They promised me a war zone, and all I got was a lot of traffic jams

Pangandaran Beach, Central Java.
Indonesia may not be perfect, but it has its moments.

The other day I stumbled across’s travel page on Indonesia. I was extremely annoyed to see that it started like this:

Have you ever considered a vacation in a war zone? Not many people think the idea is an attractive one. But if you go to Indonesia any time soon, you should realize that you are taking the risk of doing exactly that. And some portions of the country are more risky than others …

Granted, Indonesia has its troubles, and people should be aware of them. But to call the entire country a war zone is absurd. We’ve been here for nearly a year, traveled throughout Java and to Bali and Sumatra, and never felt threatened.

For comparison, I clicked over to the page on Thailand, which unfortunately has had a lot of problems lately. Here’s a quick review: over the past year Indonesia has had zero bombings, peaceful elections in Aceh, and some violence in central Sulawesi and Papua. During the same period, Thailand has had multiple bombings in Bangkok and its southern provinces, not to mention a military coup followed by the installation of a junta. Surely Thailand’s entry will start with a stern warning, too?

Thailand is a beautiful country with an amazing assortment of things to do and places to see. You can hike in the mountains or sit on the beach. The people are friendly, the food is great…

The thing that’s most irritating is how common this is. Why does Indonesia get such a bad rap? In this case, is it because Thailand is mostly Buddhist, and Indo is mostly Muslim? Does the Thai tourism industry spend a lot more money bringing travel writers over on expense-paid luxury vacations? I don’t know. And I don’t mean to slam Thailand. I just want Indonesia to get a fair shake.

This is not a victimless crime. Indonesia needs tourism dollars. Westerners need to experience a moderate Muslim country. Historic sites like Borobudur deserve to be appreciated and supported.

I wrote to the author of the Asia section and asked him to reconsider his description. I haven’t heard anything back. If you want, you can write him too, at goasia dot guide at about dot com.


Author: Trish Anderton

I am a nonprofit communicator, Red Sox fan and amateur streetfoodologist. Once upon a time I worked for the Jakarta Globe & Jakarta Post.

7 thoughts on “They promised me a war zone, and all I got was a lot of traffic jams”

  1. thank you for pointing that out to the ‘western’ jurno. this reminds me of NYtimes article last month about travel warning.

  2. Very common reaction from friends whenever I go back to Indonesia “Be Careful!!”. Unfortunately most in the west are spooked by Islam, and think countries like Indonesia are inherently dangerous everywhere. Indonesia’s real hazards are traffic accidents and contaminated food & water. I’d like to compare murder rates in Indonesian cities with equivalent cities in the US or Canada.

  3. I wish someone could give voice to such sentiments in the mainstream media. We returned from Sumatra last week amazed, again, at how wonderful, friendly, welcoming pple are. The place is beautiful, and off the tourist track, regionally diverse, packed with culture …. and completely deserted (of tourists, that is). It’s sad and frustrating. The number of abandoned guesthouses and even hotels speaks to the fact that there *was* a healthy tourism industry there, before the financial crisis and string of natural disaster. I just want to shout from the rooftops – Hey, intrepid travellers! Sumatra has at least as much to offer as Vietnam, Thailand, and Lao. And you won’t have to share it with a gzillion other tourists! (sigh)

  4. This upsets me. I mean, I was scared about visiting Indonesia because of things I heard in the news about Muslims and terrorists. But the minute I set foot in the beautiful country, and got smiled at by gorgeous people, I let go of all phobias. And you know what? I converted to Islam because of the positive exposure I got to it in Indonesia.

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