week? Maman recommends volcano hiking. This 20-day Bali and Lombok trip fits the bill when it comes to this. Not only does it cover Mt. Batur but you also complete a full-day trek to the rim of Mt. Rinjani.
The volcano is active, the hike is sensational, and you’ll enjoy vistas across Bali, the Gili Islands and Mt. Agung. Not bad Indonesia, not bad at all.
Last but certainly not least, food. What do visitors to Indonesia need to know about the cuisine? Maman has three super useful tips for you.
First off, Indonesian food is typically served cold (not fridge cold, but room temperature cold). Secondly, ‘medium rare’ just isn’t a thing – meat doesn’t bleed here; it’s always well done. Thirdly, when Indonesians say something isn’t hot it generally means Westerners will find the spice level medium. Overall though, and compared with Thai and northern Indian cuisine, the heat levels don’t tend to be through the roof.
And what of the must-try dishes? Maman recommends nasi campur – one of the most popular Indonesian dishes, a mound of steamed rice surrounded by multiple small dishes (AKA an indecisive person’s dream). He also advises trying nasi padang, a dish originating in Sumatra that features small portions of meats, fish, veggies and spicy sambals.
And the Intrepid leader’s favourite dish of all? Beef rendang, a dry meat curry that he firmly declares is “one of the best meals in the world”. You just can’t argue with enthusiasm like that. We’re sold, are you?
Image Credits: All c/o Intrepid Travel (except hero image and Flores photo c/o iStock)