One of my friends recently asked me where is my favorite place I’ve traveled to. I wasn’t ready for the question, and I stuttered and stumbled before “Thailand” just spurt out of my mouth, and then I talked in circles to justify my answer. So to set the record straight, my favorite place isn’t Thailand. Not that there’s anything wrong with Thailand. It is a magical, wondrous, beautiful place, full of amazing people, food, culture, and sights. It just isn’t my favorite. So, besides the U.S. and Mexico, what’s my favorite place? Indonesia.
Way back in 2012 before houses, dogs, and kids, Diplowife and I were 20-something Peace Corps volunteers who took the in-lieu of cash instead of a plane ticket back to ‘Merica and instead headed east on our way back to California from West Africa. Our trip took us to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. We spent the longest time, about 2 months, in Indonesia, and Bali was not our favorite part. We started our trip in September in the northern end of Sumatra and traveled counter-clockwise around the archipelago to stay ahead of the monsoon season, also visiting Java, Bali, Gili Air, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara chain (including Komodo), Flores, Sulawesi, the Togean Islands, and Bunaken. Whew!
So: why Indonesia? Indonesia is everything you expect Thailand to be, but it is still fairly raw and unassuming. If you want luxury, you can head to Bali and get a fancy massage and be pampered. BUT, if you want to ride local buses that meander up, down, around, and between living volcanoes; hike amongst orangutans; scuba dive on live, pristine, coral reefs with sea turtles; couch surf with your new lifelong friends and experience local culture, food, and drink; try to actually learn a new language that is fairly easy to navigate; eat coffee cherries growing in the wild on the side of the road en route to a live coffee processing plant; surf decent waves in the bath water-warm Indian Ocean; enjoy a little struggle now and then to figure out a new city and local markets with no tourist trail; hike on Komodo Island and see the world’s largest lizards for yourself; then head to any of the thousands of different unique places that Indo has to offer. And those are just the things we did in 2 months. There are thousands of unique, quirky, amazing places to see, almost all of it nowhere near an established, commercialized tourist trail, and it just takes some planning and as much effort as you want to put into it.
Pro tip: Couch Surf! Sign up at couchsurfing.org, take the time to completely fill out your profile, and surf away! We couch surfed about 1/2 – 2/3 of our time in Indo and we made the most amazing friends whom we are still friends with, and saw cities in a way that we never would have otherwise. We met the most gracious, wonderful, hospitable people and if it weren’t for our crazy schedules in America, we would have returned the favor and put our place up on offer on the site. But couch surfing is a backpacker’s goldmine because many of the hosts really take the time to show you their unique, beautiful cities in a way that only a local can. Plus, we just put our general itinerary on our profiles and hosts offered to put us up if we were willing to take detours hundreds of miles away! It’s a great opportunity to exchange culture, meet locals, and have a better time in country.