Travel Horror

Dec 9th, 2007, in Travel, by

A travel horror story from Iamisaid.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread

Travelling Across Indonesia Plans.

A close friend who once lived and worked at a remote end of Indonesia, reared fish over there for export till he contracted a life threathening respiratory disease and was forced to abandon his business, recently suggested that the two of us make an all-round trip of the Indonesian Archipelago.

I am all for it. We are at the planning stage.

However, as with any journey into the “unknown”, it would be in the best interest for our safety and preparation to know which territory is less safe and needs us to be more careful so that we return home in one piece. Hence, the reason for this article and you would understand the purpose by the time you finish reading it.

Dumai Horror Story

Take Dumai as an example. On route to Pekan Baru last year, my experience at Dumai, a town located on the east coast of Sumatra, made me vow that I would never go that way again. I was traveling with an Indonesian who is a native of Bukit Tinggi. Even his accompaniment was of little help at Dumai, in Riau province.

What happened at Dumai?

Before we arrived at Dumai, my Indonesian friend advised me not to speak Bahasa Indonesia to anyone while we made our way through the terminal. He had a point because that way I would not get engaged in conversation that might lead me into unnecessary trouble. Exceptions of course being the Immigration and Customs officers and only if the need arise.

I had barely alighted from the ferry and I was confronted by two bag porters. They wished to carry my laptop and bag. (I have made it a habit to travel as light as possible.) I shook my head to decline their offer. These two men left only to be replaced by others. So as it was, me shaking my head for as long as it lasted till I reached the Immigration booth. That was mild in comparison with what was soon to befall on me.

I was cleared by the Immigration without any problem. Good.

As I made my way out from the building, I had to face several hecklers from Travel and Hotel agencies. Still mild.

What happened the moment as I stepped out of the building could be described as a war zone.

Cab drivers, more bag porters and more excursion promoters swarmed around me. It was like the way celebrities get hassled by media reporters. A celebrity? I am not.

My laptop shoulder strap was grabbed. My bag was grabbed. Oh heavens! NO, NO, please not my laptop. I was shoved and the men milled around me and were yelling. During all this commotion, I was pulled away by someone who grabbed me by my right shirt sleeve. Then someone else held my left arm, like as though he was doing me a good deed, as he pulled me away to the the left, away from the man on my right who had not let loose his clutch on my sleeve. In the process of all this, the man who held my right shirt sleeve, had my shirt torn.

I could see that my Indonesian friend too was in a similar mess with the “Welcome to Dumai” crowd. With him facing the same predicament, he could not give me any assistance.

After my shirt was torn, they became more subdued. One of them pretended to patch the tear as he briskly stroked the torn fabric back into position. He stroked more than was required as he moved his hands to other areas of my body. I stepped away from him.

I stood immobile for a few moments, tried as best as I could to regain my composure, my eyes darted back and forth, while I thought of a way to get past all this without anymore hassles.

When my Indonesian friend freed himself and rejoined me we gave each other that “can’t believe this” facial gesture.

Finally, we made it out of the terminal compound and not without haggling with two cab drivers on the fare.

We were driven to a ticket office in town that provides road transport to Pekan Baru. Initially, everything looked above board while we discussed fare price and directions until this man walked right up to us.

The salesgirl said that this man is the person who would drive us to Pekan Baru. The fare was paid. I had to request that a ticket be given. The ticket was given but in a rather suspiscious manner. I did not give it further attention as there was too much on my mind.

The driver told us to wait at that sales office till 5:30 p.m. His vehicle was still at the terminal as he needed to search for additional passengers to make his trip profitable.

We sat on a bench like obedient school children till it went past 5:30. The salesgirl had left and was replaced by someone else.

6:00 p.m. and still no sight of our driver.

We realised that we were cheated. Neither the sales office accepted responsibility nor did the driver arrive.

We were forced to stay the night at Dumai because it was not a good idea to travel at night to Pekan Baru – some 4 hours by road.

That was my first trip en route Dumai and it was definitely the last.

Places to Avoid?

Indonesia being such a “potpourri” of cultures, traditions and such like, I think that it might benefit readers by sharing our personal experiences, knowledge or advice.
A collation of personal experiences would certainly help whoever travels or has plans to travel to new locations in Indonesia.

21 Comments on “Travel Horror”

  1. Sputjam says:

    I had similar inclinations too. My plan was from Aceh (at that time in political turmoil), west coast sumatra all the way, including lake Toba (a small turbo-prop airport should be built here for international travellers), across sunda straits, south coast java, island hopping till sumbawa island.

    Town facing straits of melaka and java sea are mostly rubbish. (dumai being good indicator)
    But those area facing the open ocean have a different environment altogether, less busy and cleaner. And the people are more pleasant. Shame these regions are not highlighted in tourist promotions, or their access is difficult or expensive. When it comes to tourism, is seems only java and Bali only matters.

  2. Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    When flying into Indonesia and connecting flight to another town, buy the ticket straight from over the ticket office counter, and not from anyone claiming to represent an airline.

    There are always scalpers scouting for tourists especially bules, and demanded to know where you are connecting too before you could locate where the ticket kiosks are. Their modus operandi is to tell you that the flight to your destination was fully booked and unavailable, and that the only way is to go through them as they have connection to some officials working inside the airline. They will asked for double or triple the selling price, and purchase the ticket off the ticket kiosk for you. I have a few bule friends (all of them are Oz bules as they are gullible) who had fallen victim to this trick.

    I believe they are still operating as I have seen many scalpers lurking around for unsuspecting tourists.

  3. WP says:

    Well, I’m a native indonesian. But still got cheated multiple times. So I guess that would be pretty bad for foreigners. My experience:

    * Tangkuban Prahu, west java. Made a deal with a cab driver to hire his cab for us alone. Paid the money, then they load the cab with us, and lots of other people. Instead of dropping us at the end terminal, we were dropped half way, and were told to switch to other cab.

    * Medan airport. Made a deal with a cab driver to bring us to the place where we can hire cabs to lake Toba. Paid the money. He took us like 50 meters to the next parking area, and voila, there you are!

    * Well, this is not a cheating case, but taking a cab from medan to toba is like a drive of death. Those drivers are mad (and/or stupid)!! So foreigners thinking of taking cabs for provincial travel are advised to double their insurance.

    * Lake toba. We want to cross to samosir island. We were told to hire a boat. So we did. We hired an entire boat (usually for 50 people or so) just for the two of us. Well, it was nice … it’s just that those people forgot to mention that the ferry service was still running and that we could have taken it instead. Bleh.

  4. iamisaid says:

    Aluang Anak Bayang said: “There are always scalpers scouting for tourists”

    me: Indeed how true. As was in this incident that I witnessed.

    It was on a another trip to Pekan Baru, this time avoiding Dumai. I was held back by the Immigration Officer and that is a story for some other time.

    There was an Algerian tourist who was with our travel. As he waited for his turn at the Immigration, an Indonesian came close to where we were, waiting in line.

    He made himself to look busy, questioning people left, right and center. Then he turned to the Algerian and asked a very simple question. “Mister, which Hotel?”

    The Algerian said “Hotel ABC” (I can’t remember the Hotel name that he gave).

    The Indonesian’s reply was spontaneous, “Saya dari Hotel ABC, ada mobile. Mana bag?”

    The Algerian pointed to where his bags were. The Indonesian walked over to carry the bags and said, “Mister, saya masuk bag dalam mobile” smiling and nodding as if to reassure the Algerian.

    And that was the last that the Algerian saw of him and heard of him.

    I learned from that incident – NEVER give personal details to anyone while travelling unless you are absolutely certain of his background.

  5. iamisaid says:

    WP said : “we were dropped half way, and were told to switch to other cab.”

    me : Hi Wp, that you are an Indonesian and yet can’t be spared from being cheated, imagine what are the possibilities for a foreigner from being conned?

    On one of my trips into Jakarta, I accepted this cab driver’s offer at the Airport. I got such a shock when he led me to his cab. It was a state of the art jallopy cab.

    At the first highway toll, the cab broke down.

    He did not seek help to switch us to another cab.

    He told my business companion and I to alight and push the cab so that he could jump start the engine! IN THE SWELTERING HUMID AFTERNOON !!!

  6. Anita McKay says:

    Iamisaid, horrible stories! I had a similar situation when we landed in Manado and were waiting for my friend’s driver to pick us up. Since my husband is Caucasian, we were an easy target. I practically had to yell and give my ‘feistiest’ look to people who cornered us that we didn’t need taxi or any other ride in a clear bahasa Indonesia. Some people pretended they’re from the hotel and they’re there to pick us up.

    It’s very embarrassing for Indonesia especially next year will be the ‘Visit Indonesia 2008’ campaign and these kind of stories spread faster than thousands of dollars spend of advertising the program on TV…

  7. iamisaid says:

    Hi Anita McKay,

    Thanks for your comment.

    One more to add to my list – Manado.

    There was a time when I used to travel to Indonesia with a smile starting from the time the ferry ride. I have other stories during ferry trips to Indonesia.

    No more smiles after a few nasty experiences. On purpose now, I have countenance that says I am suffering from a prolonged case of constipation.

    I only smile when I reach my Indonesian house.

    Welcome back to Indonesia. Hope that you have a good vacation back home.

  8. Marisa Duma says:


    Isn’t Indonesia Matters supposed to be a site where it’s less rantings, and more analysis on why such behaviours occur?



    By the way, WP. At lake Toba there’s a minimum count of passengers if you’d like to use the ferry. The ferry service is running, yes, but if it hasn’t reached a certain count, you’d have to wait’s actually a good thing that folks there offered you the boat service instead (with higher price, I assume).. it will save you a great deal of time.
    I can’t comment on the Dumai or Manado incidents though, sorry.

    Scalpers, or “calo” is everywhere. I deal with calo each time I’m travelling using the train. This does not happened to Caucasians/bules only, it also can and have happened to domestic tourists. (I’m trying to cheer you up here, people!)

    And of course, there’s always Lonely Planet books you can read and study before you pack. Warnings are already there.

  9. raden says:

    ha ha … even in the United Nation protected heritage like Borobudur, you will expect the similar commotion happening surrounding you when u get there ! that’s typical Indonesian who the society were suppressed by theirown government, life is tough in Indonesia, there is no free public service, all things related to government must pay with money … money & money ….. the most corrupt country in the world. To the foreigners, please understand our situation and do not blame it on us but to the very tough life situation where unemployment rate is very very high without social security guarantee

  10. Janma says:

    wierdly, I’ve never been ripped off in indonesia except for a near miss one time. It was when someone (two guys on a motorbike) put a nail at the traffic light and then followed me till my tyre went flat.
    They then offered to help fix the tyre…. it was a rental car and I couldn’t the spare out because it used some magnet system.
    I like to be able to think I can change a tyre by myself. but it turns out I couldn’t. they offered to help. One stayed on the bike and one, pretending to pull some lever in the front of my car, was reaching to take my bag, thinking I was well distracted at the back of the car… only I was right behind him. I slammed the door just as he was pulling my bag out… he yelped with his fingers in the door. His friend took off and left him there, and I left the guy with his fingers still in the door (ouch, but serves him right!) under the watchful eyes of the padang food guy till I could call a policeman from the red lights.

    I have had many experiences of being ripped off, but usually by people I know, or people who work for me, or people i was married to! LOL!

  11. iamisaid says:

    Hi Marisa Duma,

    Hmmm train travel too …

    Thank you.

  12. iamisaid says:

    Hi Raden,

    I know what the situation is in Indonesia.

    My GM used to tell his Department Heads whenever we hit a prolonged problem. Said he, “Guys, we are at the bottom of the “J” curve, the only way out is up.”

    Corruption will end in Indonesia when there is no money left. -(Stupid statement of course!)

  13. iamisaid says:

    Hi Janma,

    You are so hilarious. This and also from other readings that I make of your submission at IM.

    ” or people i was married to”

    Way to go girl !


  14. Anita McKay says:

    I have just read Aroengbinang’s latest posting about his experience of landed back in Jakarta and facing immigration officer. Ecky wrote about her friend’s wife (Korean) detained by custom officer and was asked for some money (check here). She’s a bit lucky because she holds diplomatic passport.

  15. WP says:

    The ferry service is running, yes, but if it hasn’t reached a certain count, you’d have to wait’s actually a good thing that folks there offered you the boat service instead (with higher price, I assume).. it will save you a great deal of time.

    Ooh… In that case I’ll thank them next time I visit in Toba.

  16. dewaratugedeanom says:


    wierdly, I’ve never been ripped off in indonesia except for a near miss one time. It was when someone (two guys on a motorbike) put a nail at the traffic light and then followed me till my tyre went flat.
    They then offered to help fix the tyre”¦

    A couple of years ago there was a racket operating like this in Denpasar. I remember the Bali Post dedicated an article to this phenomenon.

  17. iamisaid says:

    Could anyone verify about conditions at the passenger sea port in Jakarta?

    Indonesians who have travelled by sea to Jakarta relate that the passenger port is populated by thugs, pickpockets and organised crime.

    Is it still like that now and a place to avoid?

  18. JJ says:

    Hello. I was planning to visit Manado next month and am now feeling a bit jittery after reading all these horror stories! My friends also reminded me of the murder of the three Christian schoolgirls a couple of years back. Is it really that bad?! Pls someone reassure me..

  19. Purba Negoro says:

    Manado is safe.

    Do not believe sensationalist Western tabloid media.

    Didn’t Australia also report one Christian girl dead last month?
    How many Christian dead in the US or Uk last month?

    Does it stop you visiting there? No- that would be silly.

  20. Teng says:

    I agree with Purba on this one.

    You also have to realise Poso and Manado are pretty far apart.

  21. Ketut says:

    Come to bali, bule always ripped off but never know it hehehehe

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