For me, Indonesia is one of those places on earth that every traveler, vacationer, and backpacker should go to at least once in their lifetime. The weather never gets below 26 degrees Celsius, and the tropical rains are romantic (if you’re in the right location).
Personally, I am not one who likes to go the beaten path, which means I like to steer clear of the tourist locations. Bali is one of those places I have never been and choose never to go. That's because, though Bali has some neat places to visit, it is a pure tourist location with all of the prices and problems that come with such. So I will share with you three of the best places Indonesia has to offer that is pretty much off the beaten path.
Gayo, Aceh: The Land of Coffee
The native peoples of Gayo, Aceh, are coffee farmers by trade. Their culture is one that is a mixture of traditional Asian, Indian, and what is reminiscent of Native American tribes. Their traditional clothing is full of color and artistic flair that is unique to Indonesia.
Though most of Indonesia is considered kind of hot and humid, Gayo reminded me of Colorado in the summer - it never gets hot enough that you sweat, and the mornings are cold enough to see your breath.
Gayo has its share of foreigners visiting in order to take a tour of the coffee farms, but when I was there, I never saw anyone but locals. This is because Gayo isn't really known by the mainstream tourist crowd. This is most likely because the area is too chilly and brisk for most who are looking to go swimming, scuba diving, or sunbathing. But the mountain views are something to die for.
I stayed in Gayo, Aceh for about five days, of which I was offered fresh Gayo, Aceh, coffee at every house I stopped at. This is because my tour guide was more than happy to bring me around and introduce me to everyone he knew. This meant a rarely paid for Kopi Luwak or Mie Goreng Aceh (which is my favorite). Food and drinks are delicious here, just make sure you watch your hygiene, in order to avoid food poisoning. No one likes to do holiday claims over a ruined vacation.
Bukittinggi, West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat)
Surrounded by a mixture of dense forests and jungle, Bukittinggi is yet another one of my favorite cities high in the mountains. Much like Gayo, Aceh, this Indonesian paradise is another gem hidden from the rest of the world. Not saying it doesn’t have its fair share of tourists, but definitely not as much as the other locations in Indonesia known for its high tourists traffic.
Bukittinggi is truly one of those places full of rich history, as it was once occupied by the Japanese military during the Second World War. You can still take a tour of their old underground tunnels that have entrances and exits carved out of the side of steep mountain cliffs. You can also find an old WWII era Japanese fighter plane on display close to the caves. Indonesia was occupied by Japanese forces for almost two years or more in order to take Indonesia's crude oil supply to fuel their war.
Their most prominent symbol that sets them apart from other Indonesian cities is Jam Gadang in the main square. You’re not really a tourist until you’ve taken a photo standing under it. It’s sort of like Indonesia’s version of the United Kingdom's Big Ben.
And no trip is complete without taking a horse and buggy ride around the city that only cost about $4.
Padang City, West Sumatra (Sumatera Barat)
Only a few more hours more west lie Padang City. This wonderful Indonesian Paradise is yet another unknown gem on the tourists’ radar. It has wonderful beaches (that are not crowded full of drunk foreigners), and is also surrounded by lush, green mountains for as far as the eye can see.
I took a motorcycle tour from Pekanbaru, which is about eight hours to Padang. As a part of the adventure, we spent the night in makeshift tents on the white beaches. I remember being frightened silly by the hundreds of little crabs that invade the beach at night (frightened because I mistook them for Arachnids rather than crabs).
When I woke up that morning I was greeted by a warm but not hot sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. I walked out to the ocean and gazed upon a site I will never soon forget - blue ocean as far as the eye could see. From the right to the left, nothing but white beach with almost no one there to ruin the mood. For me this is all what a lovely trip is about.