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4.0 out of 5 stars The Only Updated Guide to Indonesia - Reviews of both the 2007 and 2010 editions!, February 2, 2007
This review is from: Indonesia (Lonely Planet Travel Guides) (Paperback)
Amazon has decided to combine reviews of both editions on this page, so I decided to add my thoughts on the 2010 edition to the end of this review, originally written for the previous one. I suggest that you read the whole thing if you are not familiar with the book yet, or scroll down towards the end if you just want to know what has changed in the latest edition.

The 2007 edition:

This is currently by default both the best overall guide to Indonesia for independent travellers, and the only one that is remotely up to date.
The competition (Moon, Footprint, Rough Guides) seems to have given up covering this vast archipelago years ago. For this reason alone, the book still gets 4 stars from me, despite some shortcomings and amusingly striking errors outlined later.
It definitely covers enough attractions to keep people occupied for months, and is more than enough for those with an average interest in the country.
As usual with this series, it covers practical details like prices, public transport and city maps, though unusually for Lonely Planet, many prices in this book (especially for public transport and guiding services) seem to be the result of guesswork by the authors, and even a year after the book was published, I found that they were actually considerably LOWER than those listed here!
There is also more than enough background information about culture and history for most readers, although unfortunately some useful things that were still present in the previous edition, like an overview of national parks and the longer lists of recommended books about various aspects and regions of the country have now been removed. Many less frequented islands, towns and areas that were still described in several previous editions have now been omitted, too.
On a brighter note, there is realistic, up to date assesment of the much-improved security situation in formerly strife-torn regions like Aceh and Maluku, encouraging tourists to return there.
Unfortunately, coverage of the remoter, less-visited regions remains poor.
The chapter on Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) has finally seen some long overdue changes, with non-existing attractions removed and real ones added, but info on almost anything outside the big, boring, modern coastal cities (which are covered in masochistic detail) is so vague that it makes one wonder if the author has ever left the urban jungles at all. My impression is that if she did, she certainly didn't get far!
That is still better than the chapter on Papua (Indonesian New Guinea).
Long the weakest, nearly useless part of this guide, one gets the impression that the Japanese lady "updating" it for this edition has never set foot there, and thus simply lifted all content over from the previous guides, updating hotel and transport prices with the aid of her telephone. Her information about how to cross the border with Papua New Guinea is spectacularly wrong, and there is almost nothing in that chapter that hadn't been there in the previous editions.
There are also some striking errors in the general sections dealing with the whole country.
As in the previous edition, the color section on "Indonesian" fauna proudly includes a shot of a Green Iguana from South America, this time with the added caption "Iguanas can be found in parks such as Taman Nasional Bali Barat" - in reality there are no iguanas anywhere in Asia. Similarly, the "Beguiling Beasties" itinerary recommended for wildlife fans says "you can try spotting the rare bird of paradise on the islands around Pulau Biak". Ironically, Biak and its neighbouring islands happen to be the ONLY part of Papua where there are NO birds of paradise! ;-) Plus covering that entire itinerary would take you several months (which your visa won't allow), and even then you would still have to skip the Foja Mountains of Papua (highly recommended by the author based on news reports) which are in reality so remote and inaccessible that even well-supported scientific expeditions have only made it there a few times.
But my favourite blunder is in the Getting there & Away chapter at the back of the book, listing international border crossings, where the author says "...there are two boats a week between Dili in East Timor and Oecussi in [Indonesian] West Timor." A boat on that route does exist, the only slight difference being that both of those towns are in independent East Timor, outside the borders of Indonesia!
Couldn't LP get authors who at least know where Indonesia ends and its neighbours start this time??? :-)
So those with a deeper interest in Indonesia, or with an interest in a particular region, might prefer more detailed, regional guides to those areas - there are several covering Bali & Lombok to choose from, Lonely Planet has great (if ageing) guides to Java and Nusa Tenggara, while Periplus has eight separate ones to all parts of the country, though the Periplus ones are best backed up with this book for practical details.
Those who have already been to Indonesia and own the previous edition of this book, might as well just keep it instead of investing into this new effort. Most of the content is exactly the same (or missing), with only the layout and prices changed - and the prices will have changed again by the time you get to Indonesia anyway.
For first-timers, this remains the best single-volume guide to buy though - even if only by default.

The 2010 edition:

Most of the comments on the previous edition remain valid, though in general, prices seem to have been updated more carefully for this edition.
The best thing about it is that the the chapters on the long-ignored regions of Kalimantan and Papua have finally been much improved, though it is quite obvious that much of the new info was collected online (eg on LP's very own Thorn Tree travel forum) or from tour-operators, rather than on the ground. Still, coverage of those 2 regions is now much better than it had ever been before!
Coverage of another 2 regions has also improved.
The Maluku chapter once again contains separate entries on the more remote Aru, Tanimbar and Sula Islands and is probably the best part of the whole book now.
The Sumatra chapter has finally added some long-popular destinations that had before been mysteriously missing from the book, such as Tangkahan and Kedah in the north, though it continues to ignore very popular Pulau Belitung down south.
As for the rest, there seem to be very few changes - perhaps due to lack of criticizm, the publisher thought they are fine as they are. Not quite - much of the info in the chapter on Java, Indonesia's 2nd most visited island, is something like a decade out of date now, with national parks like Ujung Kulon and Gunung Halimun remaining poorly and errorously described, others ignored altogether. There has been very little changed about Nusa Tenggara or Sulawesi, either...
The recommended special interest itineraries at the beginning of the book remain as unrealistic as in the previous edition. They recommend touring places widely scattered all over the whole archipelago - you'd need several months! I also find the featured color "Highlights" poorly selected - Papua's Baliem Valley is listed twice, while there's nothing recommended from Sumatra at all!

Conclusion: If you are planning your first trip to Indonesia, get this book by all means. If you already have the previous edition, you can just stick with that, though for Kalimantan and Papua the separate chapters from the new edition are worth having - and can be downoaded separately from the publisher's website! ;-)
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 19, 2007 4:48:42 AM PST
Javagirl says:
Thanks Lazlo- you can always be counted on to provide good feedback on the Indonesian travel guides.

As a former resident of Indonesia, I will be returning this March for a trip and I will be using my old travel guides (I saved old editions back from when they did a decent job covering the Maluku). Despite my numerous criticisms of the previous edition of LP Indonesia, I will not spend my money on this new guide. Thanks for your comprehensive and informative update!

Posted on Jan 2, 2008 10:27:41 PM PST
Thank you. I hope that the editors at LP read you comments. They let so much slide and have too many lazy writers. I still use Moons book by Dalton for cultural background. It is the best for that but way to out of date for any pratical travel info. The biggest problem with travel to Indonesia is the 30 day tourist visit limitation. I guess the country has no need for the money that travelers would spend there. Any serious book on the subject should go into detail about that. Flying to SIA every month is a costly drag!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2008 4:38:22 PM PST
David, you can actually get a 60 day visa from Indonesian embassies abroad quite easily, and it may even be extendable these days. OK, it's not available on arrival, but getting one is stil cheaper and less hassle than doing a visa-run to Singapore or Malaysia!

Posted on Feb 7, 2009 8:12:05 AM PST
Dinornis says:
I deeply appreciate the time and energy that this author put into this review. It may be as useful as the book itself. It also appears that the world is not yet flat- much of Indonesia seems well off the backpacker map. Long may it remain so!

Posted on May 12, 2010 10:02:57 PM PDT
The Brit says:
Since the BBC invested in LP, the quality has deteriorated. LP sold out sadly. It is increasingly obvious that the authors have not all even travelled on the ground much, if at all.
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