DETAILS

Sunday, January 28, 2007

On Jan. 9, a long-standing U.S. State Department travel warning recommending that Americans "defer travel" to Indonesia was revised along significantly more positive lines; it now advises "American citizens to evaluate carefully the risks of travel to Indonesia." Citing the possibility of terrorist attacks, it warns travelers to avoid crowds, maintain a low profile and be vigilant about security by varying routes and times of daily activities. Americans also should register with the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. Details: U.S. State Department, http://www.travel.state.gov/.

GETTING THERE: More than a dozen international carriers have round-trip flights from Washington to Jakarta. With advance purchase, tickets start at about $1,200 on Continental (connection in Hong Kong) or Korean Air (connection in Seoul); for about $1,800, a favorite of experienced travelers is Singapore Airlines' flight from Newark to Singapore, with, even in coach, wide seats, fine service and exceptional comfort. From Singapore, it's 1 1/2 hours by air to Jakarta.

GETTING AROUND: Flights among the many Indonesian islands, on local carriers such as Garuda, Adam Air and Lion Air, are economical: The 90-minute, 635-mile Lion Air flight from Padang, Sumatra, to Jakarta, Java, cost me $45, and its 45-minute, 270-mile flight from Yogyakarta to Jakarta was $26. Ferry travel between islands can be atmospheric, but slow and erratic. Still, if you like hours of karaoke, ferries can be good.

WHEN TO GO: Except in coastal Sumatra, summer in Indonesia feels less intense than July in Washington. Nights can be almost cool and, in the Sumatran hills, even cold. The best time for nature excursions is the dry season, May through September.

WHERE TO STAY:

ON SUMATRA : The American-run Batang Arau Hotel (Jalan Batang Arau, 33, telephone 62-751-27400), once a Dutch colonial bank, is a small boutique hotel in Padang; its bar is a great place to meet expats and make connections for surfing excursions. (There is a good on-site travel agency.) Bukittinggi has a classy Novotel (Jalan Laras Datuk Bandaro, 62-752-35000).

ON JAVA: Yogyakarta has countless good hotels, including the first-rate Mercure (Jenderal Sudirman 9, 62-274-566617) and, perhaps a bit too far to the north of the city, the Hyatt Regency (Jalan Palagan Tentara Pelajar, 62-274-869123). Many prefer to stay on the ideally located and vibrant Jalan Prawirotoman; I particularly recommend the outstanding Duta Garden Hotel (Jalan Prawirotaman 26, 62-274-372064), where for about $22 I had a fine room overlooking a rock garden, a waterfall and a nice pool.

WHERE TO EAT: It is easy to find a good meal -- satays, curries, grilled fish -- in most places for a few dollars. Anyone visiting Yogyakarta must have a beer or coffee, a Flemish stew, an Australian steak, an Indonesian or vegetarian specialty (dinner from $5 to $10) at the Via Via Cafe (Jalan Prawirotaman 24B, 0274-386557, http://www.viaviacafe.com/); located just beside the Duta Garden Hotel, it is the best spot in town to get advice, meet artsy and politically aware Indonesians, and listen to Cole Porter songs. Hani's (on Jalan Palagan Tentara Pelajar, 0274-7182932), the elegant garden restaurant from which I watched the Merapi volcano at night, is 4 1/2 miles north of Yogyakarta. A splurge, it offers first-class European cuisine, Indonesian food, and steaks; dinner for three with drinks and French merlot costs $65.

SURFING: For information on Laut India surfing tours for groups: http://www.wavescape.co.za/indies.htm. The Global Surfers Web site offers good information on Indonesian surfing, as well as an up-to-date travel forum: http://www.globalsurfers.com/country_details.cfm?land=Indonesia.

INFORMATION: Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, http://www.my-indonesia.info/. Visit Yogyakarta, http://www.yogyes.com/, is an extremely useful English-language Web site.

-- John Auchard


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