Category: Travel & Leisure

Indonesia rebuffs claims it issues tourist visas for Israelis

The Indonesian government said Sunday it was not issuing tourist visas for Israeli passport holders, debunking a report from an Israeli news outlet, which claimed that it was accepting applications for tourist visas from Israelis.

Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the immigration department of Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said that there was no tourist visa specifically for Israelis as Indonesia already has a free-visa policy for nationals from 169 countries to enter the country for tourist or leisure purposes.

Israel is not included on the list since Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

“Our visa policy has not change in accordance with our foreign policy,” Sampurno said.

Israeli news portal reported on Thursday that Israelis could soon see the “gorgeous destinations” that they “could only see in the movies” by applying for a tourist visa to Indonesia beginning on May 1, and the report described the process as “expensive and lengthy.”

According to the report – which did not provide information from the Indonesian authorities – Israelis can apply for the visa through the “Israel Indonesia Agency” and that “talks are underway to let Israelis get their Indonesia visa in Israel.”

“The news report that said Indonesia was giving out tourist visas to Israel is a hoax” Sampurno said.

The agency’s website was still accessible on Friday but was no longer so on Sunday. According to the website, a single-entry visa costs applicants $135, with which they can stay for 30 days, and an extension for another 30 days will cost applicants $35.

According to the website, “in April 2018, the Ministry of Immigration of the Republic of Indonesia decided to open up a temporary visa quota for Israeli passports to travel to Indonesia under all foreign visa categories to determine the impact and potential of increased bilateral relations between the nations.”

It also featured pictures of a white sandy beach with turquoise blue water and a destination believed to be Raja Ampat, a cluster of 1,500 jungle-covered small islands known as a diver’s paradise and located on West Papua province on the eastern part of the Indonesian archipelago.

WhatsApp Image 2018-05-06 at 19.44.10.jpeg
Screenshots from the now-defunct Israel Indonesia Agency website, which claimed it offered assistance for Israeli passport holders to secure tourist visas to Indonesia.

“There is no such ‘Ministry of Immigration’ in Indonesia,” Sampurno said.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the Indonesian government institution in charge of any immigration issues is the Directorate General of Immigration, which is part of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.

“The Directorate General of Immigration of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Indonesia neither recognize nor has relations with Israel Indonesia Agency.”

The statement also said the information in the agency’s website was “wrong and misleading” and that the only way for Israeli passport holders to secure Indonesian visa was through the “calling visa” process.

Sampurno said the calling visa mechanism is available for citizens of nations with which Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations.

The decision to grant a calling visa involves a number of government agencies with the Foreign Ministry at the lead and the conditions applied to a calling visa holder are very restrictive.

“The visa holder’s whereabouts is limited to a certain place. For example, if the holder stated in the application the place would be in Jakarta, the visa holder can’t go further even to the suburbs of Jakarta and the visa holder can only enter Indonesia through Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta airport,” Sampurno said.

“There will also be constant monitoring from the authorities to the calling visa holder,” he added.

The story was first published in Arab News


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Obama’s Indonesian trip, a quintessential ‘mudik’ holiday

Former US president Barack Obama met with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Friday at the Bogor Palace in West Java, after arriving in Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma airport with his family earlier in the day.

Continue reading “Obama’s Indonesian trip, a quintessential ‘mudik’ holiday”

Nightspots in Jakarta ordered shut during Ramadan

Those looking to have fun in the Indonesian capital during Ramadan should go elsewhere.

The Jakarta administration has banned nightspots from operating during Ramadan, which is set to begin Saturday, ostensibly to respect those who observe the Muslim fasting month.

Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Places such as discotheques, massage parlours and saunas have been ordered to shut from one day before Ramadan until one day after Eid al-Fitr, a festival marking the end of the holy month, said Catur Laswanto, head of the city’s tourism agency.

Eid al-Fitr is from June 25 to 26.

Exceptions are to be made for establishments located in hotels and specially-designated entertainment centres, he said.

“The rules are in place so that Muslims can observe the holy month solemnly,” he said.

Similar rules also are in place in other cities in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

In the past, the Muslim vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front sometimes raided nightspots that remained open during Ramadan, accusing those places of harbouring prostitutes and drug addicts.

But such raids have been rare in recent years after the government cracked down on violators of Ramadan hours and the sale of alcohol.

Mahdi Ba’bud, a local head of the Islamic Defenders’ Front in Jakarta, said his group would not conduct any raids this Ramadan.

“The police will take action,” he said. “We are just watching.”

At the heart of Europe, Indonesian oversees a Saudi mosque

Jakarta/Brussels – Syarif Abdullah Alqadrie was driving to work when a bomb went off at Zaventem airport last month. By the time the Indonesian arrived at the Great Mosque of Brussels, where he is an administrator, a second bomb exploded at the Maelbeek metro station. Continue reading “At the heart of Europe, Indonesian oversees a Saudi mosque”

What to do when you have 72 hours in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi

Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi – Southeast Sulawesi or its capital Kendari is rarely on the list of must-see places among travellers. People who have visited the place would simply say that the place is quite “bland”.

But of course, perspectives and experiences are often very subjective, depending on your expectations. You just have to look for the right places, if you have limited time.

It is widely known that traveling to eastern parts of Indonesia is quite costly. As such, travelers should make the most of their journey by planning their trip carefully.

There are several options to fly to Southeast Sulawesi. Direct flights are available from Jakarta with Garuda Indonesia or Lion Air. Another option is with a two-hour stopover in Makassar, South Sulawesi with Sriwijaya Air. There is also another option of flying from other cities outside of Jakarta (Surabaya, Medan, etc) to Makassar first, and continue with Lion Air or Sriwijaya to Kendari.

The total flight time from Jakarta to Kendari is around two hours and 50 minutes, with airfare costs around Rp 1,500,000 to Rp 2,700,000 (equal to USD $108 to $200) for a round trip.

Kendari is the capital of Southeast Sulawesi. The city lies along the Kendari Bay and it has a population of 314,812, making it the fourth-largest city in Sulawesi, behind Makassar, Manado, and Palu.

Hotels are available from international chains such as the Swiss-Bell to some of the local ones, which I found quite decent.

One of the major downsides was the repeated electricity outages any time during the day or night. As it is widely known that eastern parts of Indonesia has a chronic shortage of electricity and blackouts are treated as normal by local people.

Delicious food and beautiful beaches to enjoy

Bokori island
Visitors bathe in the warm water of Bokori island beach. The beach is often used as the venue for national beach volleyball competition.

We are not going to talk about the Wakatobi National Marine park, one of the world’s marine tourism objects and one of the regencies in Southeast Sulawesi province. Mostly because it is outside of Kendari and it’s expensive to go, unless you’re well prepared for the trip.

Other choices of Kendari’s beautiful beaches are available such as the Nambo Beach. This beauty and tranquility place can be reached only 30 minutes from the city. This sloping beach, with breezy winds, is lined with beautiful palm trees waving all around.

The calm and clear water makes it a convenient beach for swimming or boating, or just simply sitting around and enjoying some coconut drink, while reading a good book.

A further drive, about 45 minutes from the city will take you to the Bokori island, with its beautiful scenery, warm water and white sandy beach. The island is also former home of the Bajo tribe before they were told to relocate in the 90s.

The Bajo is one of Indonesian ethnic tribes famous for being great seamen. They live and die around the ocean, and build their homes close to the ocean to make a living. That is why Bajo tribe are often called as sea nomads, because they first live on their boat as their floating house.

They are still around today, easily found roaming around the waters and will help travelers cross with their humble boats.

“I still remember grew up in this island when I was a kid,” said Pak Mus, a local leader of the Bajo tribe told me during my visit.

Sinonggi, one of local delicacy in Kendari, Southeast of Sulawesi.
Sinonggi, one of local delicacy in Kendari, Southeast of Sulawesi.

To get to the Bokori island you need to cross with the locals’ boat for only 10 minutes. People commonly pay Rp 20,000 per trip.

Bokori island is a clean and well maintained area, with small villas to stay. It’s quite surroundings is suitable for couples or family. I would compare Bokori island to the Tanjung Bira beach in South Sulawesi province, but less developed and not too crowded, which is a better get away option if you look for a quite place.

However since there are no restaurants available around the island (yet, although local government plans to add soon), some cooking skills are necessary to stay in the island.

Alternatively, the locals who take you with their boat would happily deliver food if you arranged it earlier. Or you can bring some with you before crossing.

The famous dabu-dabu sambal.
The famous dabu-dabu sambal from Sulawesi island. HOt and sour mixed in a plate.

A further drive, about 20 minutes will take you to the Bintang Samudera area where you can dive or snorkel.

Local delicacies as expected, are heavily based on seafood, because Kendari is located by the bay and seafood are easily found fresh and is quite cheap. One of it is Sinonggi, made of sago and topped with fish soup, steamed vegetables and fresh mango sambal.

Another famous sambal from the island is called dabu-dabu, which is made from fresh chilli, shallots, tomatoes and fresh lime to accompany your fresh fish, whether it is fried or grilled.

All and all, Kendari was a pleasant short trip for me and I would gladly come back.

In Molenbeek, just hours before the raid and Brussels lockdown

Brussels – It was a 20-minute metro ride from the Schuman station under the European Quarter to what seemed like somewhere in North Africa or Middle East, if not for the names of the streets that suggest the place is still very much part of Brussels.

One of the 19 communes in the Belgian capital of Brussels, Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, also known as Molenbeek, has been described by some as the hotbed of Europe’s Islamic radicalism. It was thrown into the international media spotlight after Belgian authorities arrested seven people there over the weekend after the Paris attacks on Friday, 13 November.

Shops selling Muslim fashion lined a street near Molenbeek's town square. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
Shops selling Muslim fashion lined a street near Molenbeek’s town square. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The spotlight was still evident on the following Friday, 20 November, with the presence of satellite news gathering trucks, camera tripods on standby and groups of journalists taking footage or interviewing people at Molenbeek’s town square, just a few metres away from the metro station exit.

Molenbeek is a 5.9-square-kilometre area with about 95,000 inhabitants as of January, according to Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA). Muslims make up 25 percent of Brussels’ roughly one million population and parts of Molenbeek have a Muslim population of 80 percent, mostly of Moroccan origin.

The shops have Arabic signage and names. Many of them were closed, probably because it was almost noon and the obligatory Friday prayer for Muslim men was approaching. The streets were quiet during the 15-minute walk from the town square to one of Brussels’ biggest mosques, Al Khalil.

It wasn’t easy to find it without a minaret or a wide, arched front entrance usually seen in a mosque, but a butcher from a nearby halal meat shop told The Parrot that the mosque was right across a white van that was parked on Rue Delaunoy.

A signane of Molenbeek and the peace symbol posted on the window of a building in Molenbeek, Belgium on 20 Nov 2015. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
A signane of Molenbeek and the peace symbol posted on the window of a building in Molenbeek, Belgium on 20 Nov 2015. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Even with such a clear direction the mosque seemed nowhere to be seen. The building across the white van looks more like a garage workshop and the only readable sign shows that the adjacent open space is a parking lot. But a notice posted on the building’s sliding doors confirmed that it was Al Khalil Mosque.

The notice was a press release from the biggest Muslim institution in Belgium Ligue d’Entraide Islamique or Islamic Mutual Aid League that runs the mosque, condemning the Paris attacks.

“Our humanity and our religious beliefs require us to firmly and absolutely disapprove these practices that have disturbed public order and prevailing peace in our societies,” the league said in the statement.

A quick look inside the building showed that Friday prayer preparation was underway and soon a man, seemed on alert that two strangers were curiously peeking into the building, came out to ask us what we wanted.

“If you want to meet and interview the Imam, please come back in one and a half hour when the Friday prayer begins,” he told The Parrot and a fellow Indonesian journalist.

But we were not the only journalists seeking to meet the Imam. Journalists from a Hungarian news outlet and Belgium’s French-language broadcaster RTBF were also there to interview him, to whom the man told the same thing.

There were also more journalists, whom we saw at the town square earlier, at a local deli where we had lunch.

Congregration listened to sermon before Friday prayer at the Al Khalil mosque in Molenbeek, Belgium on Friday, 20 Nov 2015. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
Congregration listened to sermon before Friday prayer at the Al Khalil mosque in Molenbeek, Belgium on Friday, 20 Nov 2015. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

When we returned to the mosque, the man greeted us again at the door and invited my male colleague into the mosque.

“But you, madame, please go to the ladies’ prayer room through that door over there,” he told The Parrot.

He went inside the building with my colleague but quickly reappeared and approached me.

“Alright, you can go inside but you have to cover your hair first,” he said.

The mosque management seemed prepared that the media circus was coming as the man handed out the press release that was posted on the door and told us to go to a designated corner behind the hundreds of worshippers. At least 20 male journalists had already gathered in the corner on standby with their tripods and cameras.

“After the prayer, the Imam will meet you here. He will give a statement and you can ask him questions,” the man told journalists in the mosque.

The Friday prayer started with the Imam, Mustafa Kastit, reading out the press release.

“No reason nor devotion can justify those cruel acts,” he said of the Paris attacks that happened a month ago.

“Islam is a religion which advocates a society of coexistence based on respect and dignity for each and everyone,” he said and proceeded to deliver his sermon in Arab first and then French.

Mustafa said in his sermon that he addressed it to his friends, fellow Muslims and society in general. He also spoke about the need to have equal employment opportunity for local Muslims.

Moleenbeek had 53.2 percent female unemployment rate was while male unemployment was 28.6 percent, according to BISA.

The town square of Brussels' Molenbeek. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
The town square of Brussels’ Molenbeek. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Mustafa also condemned the terror attacks in Paris, saying “terrorists don’t have nationalities, [skin] colors and don’t have religions.”

After the prayer, another preacher delivered another sermon and by the time we got to meet Mustafa, after his interview with RTBF, the mosque’s muezzin was calling for Asr prayer. Mustafa said he would see us after the prayer but due to time constraint, we could not wait that long and had to leave Molenbeek.

Media reports said on that Friday evening, Belgian police raided an apartment building in Molenbeek’s Rue Jean-Baptiste Decock, which is about 400 meters from Rue Delaunoy where the mosque is located, in search of one of the Paris attackers Salah Abdeslam. They didn’t find him but found weapons in one of the apartments. A few hours laters, authorities raised security alert to a maximum level in the Belgian capital, which prompted the Brussels lockdown for several days.