Shortly before heading off to Indonesia for a month long trip, I realised that most of my trip would be during Ramadan. Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims around the world. Nothing is eaten or drunk from sunrise to sunset. And with Indonesia being the largest Muslim nation in the world, it would likely affect my trip.
But what would it be like travelling in Indonesia during Ramadan? And how much would tourists be affected?
A quick search online showed that rules would be more relaxed compared to some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Brunei (where fines exist for eating or drinking in public). This is probably due to the mixture of religions that co-exist in Indonesia. In particular, I was spending much of my time in Bali. The majority of Bali’s population are Hindu, meaning it would be unlikely to be affected. Additionally, “travellers” are technically exempt from fasting. However, I couldn’t find out much else.
So, after experiencing it first hand, here’s how it affected my time and how it will impact your travels.
NOTE: The date of Ramadan changes each year, as it based on the lunar Islamic calendar. In coming years Ramadan occurs on the following dates (although may slightly vary depending on location):
- 2019: Evening of 5th May to evening of 4th June
- 2020: Evening of 23rd April to evening of 23rd May
Where You Won’t be Affected
As expected, there was little to no impact in Bali. Some Muslim restaurants close during the day, but these are generally not ones that cater to Western tourists. Additionally, I spent some time on Gili Trawagan, off Lombok. Despite most of the population being Muslim, there was virtually no difference on the island. This is probably due to the island being dominated by tourism. The only noticeable impacts were prayers sometimes broadcast from the main mosque and most locals in shops and cafes stopping for a quick meal at sunset.
So in summary, if you’re visiting Bali or areas heavily visited by non-Indonesian tourists, you probably won’t notice much. Most restaurants and bars will operate as normal. Just be thankful to the Muslim locals who may be serving you or guiding you and going without!
What to Expect Elsewhere
After spending some time on Bali and the Gili Islands, I then headed to Java, including Ijen Crater, Mt Bromo, Yogyakarta and Jakarta. There I noticed the impact of Ramadan much more. The impact is likely to be the same throughout the rest of Indonesia, probably even more so in even less-touristed parts.
Firstly, no-one expects you to also fast, but you might find it difficult to find somewhere to eat lunch. The majority of restaurants close during the day. The main exceptions are restaurants aimed solely at western tourists (if there were any), plus fast food chains in malls (such as McDonalds, Burger King and local chains). Hotel restaurants might be open, but were usually eerily empty. (Don’t worry about the breakfast included with your hotel booking, though, the restaurant will still be open for breakfast. Although they probably also opened before dawn to serve Muslim guests their breakfast before they started their fast.)
The solution? Sometimes if I was at my hotel, I ordered room service, something I have rarely done otherwise. Even in the most devout Muslim country, this will always be acceptable for non-Muslim guests. Alternatively, I stopped by a mall, or else bought some snack-type food and ate on the go. I probably should have been more discreet with snacking and drinking in public, but received no looks when I did so.
I also noticed that while I certainly didn’t fast, I usually ended up eating quite lightly for lunch. It just naturally happened.
What About the Celebration of Idul Fitri?
The month of Ramadan ends with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, usually known as Idul Fitri or Lebaran in Indonesia. This is a time of celebration and feasting with family, marked with two consecutive public holidays. In Indonesia, many Muslims return to their family and hometown to celebrate the holiday. Additionally, it’s a popular time for holidaying in general, with school holidays falling over the period.
If anything, I found a greater impact just before and during Idul Fitri, than during the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan the only impact was having trouble finding somewhere to eat lunch. However, as a traveller around Idul Fitri you will notice that trains will be heavily booked, traffic jams are likely on the highways (in particular heading east of Jakarta), hotels will be slightly more expensive and more heavily booked, and many shops in general (including external laundry services) will be closed.
Transport During Idul Fitri
If you’re travelling around this time, it’s best to book your transport well in advance, rather than on the day or the day before. To get to Yogyakarta, I had to book a train via Malang rather than Surabaya, when I only booked a few days in advance. Also, only the most expensive tickets remaining. Afterwards I considered extending my stay in Yogyakarta, but couldn’t. I already had a train ticket to Jakarta, booked for the second day of Idul Fitri, and all the later trains for over a week were booked out!
At least if you’re taking a train you won’t suffer from the traffic jams: I heard of a fellow traveller who took what was meant to be an 11 hour bus trip from Badung to Yogyakarta just before Idul Fitri; it ended up taking nearly 24 hours!
I did discover one unexpected advantage, though. The dreaded traffic jams of Jakarta didn’t occur during my time in the city. The city was particularly quiet in the days following Idul Fitri, while people were on holidays.