My last two overseas trips were to Vietnam two years ago and Indonesia last month, so it makes sense in my mind at least to compare them.
Summary is that Hanoi has the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of American city development while Jakarta has already made them. Hanoi could focus on bicycle and electric bike-oriented transportation, and we saw a good number of electric bikes when we were there. Good luck seeing more than a handful of bicycles in Jakarta though (the city is trying a tiny bit, we did see a bike lane). Motorcycles are common but the electric motorcycle industry seems years behind the electric bicycle industry. Jakarta will likely have to follow the American future of electric cars plus some public transit combined with renewable energy.
On the good side, Jakarta has a pretty successful Bus Rapid Transit system, with dedicated bus lanes and the feeling of light rail without the infrastructure cost. We saw it and wished we had used it instead of making the mistake of walking through three miles of motorcycle exhaust. We’re trying to get BRT here in the South San Francisco Bay, although my home of Mountain View is dragging its feet.
Hanoi and northern Vietnam had a reasonable number of solar thermal water heaters and a tiny amount of photovoltaics. We saw no solar thermal in Jakarta (to be fair, hot water seems less necessary there). Seemed like there was less PV in Indonesia too, although on a boat trip in Borneo we noticed many of the boats had a couple of PV panels, so that’s something.
Random Indonesia notes:
From our limited exposure to much smaller Indonesian cities, they seemed much less car-dependent, so they’ve got a chance to avoid Jakarta’s mistakes.
Indonesia’s new, reformist president took advantage of low oil prices to remove most fuel subsidies. They function mostly as price ceilings so it was easy to do. We’ll see how it goes when prices rise again.
President Jokowi is the first national leader not from the elite family dynasties, so it’s a good sign for their democracy. The people I talked to seemed pretty enthusiastic about him, although the old parties still control a majority in the legislature.
We did orangutan boat tours in Borneo/central Kalimantan. I’ve got a thing for great apes and have seen all but bonobos in the wild – if I had to choose one to see it would be the orangutans. Something about their faces and their eyes really make it seem like there’s a person looking back at you.
Palm oil is everywhere in Indonesia. The Europeans really made a mess of this issue. In addition to cutting down the original forests, in Borneo they drain peat soils before planting, making the carbon emissions much worse.
I’ve got no doubt that eco-tourism is good for protecting jungle habitat in Borneo (and the coral we saw diving in Sulawesi). Whether it makes up for our carbon emissions in getting there would likely depend on some heroic assumptions. Carbon isn’t everything, though.
One welcome sight was Indonesian tourists visiting Indonesian national parks, something I haven’t seen in other, admittedly poorer, developing countries. They do have a problem with leaving plastic trash everywhere, especially visible when you’re diving.
Man, the Indonesians are friendly. Highly recommended if you have a free day in Jakarta is the Hidden Jakarta tour to get taken into the slums of Jakarta, where people welcome you with open arms.
By jarring contrast to that friendliness, there are still unoccupied buildings in Jakarta from the anti-Chinese race riots in 1998. As tourists, we can only have a superficial sense of what’s going on in the country.
Recommendations for tourists:
*Orangutan Voyage to see orangutans in Central Kalimantan – they went the extra mile for us. If you’re there for a while like us (8 days) you need to add different things to do. I’d skip the sea turtle hatchery and maybe do an overnight/multiple day trek instead. It is hot hot hot though.
*At Bunaken National Park in Sulawesi we stayed at Living Colours dive resort – a very nice, Finnish-owned place with half the guests from Finland, so we got a little taste of Finnish culture in an unexpected place. I loved the diving, lots of big sea turtles and fantastic coral walls, although visibility in during monsoon season is variable.