As with any country blessed with so many natural attractions, the countryside of Indonesia has a lot to offer in terms of recreation. The cities, while not renowned as very eco-friendly, certainly have enough going on to keep both visitors and long-time residents with leisure time on their hands occupied.
At first glance, you might be tempted to wonder what there could be to do in the haphazard mix of concrete, steel, shanties and high-rises that constitute many of Indonesia's big cities. It's true that they're not exactly a nature-lover's paradise. Parks and fields are few and far between and the ones that do exist tend to be a bit unsavory or unkempt, or both. Not really places you'd want to take your young family for a picnic. However, while the cities lack the green touch, there are plenty of recreational facilities hidden away.
Sporty types are well taken care of. There are numerous gyms in all major cities, often, but not exclusively, found in the bigger hotels. These gyms often include other facilities like saunas, steam rooms and massage services. Large hotels often play host to Indonesian families, gaggles of children and servants in tow, who enjoy using the swimming pool. The pools get especially busy in the late afternoon and on weekends, so someone wanting to do some serious lengths should avoid these times. Housing and apartment complexes also usually come with a pool and, in addition, there are some public pools. A few major hotels and apartments are equipped with tennis courts (fewer with squash courts) and most big cities are home to an array of sports clubs that provide all the facilities mentioned above.
Foreign residents who miss taking part in their favorite sports can join soccer, rugby and cricket leagues. Others, who aren't that keen on dashing around a field in the tropical heat, can simply sit back and watch their games of choice at the many bars and pubs that show them on TV. For more sedate activities (and I'm sure I risk the wrath of some here), most big cities have good quality golf courses and driving ranges. Jakarta and Bali, in particular, boast several world-class courses. Billiards too, known here by the term ‘bilyar,' is a popular pastime and a staple of many bars. If you really want to chill out you can make use of the many popular spas and reflexology (foot massage) centers.
ISCI ((021) 749 0540) has a full range of sports and leisure facilities.
If shopping - real or window - is your thing, then you can join the hordes of Indonesian shoppers, who probably rank mall visits as their leading hobby/pastime/leisure pursuit. Indonesia's cities have dozens of them and they house all the internationally renowned designer boutiques as well as some good restaurants, food courts and cinemas. The main cinema chain is called Studio 21 and is found in most major cities. Its cinemas show the latest movies and are cool and comfy (hopefully, you won't mind the odd mobile phone conversation going on behind you). A rival company, Blitz Megaplex has recently sprung up in Jakarta and Bandung and shows alternative cinematic fare. There are several enjoyable film festivals each year, especially the Jakarta International Film Festival (it does show movies outside the capital too). There are also occasional music concerts and festivals (JakJazz and Java Jazz are very popular) and some dramatic productions. Most newspapers and some magazines will advertise these so keep your eyes peeled.
Beaches, gardens, mountains
Jakarta has a seaside restaurant and entertainment complex at Ancol, where kids can enjoy the rides at Dunia Fantasi (Fantasy World) and have a quasi-marine experience at Seaworld. Bali has a similar amusement park and many cities have their own zoos, though the conditions of most leave a lot to be desired.
The more adventurous should head out of the towns. Just about every island in Indonesia has great opportunities for hiking and camping. The numerous mountains and national parks are perfect places to explore. Some can be done without a guide, but the more challenging walks certainly require one. You'll need to do some research before setting out. Most of the cities are near lovely beach areas where you can easily rent a bungalow or stay in a hotel and laze away the weekend. The Thousand Islands off the coast of Jakarta (there are actually only 105 of them) are decent and quick getaway options from the bustle of the capital. There are beautiful botanical gardens in Bogor (south of Jakarta) and Bali and safari parks (a step up from the zoos) near Jakarta, in East Java and Bali. Those wanting to escape the stifling heat of the towns can head to the many hill retreats, which are usually not too far away. These include Brestagi (Medan), Puncak (Jakarta), Lembang (Bandung), Tretes (Surabaya), Batu (Malang), Tomohon (Manado), Bedugul (Bali) and Tetebatu (Lombok).
World-class water adventures
If you fancy getting soaked, you can try white-water rafting in Sukabumi (West Java), in Bali and in Sulawesi, while other water-sport options include hundreds of world-class scuba diving sites around the archipelago, as well as some the absolute best surfing breaks in the world (from the northwestern tip of Sumatra to Java, Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa, and all the way down to Rote Island). All in all, if you can find the motivation, there is plenty to keep you busy during your free time.
Contributor: Nick Aarons