A diverse country comprised of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is full of surprises

Indonesia is a vast country, with more than 17,500 islands. The country is the fourth most-populous nation, comprised of more than 300 distinct ethnic groups.

I didn’t know much about the area until we hosted an exchange student from the city of Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi.

But it wasn’t until I visited with an Alaska ex-pat living in Bali that I learned of Indonesia’s incredible diversity. If you love wildlife, cultural history, biodiversity on land and underwater, then Indonesia should be on your list.

Susan Ruddy has called Alaska home for almost 60 years. In Anchorage, she wore many hats, including that of director of the Nature Conservancy of Alaska.

But when she retired, she was torn. While her son lived in Alaska, her daughter had relocated to Indonesia. Rather than pick one or the other location for her home, she chose both. For more than 15 years, she’s split her time between Alaska and Indonesia.

Although Bali is her home in Indonesia, one of her favorite places is on the island of Borneo. Tanjung Puting National Park, on the southern coast of Borneo, is ground zero to see orangutans.

“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll groupie for orangutans,” said Ruddy. “They have absolutely fascinating features.”


Access to the orangutan habitat is regulated. Visitors are not permitted to go off in the jungle. Rather, there are three feeding stations where the orangutans come and go. This is where visitors have the best chance of seeing these primates up close.

To reach the park, take a flight from Jakarta to Pangkalan Bun. From there, find a tour operator to take you to the park. There are options to stay on shore during your visit, but Ruddy recommends the live-aboard experience.

“You’ll sleep on a lumpy mattress on the top deck of the boat,” she said. “You’ll be under a mosquito net. The jungle is all around you — including the fireflies.”

Choose from several operators, including Varada Borneo Tours or Wahyu Tanjung Puting Tour company. Ruddy’s favorite guide, Andreas, used to work at Camp Leakey and knows many of the orangutans by name. Reach him by email:

Over in western Indonesia, on the other side of Papua New Guinea is the area known as West Papua. At the northwestern tip of the island is an area known as “Raja Ampat.”

“I think this is one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Ruddy said. “It’s alleged to be the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. The diving and snorkeling is just beautiful.”

Ruddy recommends sailing with Sea Trek Bali. “There are wonderful experts who go along on the trip,” she said.

Ruddy’s next trip later this month is an adventure to swim with whale sharks and see birds of paradise. The typical itinerary is 10 days, starting at $6,850 per person.

Another boat-based adventure is a visit to the island of the giant Komodo dragons. Catch a plane to La Buan Badjo on East Nusa Tenggara island. From there, board your live-aboard boat for your “Komodo” adventure.

In addition to the dragons, you’ll swim at a pink sand beach. “There’s great diving and snorkeling there,” said Ruddy. Watch for the manta rays in the water, and each sunset there’s a massive flyover by fox bats.

Tour operators include Cruise Komodo and Bali Komodo Tours.

Two of Ruddy’s Anchorage friends, Pete Mjos and Karen Ruud, came for an extended visit.

“She invited us — how could we NOT go,” said Mjos. “We went to see the orangutans — but then went on an unscheduled visit to a head-hunters’ village!”

“Susan also took us to see the Komodo dragons,” said Mjos. “We also saw the fox bats as they were flying over during a thunder-and-lightening storm. It was unbelievable!”

When she’s not exploring a new corner of Indonesia, Ruddy stays at her daughter’s villa in Bali.

While Bali is more well-known than other parts of Indonesia, it’s becoming more congested. “I try and warn visitors,” said Ruddy. “When they get off the plane, they may be shocked. The traffic is stifling. The congestion is bad. Get out of Denpasar (where the airport is) as soon as possible.”

The island of Java, which is the most populous in the nation, is just a short ferry ride from Bali’s west coast.


“Java is the heart of Indonesia,” said Ruddy. It’s also home to the capital city of Jakarta. However, because the city is sinking in to the sea, the nation plans to build another capital in Borneo.

The Yogyakarta region of Java is especially important to citizens.

“The city of Yogyakarta is just another big Asian city,” said Ruddy. But the temples surrounding the city are impressive.

Boro Budur, constructed in the 9th century, is the world’s largest Buddhist temple.

Nearby, the Hindu temple at Candi Prambanan, is the world’s largest.

Whether you have your eye on a major wildlife adventure, some great diving, or a cultural heritage tour—Indonesia is waiting for you. The country already has captured Ruddy and some of her family. Will you be next?

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit