Are Indonesians the Nicest People on Earth?

Belaragi Village woman people

“He is either telling us to get off his land or he is inviting us to his house,” I said to Kristi as we stood on the edge of a rice paddy watching an elderly man frantically wave at us. “Let’s go towards him and see what happens.”

We started walking towards the ancient man who quickly disappeared into his home and returned with two tiny stools. He placed them next to his wrinkly, bone-thin wife who was diligently weaving together banana leaves to make something. His actions seemed friendly, not murderous. We sat down to chat.

He offered us coffee or tea, which we declined on account that it was about 95 degrees with 95 percent humidity on that Balinese afternoon, but we did accept their offer of bananas. After a few minutes we had exhausted our Bahasa Indonesia and they had exhausted their English. We got up to leave, thanked them profusely and walked away happy for the small encounter.

Then there was the one time while waiting at the baggage claim at the Makassar airport. Kristi started talking to a nice local lady as I retrieved our bags from the carousel. The lady asked where we were headed and offered to give us a ride to the bus station. Her nephew picked us up and we showed the address we had written on a piece of paper. Although they didn’t know where it was, they made a handful of phone calls, got directions and dropped us off. She did it totally out of kindness and expected nothing in return.

Then there was the time while walking through the town of Ruteng in central Flores. It was difficult to walk anywhere because at every block we encountered uber-friendly locals who wanted to stop and talk. Most of them were teenagers who had just gotten out of school for the day, but others were friendly adults. Once a man pulled up to an intersection on his motorbike as we were crossing in front of him. He shut off the engine to his bike and started chatting with us. The people were almost too friendly.

Belaragi Village woman people

The ubiquitous Indonesian Smile

Indonesians are the World’s Friendliest People

These are three of the countless examples of the overwhelming generosity, kindness and friendliness we experienced in our two months in Indonesia. We have been lucky to travel far and wide, and to us, the Indonesians are the nicest people on Earth. I realize this is a bold and subjective statement, but I stand behind it. If there is a county with nicer people, I want to go there now.

People in Southeast Asia are very friendly, shy and non-confrontational in general, but Indonesians are on a whole new level. Maybe Indonesians are so friendly because on their 13,000 islands there are about 700 languages and a riot of different cultures and religions. These people are by and large very tolerant of differences. Maybe they have to be to survive.

But these islands are exceedingly safe also. For whatever reason, street crime, muggings or violent attacks aren’t part of the culture. I appreciated being able to walk around with my DSLR camera on my shoulder. In many places I have traveled, this would be an invitation for a mugging and would draw the attention of many thieves and bag snatchers. In Indonesia, it does indeed draw a great deal of attention, but in the form of kids asking me to take their photos.

I just hope that as tourism grows in Indonesia, the locals retain their quick smiles, wonderful treatment of the tourists and crime and scams don’t increase. These are the nicest people I have ever met, and I want others to experience the same.

Flores Beach locals

Locals hanging out on a beach in Flores that absolutely had to take photos with us.

Smiling Kids near Moni, Flores

Friendly kids on the hike to Kelimutu.

Boys from Flores in Bali

 


Where are the friendliest people you’ve encountered in your travels? 


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25 Comments on “Are Indonesians the Nicest People on Earth?

  1. I’ve seen how mass tourism has changed many people in Bangkok to be less genuine and more money-oriented, certainly one thing I hope won’t happen in Indonesia. James once told me about the Indonesian smiles, something I’ve been taking for granted.

    • Bama, I felt the same way about Thailand and I hope it doesn’t happen in Indonesia. I am from Oklahoma and we have some really nice people there also. I forget that also, but after visiting after a long absence I am reminded of it.

  2. I once traveled from Sumatra to Timor Timor (as it was called before they changed the name), and I was forced to say hello more times than I’d said it collectively in all the years up to that point in my life. People who spoke no English said hello. Always with a smile. I vote for Indonesians as the friendliest.

    Unrelated question: I can’t figure out how to put a border around my photos, there’s no option to do that. Is there a secret, or do you know if some themes just do not offer frames?

    • Glad to hear that you’ve experienced the wonderful friendliness of the people also.

      For the border, I am not sure. When I put a caption on a photo, it makes a border. No caption = no border. Hope this helps.

  3. I agree with Bama. I hope as the industry grows the people and the culture doesn’t change. It is too bad it isn’t something in their water, if it was we could package it up and put it in every water supply around the globe! Then again, perhaps it is something in their water, it just isn’t packable.

  4. the Philippines…they are friendly and welcoming people. I have been visiting the Philippines twice and I have never had experiences being insult as I had been experiencing it when visiting Indonesia. (PS: in the Philippines, I often being mistaken as a Filipino).
    I have mix feelings about Indonesians hospitality. I am an Indonesian and I would love to promote Indonesian hospitality. However in several occasions of my travel experiences at my own home country were different compared to you. I did meet friendly Indonesians but as well as some prejudice and rude Indonesians.
    Maybe it is a different case for an Indonesian woman traveling with a Caucasian man. I got harassed several times when traveling with my Dutch partner in Bali and Jakarta. They called me something that beyond your imagination. I get over the insult callings by now. However I do still get annoyed when people having prejudice that an Asian woman with a Caucasian man could not be together based on true love and long-term partnership.

    • Indah, thank you for sharing your perspective. No doubt people from different cultures can and often do find love. I am happy for you and your partner. There are many instances where there is obvious exploitation between rich westerners and local girls all over the world. However, that is no excuse for people to be rude! Sorry to hear that.

      I have worked with several people from the Philippines and they are great people. I can’t wait to visit, maybe this year even! Where is your favorite place in the Philippines?

      • Hi Jeff,

        Commercial sex in tourism always look ugly and sad. I just could not believe how rude some Indonesians could be towards these women and making it worst, some of them were generalizing that all Indonesian women with bule (white-skin) guys must had commercial sex relationship.

        If I were not being called by certain names on the street, then usually being asked of how long the (sex) contract last or am I paid by rupiah or dollar. Or simply we got unfriendly and rude services. Such manners made me questioning Indonesians’ friendliness. It was tragic and disturbing as I was actually a tourist who traveled for more than 16 hours from Europe to Indonesia to expect a friendly service and heart welcoming holiday at my own home country 😦

        Oh my! My apology for my long grumpiness comment!

        About the Philippines, I have been around in Visayas area and really like it. We spent 2.5 weeks on each visit and mainly for scuba diving.

        On the next visit, we would like to visit Luzon and Palawan. Palawan is a beautiful island to visit and Vigan in Luzon is certainly a unique place to check.

        Would you try scuba-diving during your visit in the Philippines? I hope you will include the snorkel with the whale sharks as well when in the Philippines (there are options to snorkel with the whale sharks in the natural way – unlike in Oslob)…

      • Indah,

        Thanks for the tips on the Philippines. Before going to Indonesia, it came down to the Philippines vs Indonesia and we settled on the latter. Now we want to go to the other island nation.

        That is messed up how you were treated in your own country, but thank you for sharing that perspective!

        Jeff

    • I agree–the Philippine Islands are GREAT, also. And friendly people. It is simply just too bad that you had too experience the kind of fear or jealousy or judgment based on limited knowledge of reality. But, probably you will find that kind of person anywhere you travel. Judging others is a very human thing to do. But sad.

  5. Such a wonderful post Jeff. I have been amazed in almost anywhere we have traveled by the kindness of strangers. It sounds like Indonesia is at the very top for such wonders of humanity.

  6. Jeff, I couldn’t agree more. I can’t think of another country where I have been so readily accepted and welcomed – it’s come to the point where I feel more at home in Indonesia than in Hong Kong! Of course a lot of it has to do with the fact that I travel with Bama, but there have been many times when I’ve been alone (say on a plane, and in a taxi from Jakarta airport) and curious Indonesians will always strike up an easy conversation.

    It even happened while I was taking the MRT in Singapore! A friendly businessman who was visiting with his wife and daughter was thrilled that I spoke some Bahasa, and he soon invited me to stay at their place the next time I was in Jakarta. Sadly I never did get his contact before we split up a few stations down the line.

    And someday, when I get the hang of portrait photography, I will publish a photo essay on that ubiquitous Indonesian smile.

    • James, I figured that as a fellow Indonesia-phile you’d feel the same way. I was amazed that as diverse as the culture was on each island, the smile and friendliness stayed the same.

  7. You’ve given me another reason to want to travel there.

    It is definitely not on this level, but I am finding Taiwanese to be very friendly. Today, taking a bus to a new city, 10 women ranging in age from 15 to 80 helped figure out where my hotel was, what stop to get off at, etc. One of them got off the bus to point me in the right direction. Very much appreciated in a land of chinese characters.

    • Kevin, That is so cool. We found the same thing in China with locals going out of their way to help us. Do you think it will make you more likely to help strangers who are lost when in America?

  8. This is really nice tho. We would love to inviting you again to be here 🙂 -greeting from Indonesia !

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