As a developing nation, don’t expect hospitals and medical facilities to be up to first world standards. Most regional hospitals are only able to provide basic care. Away from major and regional centres, you’ll be lucky to find even a medical clinic. Locals can usually direct you to a doctor but it could well be a shaman (witch doctor) rather than the kind of medically trained and qualified doctor you’ll find at home.
For minor ailments, wound dressings or splinter extraction, we’ve found local pharmacies (apotek) are generally pretty helpful, even in the most out of the way places.
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Be aware that except in dire emergencies, most hospitals will request payment up front or details of a valid travel insurance policy before providing treatment. In the case of serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to either Australia or Singapore may be appropriate. Even the most basic evacuation can cost US$100,000 or more. For these reasons and more, we strongly recommend you obtain Travel Insurance before you leave home. At the risk of sounding cliché, if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford to travel. Read here for more information on Travel Insurance.
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If you or someone in your care (such as a child) requires prescription medication:
- Take what you need for the entire duration of your trip with you but no more;
- Leave the medicine in its original packaging so it can be easily identified;
- Carry a letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is, the prescribed dosage and stating that the medicine is for your personal use or the personal use of the individual in your care; and
- Some prescription medications may be considered illegal under Indonesian law and treated in the same way as narcotics. Before leaving home, contact the closest Indonesian Embassy to confirm your prescription meds are legal under Indonesian law.
If you’re still nervous about taking prescription medicines with you, you can formally apply to the Indonesia Embassy to issue a letter confirming your prescription medication needs. Obtaining such a letter is entirely optional and there is a fee of around US$30 but the choice is yours.
Away from all but the cheapest accommodation in Bali and most upmarket establishments elsewhere, Asian squatter style toilets are the norm in Indonesia. The good news is that unlike in some other countries we’ve visited, we’ve never come across a really manky, stinking, poo encrusted squatter in Indonesia. So generally, it’s not the squatting itself that first timers find a little intimidating, but everything else that goes with it. Here’s a few tips to help take some of the mystery out of it:
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- Firstly, let’s set the scene…Typically most Indonesian toilets contain the ceramic basin sunk into the floor which you squat over, back to the wall not the door. The cubicle will contain a bucket or tiled tub of water and a plastic scoop in the corner, or a bidet (toilet hose). There may or may not also be a rubbish bin.
- Most Indonesian’s don’t use toilet paper. They wash themselves clean using the hose or water scoop then pat themselves dry using a towel or toilet tissue.
- If you’re not used to using a bidet hose, those suckers can be a little tricky. Practise your aim and check the water pressure before pointing it at a sensitive part of your body.
- Toilet paper does not go down the squatter. Generally, there will be a rubbish bin close by – that’s where your used toilet paper goes.
- Public toilets may or may not have toilet paper supplied, so always carry tissues or toilet paper with you. We also carry a plastic bag just in case there’s no bin.
- Squatters and even some pedestal toilets don’t have push button flushing. Use the bidet or scoop water from the bucket/tub down the squatter to flush.
- Squatter style toilet cubicles are quite often wet. Don’t worry, it’s not pee – it’s water. All that washing and flushing tends to leave the floor pretty wet. It’s perfectly acceptable and inevitable so don’t worry about contributing yourself. Also, Indonesian’s generally hose or wash down the mandi several times a day.
- For the above reason, we definitely recommend always wearing some sort of footwear into the toilet. Flip-flops are ideal but can be slippery on wet tiles so take care.
- Trousers around the ankles, squatting and washing can be a tricky combination. It’s a whole lot less embarrassing to take your trousers off and hang them over your shoulders whilst you do your business than having to wander out wearing wet pants.
- In public and private toilets, there is almost always soap nearby for washing your hands after your business. Just in case there isn’t, keep a small bottle of antiseptic hand cleaner with you.
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One for the ladies…Menstrual pads can be readily purchased in supermarkets in regional and major centres throughout most of Indonesia. Tampons are hard to come by though, even in Bali, so if this is what you prefer to use, take a supply with you.
Like a lot of developing countries, particularly those with a monsoonal climate, Indonesia has its share of nasty diseases including Hepatitis A & B, Cholera, Typhoid, Zika virus, AIDS and mosquito borne viruses such as Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria and Dengue Fever. These are in addition to Rabies and traveller’s diarrhoea which we’ve discussed separately.
Fortunately, you can eliminate or significantly reduce your risk of contracting these nasties by obtaining pre-trip vaccination, taking an anti-malaria prophylaxis and adopting simple precautions such as drinking only bottled water, avoiding interaction with local animals and using a good quality DEET containing insect repellent at all times, and wearing long, light, loose fitting clothing.
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The risk of individual diseases varies across the Indonesian archipelago and can be further influenced by your length of stay and the type of activities you intend to undertake. Be sure to discuss your travel plans with your doctor or a specialist travel doctor well ahead of your trip to find out what the most appropriate pre-exposure options are for you. In the meantime, Travel Doctor has a handy fact sheet on Indonesia if you’re interested in finding out more.
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There is a risk of Rabies throughout Indonesia. Both Bali and Nias Island (a popular surfing destination off the south coast of Sumatra) are considered high risk areas and rabies related deaths have occurred there in recent years. The rabies virus is carried by dogs and monkeys among other mammals, both of which can transmit the virus to humans through biting and scratching. You can significantly reduce your exposure but avoiding any direct interaction with local dogs and monkeys, particularly around temples where they have become extremely bold around humans.
If you are bitten or scratched by a dog, monkey or any other mammal, immediately clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water or antiseptic hand cleaner if that’s all you have available. Then seek urgent medical treatment. Post-exposure rabies immunoglobulin treatment is available to a limited extent in Indonesia. If you can’t secure treatment there, you will have to head home or proceed to another country which can provide the treatment – immediately, not at the end of your holiday. Talk to local medicos and your travel insurer to discuss your options.
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A rabies vaccination is available but is generally only recommended for those planning on staying in Indonesia or other rabies risk areas for a prolonged period.
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Bali Belly is the common name given to an upset stomach or diarrhoea that travellers sometimes experience during their stay in Indonesia. Whilst the name is unique, the condition of traveller’s belly or traveller’s diarrhoea is certainly not restricted to Bali or Indonesia. In fact, it’s widespread across third world and developing nations where sanitation and hygiene standards are poor.
For some, Bali Belly can be a mild upset tummy that lasts for a few days before clearing up by itself. Whilst annoying, it doesn’t impact too much on their holiday. At the extreme end of the scale, a severe dose can be completely debilitating and last long after you’ve returned home. Needless to say, it can put a real dampener on an otherwise good holiday. Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about causes, prevention and treatment of Bali Belly.