Scratching the Surface in Indonesia and Malaysia

By the numbers, Indonesia is enormous.

Made up of over 17,000 islands and covering a land and sea territory of roughly 5 million square kilometers (1.9 million square miles), it is the seventh largest country in total area. It is also the world’s fourth most populous country, with over half of its 261 million people living on the island of Java.


Those people consist of hundreds of different ethnic groups speaking dozens of languages and practicing essentially all of the world’s major religions.

In terms of biodiversity, Indonesia is home to 10 percent of the world’s plants species, 12 percent of the mammal species, and 17 percent of the world’s birds, many of which are endemic.

Indonesia experiences active volcanoes and regular earthquakes. It boasts one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas, yet isolated tribes still exist on its remote islands. Tigers prowl in the jungles, and skyscrapers sprout in the city.

On the island of Komodo, very real dragons hunt in the night.

And the food. An exotic and heady array of of flavors born from ancient recipes and imperceptible spices.



If you add Indonesia’s vast wealth of awaiting experiences to the similar diversity found in Malaysia, this corner of the world becomes both enticing and daunting to any world traveler.

To taste and see it all would take many lifetimes.

To see a respectable fraction of it would take several weeks, at the very least.

Angela and I spent just under a month exploring Indonesia and Malaysia, traveling to the capital cities of Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur and many places in between. The island of Sumatra. The federal territories of Labuan and Yogyakarta. The obscurity that is Balikpapan and the well-traveled tourist destination that is Bali.


In the city of Medan, on the island of Sumatra


New year’s decorations in the lobby of the JW Marriott in Medan, Indonesia


View from the ferry on our way to the federal territory of Labuan, Malaysia

We made good friends along the way. Friends who insisted that they would come see us if they could ever save enough money. Friends who insisted that we return to Indonesia for their wedding.


Our new friends in Balikpapan, Indonesia

We experienced 8 of the 30 distinct regions of Indonesia and Malaysia recognized by NomadMania, and that wasn’t nearly enough to know this part of the world.

But it was a start.


We visited the areas in green

We scratched the surface and found an ever-shifting puzzle of cultures, landscapes, and dreams. Mismatched in the most wonderful ways, but trying to find common identity. Even if it is to simply embrace a mutual diversity. Complex beyond measure, unknowable in passing, and certainly deserving of a better effort from us.

Perhaps we will return for that wedding after all.