‘Don’t Tell My Mother’ I’m in Indonesia

Apr 5th, 2012, in News, Travel, by

An atypical travel show visits the country with the most islands, volcanoes, Muslims, orangutans… and the nicest coffee.

Don't Tell My Mother I'm In Indonesia

Hosted by former war correspondent Diego Buñuel, Don’t Tell My Mother visits all the places mothers (and travel warnings) advise you to avoid, e.g. North Korea, Colombia, Afghanistan, Somalia. It goes behind the news to break stereotypes and find out what normal life is really like.

As the author is a big fan of the series, he needed some more independent feedback. Who better to ask than his mother?

My mumName: Chris’s Mum

Age: 64 years young

No. trips to Indonesia: 7, mostly to visit Chris and his family. She has visited: Jakarta, Bogor, Surabaya, Bali, Medan, Lake Toba.

Best Indonesian Travel Experience: (Apart from playing with her grandchild) walks on the beach in Bali.

Worst Indonesian Travel Experience: A hard/fast landing on a flight from Jakarta to Medan.

“Don’t Tell My Mother” visited seven places in Indonesia, each of which is flagged on the Google Map below:

Click on the flag to check the location, plus the order which it appeared


Mt Bromo, East JavaIn this prologue, Mr Buñuel introduces the country while riding a motorbike through the Sea of Sand that surrounds Mt Bromo, Indonesia’s most visited volcano.

Mum says: The opening scenes of the sand flats framed by a smoking Mt Bromo Volcano were truly spectacular. Not so impressive was the sight of the presenter riding a motorbike very fast minus a helmet, standing up on the pedals and gesticulating with his hands which should have been on the controls.

Chris adds: Unlike Mr Buñuel, most tourists visit Mt Bromo around sunrise. There are now direct flights from Bali and Jakarta to the nearest airport in Malang, reducing travel time significantly.


Diego Bunuel in Aceh, 2005After explaining how the city is “back to normal” compared to his previous trip post-tsunami in 2005 (right), Mr Buñuel joins a patrol of Aceh’s Wilayatul Hisbah (a.k.a. Sharia Police) as they seek to eliminate unIslamic behaviour and clothing on a Saturday night. (You can also read what an average Acehnese Sharia Police operation looks like/achieves here).

Mum says: While watching this section, I had the impression that many of the police actions and maybe even the stall holders (accused of having a “dark” stall and an empty bottle of liquor) were making an interesting story for the cameras. The women may be arrested and lashed for being up close and personal in public places, but where were the men who were involved?

Chris adds: Many will find it easy to condemn the self-righteousness of the Sharia Police and their strict interpretation of Islam in Aceh. However, I personally find it more disturbing that the head of the Sharia Police still thinks that the tsunami was only a judgment from God and not related to geophysics, Sumatra’s position next to a major fault line, the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, etc.


By night, a Muslim prayer roomMr Buñuel gets a haircut at possibly the world’s only salon that is also a musholla (Muslim prayer room) for transvestites.

Mum says: The inclusion of this story seems to highlight that the presenter seeks out bizarre situations in the places he visits. We did not see what life in Yogyakarta is like.

Chris adds: As well as providing a contrast to the previous section in Aceh, it certainly shows a different side of Yogyakarta to that presented in travel guides, official Indonesian travel information and other TV shows.


Towers and Apartments of JakartaMr Buñuel comments on the frequent signs of economic development, such as high-rise buildings and shopping malls.

Mum says: The segment on Jakarta was very brief and did not reflect the importance of the capital. The aerial shots showed the high-rise buildings, but not the crowds or rubbish at street level.

Chris adds: I wonder what time of day Mr Buñuel was travelling around town that he was able to a) rent a helicopter for the aerial shots and b) drive quickly down Jl Sudirman (the main street into Central Jakarta). Both don’t happen very often…


San Diego Hills Memorial ParkMr Buñuel visits the “world’s best cemetery”, which offers an all-inclusive range of services for not just the deceased but their visitors too, e.g. a swimming pool, Italian restaurant.

Mum says: This cemetery was truly impressive – spacious, luxurious, clean and I’m sure very expensive in every aspect. One wonders how many folk in Indonesia could afford to buy their final resting place there, or even visit!

Chris adds: If I lived in Jakarta and didn’t personally prefer cremation, I would consider going there. It would certainly be the easier for me to buy a plot of land there than anywhere else in Indonesia (as many other expats have found out the hard way).


Deforestation near KetapangMr Buñuel joins International Animal Rescue, a NGO that works to save orangutans from mining, hunting and deforestation.

Mum says: It is easy to condemn the locals for clearing the rainforests and capturing the orangutan babies, but we must remember that these people are very poor and one cannot condemn them for grasping the opportunity to make money to survive.

Chris adds: I agree that it showed a depth of understanding that Karmele (the volunteer vet) explained how locals will continue to harm the environment while there is still poverty, poor law enforcement, no alternative employment and no economic reason to stop.


Civet + coffee beans = kopi luwakMr Buñuel goes on the hunt for Indonesia’s famous kopi luwak, coffee created from the droppings of the Asian palm civet. (The process is explained in more detail here.)

Mum says: As a coffee drinker, this was indeed interesting and it’s great to see economic benefit being gained naturally without any animal being harmed or exploited. Whether they do actually give the caged civets freedom after 6 months is uncertain I think. The presenter was very brave to let a civet crawl all over him!

Chris adds: You can purchase a cup of kopi luwak at any Indonesian branch of Excelso Cafe for about $9. My mother enjoyed it, and it is a popular choice for visiting friends and relatives. They particularly enjoy the “unusual” brewing process.

Do you believe a show like this can be a positive for tourism in Indonesia? Why/why not?

Which places have you visited in Indonesia that you wouldn’t want to tell your mother about?

If you would like to visit any of these places, please contact Mau Ke Mana, which specialises in booking tickets for Indonesian domestic flights and trains, and also does hotel reservations in many out of the way places.

3 Comments on “‘Don’t Tell My Mother’ I’m in Indonesia”

  1. Chris says:

    To get the ball rolling…

    Below is a photo of me in front of the last residence of Bali bomb-maker Dr Azahari in Batu (near Malang), East Java. He was one of Indonesia’s most wanted men at the time, along with Noordin Top.

    Dr A died in a shootout with the anti-terrorist police squad Detachment 88 in November 2005, soon after the second Bali bombing; this was a few years later, but the house still remained as it was. Surprisingly, it was quite difficult to find out where it was, even when I sensitively asked the hotel receptionist, the concierge, the taxi driver, etc.

  2. barbara scott says:

    Please Chris ; I have fallen in love with orangatuns I have travelled to Bali, Borneo, Medan, north Sumartra, Lake Toba, Bangkok, Chang mia, The list goes on I was caught in the war of the red shirts in bangkok where i nearly got shot.
    My mother is not alive so I don’t tell my mother.
    I live in Australia so its quite expensive. I think there is a way to help the orangutans. could you help, so far I have tried over here and now they have a breeding program in Melbourne but it might be A bit to little to late. I think the orangs might be going to quickly. No-one really waants to take stock at the moment. It is also very dangerous. I have a few ideas. They need to be thought of and looked at but to see your show was fantastic. I would like to be able to contact you if possible, regarding the orangs and their ever changing enviroment. Would you possibly e-mail me. I hope you contact me soon.
    Hey I wont tell your mother, or mine.

  3. Chris says:

    Another aspect of difficult and under-reported life in Indonesia: working as a garbage collector in Jakarta.

    I found this program (produced by the BBC) both hilarious and heart-wrenching.

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