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For thousands of years Indonesians developed complex agricultural societies with rich artistic and cultural traditions rooted in a belief in ancestral spirits and animism. The history of Indonesia also chronicles the influx of maritime trade, the transmission of religions, the rise and fall of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, 350 years of colonization by the Dutch, invasion by the Japanese, and the establishment of an independent nation in 1949. The Indonesian people have nurtured a world view that incorporates diverse religions and traditions with indigenous beliefs that lie at the heart of Indonesia’s cultures. Also, merchant ships have traversed the Straits of Melaka, the sea route connecting South Asia (the Indian subcontinent) and East Asia, carrying maritime traders in search of gold and fine spices. Midway in their journeys along this thoroughfare, in the archipelago of Indonesia, traders from India and China in search of exotic trade items discovered goods ranging from gold, nutmeg, and cloves to rhinoceros horn and kingfisher feathers. During this time Indonesian rulers drew upon new religions and cultural ideas brought by these foreign traders, who were sometimes accompanied by Hindu and Buddhist priests. After these Indian religions were established on the island of Java, Indonesian rulers in turn patronized the development of religious sites in India.

The Indonesian people themselves are as varied as the landscapes they inhabit. Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country with 90% of the country's 235m population practicing Muslims, but there are also many other religious influences present in the country including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Culture is correspondingly varied and over 350 languages are spoken throughout the archipelago. While in Jakarta businessmen may be haggling over deals, the Baliem tribe in Papua will be decorating their hair with cassowary feathers and coating themselves in pig fat to keep warm. With a culture and people so rich and diverse, Indonesia is one of south east Asia's most attractive destinations.

Despite the varied culture, the one thing the people do have in common is their friendliness. Indonesians are amongst the friendliest in south east Asia, which is in itself one of the most sociable areas in the world. Wherever you travel in the country you will more than likely be greeted by a chorus of 'Hello Mister's from the local population. Indonesians have no inhibitions when it comes to starting conversations with strangers and you will frequently find yourself in passing conversations with numerous locals. The people are so sociable that it may take some getting used to.

These aspects of Indonesian life may seem a little hard to believe on first arrival into the country. The two main international airport cities of Jakarta in Java and Kuta in Bali, are far removed from the highlights of the country. Jakarta is a huge, rather unpleasant city with traffic jams, shopping malls and skyscrapers; Kuta is a hedonistic beach resort with high rise luxury hotels and thousands of tourists. Unfortunately these areas may serve as a rather negative introduction to the archipelago which is wholly unrepresentative of the country. Once out of these areas, visitors will discover the cultural and scenic beauty of the country.

With the richness of landscape and culture that Indonesia possesses, it is somewhat surprising that it is not a more popular tourist destination. There is potential for activities that cater to every conceivable taste. In Java alone, you can climb the numerous volcanoes (active and dormant) that span the island, spend some time admiring the impressive flora and faunae in the islands remote national parks, see the sunrise over Borobodur, the world's largest and most impressive Buddhist temple, or find your own deserted island paradise in the Karimunjawa national park. Bali and Lombok have numerous excellent surf sights, spectacular rice paddy landscapes, large beaches, idyllic islands and the ability to indulge in the richness of the country's food and culture. The warm and wet equatorial climate enhances the natural attractions of the country. Tropical rain keeps the country looking fertile and lush while the temperature of around 28?C/82?F makes the country pleasantly warm to travel around in or to laze on the beach in. Despite this, tourism in much of Indonesia is extremely limited and it is very possible to go for days without seeing another western face.