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Practical Information about Maninjau

Visas:

Visa requirements recently underwent significant changes. Most but not all ISMIL participants either do not require a visa to visit Indonesia, or can obtain their visa upon arrival at the entry port to Indonesia, for a fee. However, participants are advised to check with their travel agent, or with the Indonesian consulate at their country of origin. A reasonably good source of information concerning visa regulations is the website of the Indonesian Embassy in Australia.

As of early 2005, the situation is roughly as follows. Nationalities not requiring a visa for Indonesia include Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Macao, Philippines and a few others. Nationalities requiring a visa obtainable on arrival include Australia, New Zealand, several major EU countries (but not the Netherlands), USA and Canada. Citizens of the Netherlands and of a few other countries are required to obtain their visas in advance, before arriving in Indonesia. Basic tourist visas, as well as visa-free entry permits, are generally valid for a 30-day stay.

It should be noted that visa-free and visa-upon-arrival facilities are restricted to specific ports of entry to Indonesia; otherwise you need to get a visa before leaving home. However, these ports of entry include most of the ones likely to be used by ISMIL participants: the airports of Jakarta and Padang, and the seaports in Batam, Tanjung Balai and Dumai (but apparently not Pekanbaru).

Money:

The local currency is the Rupiah. In the beginning of 2004, the rate of exchange was around 10,000 Rps to the Euro, which means that to convert Rps to Euros you simply knock off the last four digits. All the zeros are a bit confusing at first, but by the time you're ready to leave Indonesia you'll get the hang of it.

When coming to Indonesia, bring your credit and bank cards, and a small amount of cash for emergencies. If you are bringing cash US dollars, make sure that they are of the most recent design, and also crisp and new, without any wear and tear; otherwise they may not be accepted, or they will fetch a lower rate. (This constraint does not apply to Indonesian money, which is often grubby, and falling apart in your hands.) Travellers cheques are no longer widely accepted.

Moneychangers will exchange all major world currencies. However, whereas for US Dollars, Singapore Dollars and Malaysian Ringgit this is a reasonable option, for other currencies, such as Euros, Japanese Yen and Australian Dollars you will probably get a less attractive rate. Also, for most currencies, higher denominations fetch higher rates than lower denominations. For example, a 100 US dollar note might get a 5% or 10% better rate than a 20. In Maninjau there are a handful of moneychangers in the village down by the lake, but you'll probably get a worse rate there than in places like Bukittinggi and Padang.

The most convenient way of paying for everyday things is with cash, drawn from an ATM machine. ATM machines generally limit the amount you can withdraw in a single transaction to 600,000 Rps, 1,000,000 Rps, or some such amount; however, if you are in need of more cash you can simply keep on withdrawing the maximal amount that the machine allows, over and over again, until you hit the limit imposed by your own bank.

Although all major cities, and many secondary ones, have lots of ATM machines; you should note that there are no ATM machines in Maninjau. The nearest ATM machines to the conference venue are in Bukittinggi, an inconvenient 45-60 minutes away by car. You should therefore bring with you to Maninjau as much cash as you think you'll need. Participants coming from the ALT conference in Padang can stock up on cash while in Padang; alternatively, participants arriving at Tabing airport in Padang and proceeding directly from there to Maninjau can get cash from the Bank Mandiri ATM machine at the airport.

Major credit cards are also widely accepted, and are especially convenient for larger payments, for example accommodation at an upmarket hotel such as the Nuansa Maninjau. However, you should try and avoid using your credit cards too liberally in Indonesia, as credit card fraud is more common than in many other places.

Health:

Like other tropical locations, Maninjau presents certain health risks to travellers from more temperate climates, but with minimal precautions is as safe and unthreatening a destination as any. One common risk is heatstroke and dehydration: people should not exert themselves during the heat of midday. Another frequent affliction is stomach bugs: tapwater in particular should be avoided. However, dehydration and stomach bugs can be beaten in one fell swoop by "aqua", which is Indonesian for bottled mineral water, and is safe, cheap and ubiquitous. Also, fear of an upset tummy should not be a reason to avoid trying the magnificent local cuisine, which is said to contain enough hot peppers and spices to kill off any nasty bugs.

As for Malaria, the WHO website says that "Malaria risk exists throughout the year in the whole country except in Jakarta Municipality, big cities, and within the areas of the tourist resorts of Bali and Java." (http://www.who.int/ith/countrylist06.html#97). According to this, malaria prophylaxis is required for Maninjau, though the risk is probaably very low. Participants in doubt should seek advice from their regular physicians.

Participants should make sure to have health insurance before travelling to Indonesia. In case of emergencies, the local medical facilities leave much to be desired; the best course of action is to seek immediate evacuation to Singapore, which has excellent medical facilities.

Weather:

Maninjau is up in the mountains, so the weather will be delightfully temperate. Daytime temperatures will be in the upper 20s, nighttime temperatures in the lower 20s. Ambun Pagi, the name of the village, means “morning mist”, and for good reason. Heavy tropical downpours are a possibility, but they usually don't last long. Visitors should behave like the locals, not like the proverbial mad dogs and Englishmen, and should avoid strenuous activities in the midday sun. Early morning or late afternoon are the best time for a walk. The Nuansa Maninjau hotel is fully airconditioned, though you may be happier without it.

Dress:

Dress as lightly as possible, to keep cool, while keeping in mind local sensibilities. People attach greater importance to clothing in Southeast Asia than they do in the west, and tend to judge people more by how they're dressed. So you should dress just a tad more formally than in most parts of Europe and North America. Remember, too, that this is a traditional Moslem society. Men need not wear suits and ties, but they should avoid shorts and trousers with frayed holes in them. Women should keep their shoulders and knees covered. No thongs (flip-flops, slippers, or whatever they are in your dialect of English). As for going swimming in the lake, men and women will probably feel uncomfortable wearing any kind of western swimwear. If you can't resist a dip, go into the water like the locals, fully dressed. Or, if you're male, find a more secluded place and wear loose, baggy and not-too-short shorts.

Communication:

In a nutshell: phone service is great, but internet service anything but.

Indonesia has a wonderful institution called a wartel: a blend formed from warung 'stall' and telepon 'telephone'. You simply go in, dial home to Coolangatta or Calgary, and then pay at the desk. Wartel rates are usually much cheaper than calling from your hotel room, where you'll probably be slapped with hefty surcharges. In Ambun Pagi there are two wartels, located on the main road, about a 300 meter walk east (out of the front gate and to the right) of the Nuansa, on the right-hand side of the road: Wartel Firdaus, just before the market, and Wartel Amelia, a short distance after it.

Indonesia has a higher penetration rate than most western countries for the henpon, a loanword from Singaporean English handphone, which most ISMIL particpants will recognize as their 'mobile' or 'cellular'. Like most of the world but not the USA or Canada, Indonesia belongs to the GSM network. What this means is that your European or Australian mobile should work in Indonesia, provided you have registered appropriately for international coverage. Of course, you pay accordingly; for example, if one Dutch vodaphone SIM card in Maninjau calls another one in Maninjau, the caller will pay the rates from Indonesia to the Netherlands, while the recepient will pay the "roaming" charge for the call to be forwarded back to Indonesia. Whereas for text messaging this is not so bad, for voice phonecalls it quickly becomes prohibitive. The solution, for serious users, is to purchase a local SIM card in Indonesia. Such cards usually cost around 100,000 Rps (about 10 Euros), and come with your own Indonesian phone number. Once you have your Indonesian SIM card, you buy prepaid "top up cards", in units of 50,000, 100,000 or 150,000 Rps. Finally, you should note that while Ambon Pagi and the ISMIL venue is covered by all of the major Indonesian network companies, network coverage down by the lakeside is much more iffy: when I checked this out in March 2005, ProXL and Mentari were okay, but Simpati and AS had no coverage.

If you know what a wartel is, you can guess what a warnet is: a place where you can go in and check your email, or your local online newspaper. That's the good news; the bad news is that the connections are often so slow that it sometimes seems it would be faster to fly all the way home and back while the page is loading. Probably the best approach to the problem is to assume that you won't have any internet access while in Maninjau, and then, if you're lucky, be pleasantly surprised. If you want to try your luck, there are a couple of warnets oriented towards tourists down by the lakeside in Maninjau.

Page location: http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/ismil/9/practical_info.html
Page last modified: 22 March 2005