Shopping can be a nonstop activity in Indonesia because merchants are everywhere. In larger cities, such as Jakarta, visitors will encounter everything from luxurious shopping malls to children selling goods on the sidewalks. Items from around the world are available in Indonesia, including food, clothing, and toiletries.
Local arts and crafts of all types are fascinating and abundant. Some islands and artisans specialize in primitive styles and materials, while elsewhere, artisans make some of the most refined pieces imaginable. Batik cloth, wood sculptures and masks, gold, silver, and pearl jewelry are some of the most notable items found across the islands. It’s often advisable to wait a few days after landing in this country before buying too many souvenirs. Jet lag, excitement, and ignorance can impair a visitor’s taste in the first few days on the ground.
As visitors travel among the villages and islands, they can see many different arts and crafts. The most unique arts and crafts are found in the more remote islands and villages. If you find something that you want in these areas, get it while you can. You may not have a second chance.
For the most part, the prices for products and services in Indonesia are very reasonable and the experience of dealing with local merchants is entertaining and rewarding.
In supermarkets, department stores, pharmacies, and other formal stores, the prices are fixed and bargaining is not a factor. Elsewhere, bargaining is customary and expected. In these situations, the art is to start with an offer that is about half the asking price and slowly increase your bid until a compromise is reached. It helps to smile while bargaining and remember that many vendors work hard every day just to feed their families. Therefore, don’t bargain beyond reason to save a small amount of money that you will never miss. Some travelers take bargaining on as sport and are willing to humiliate vendors in an attempt to get a lower price that they can brag about among friends and family when they return to the beach.
If the price for a product or service isn’t labeled, it’s probably negotiable. In fact, most merchants will expect you to bargain. To start the bargaining process, point to the item or hold it up and ask:
Harga? (HAHR‑gah) = Price?
It pays to know numbers in Indonesian when negotiating. After asking a merchant for a price, listen closely for the answer that will come very fast. If you don’t understand the price the first time, the merchant may see the confusion in your eyes and rephrase it in English, because many salespeople at least speak English numbers. If all else fails, get out your calculator or pen and use printed numerals to negotiate.
Most shops are open every day between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. (with shorter hours on Sundays). In smaller towns and villages, shops may be closed between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
In an attempt to make a living, local people will offer you products or services that you may not want or need. In these cases, don’t be shy about saying no. The quicker you express your lack of interest, the better. In parts of Indonesia, you may encounter the more aggressive sales approaches.
The majority of Indonesians don’t have refrigerators or freezers in their homes, which means they shop for food every day for their families. Therefore, there are street markets in most communities every morning where the locals (mostly women) shop for their daily meals. These markets are very colorful and worth a visit. These markets typically have fresh fish, meat, eggs, flowers, spices, fruits, and vegetables. They rarely feature arts and crafts, but they do offer some unique and colorful photo opportunities.
Money Conversion Rates
Many travelers find it helpful to take a pocket‑size calculator along when shopping. It can help calculate prices with conversion rates. A calculator also can help shoppers and vendors communicate. If you don’t understand a price, ask the merchant to punch the number into the calculator or write it down. In return, you can use the calculator to convey your offer. Even though numbers sound differently in the Indonesian language, the raw numbers look the same as they would in your home country.
Bigger stores will take major credit cards, but traveler’s checks are tougher to use because of fraud. If you wear a money belt, keep some small change in your pocket to avoid drawing too much attention to your money belt by reaching into it for every purchase.
If you don’t have much time for shopping, but want some authentic souvenirs, find one of the super stores. Sarinah, Batik Keris, Matahari, and others have numerous stores on the major islands and they carry merchandise from all over Indonesia. The variety of merchandise in these stores is impressive and their prices are reasonable.
I want to go shopping. = Saya mau ke belanja (SYE‑ah MAH-oo keh BEH‑lahn‑JAH)
I like it. = Saya suka (SYE-ah SOO-kah)
How much is this book? = Harga ini buku? (BEHR-rah-PAH EE-nee BOO-koo)
I want to buy _____. = Saya mau beli _______ = (SYE‑ah MAH-oo BEH‑lee ________.)
That’s all = Ini saja (EEN-ee SAH-jah)
I already have one = suda punya (SOO-dah POON-yah)
I don’t want it = Tidak mau (TEE‑dahk MAH-oo)
I want a large one = Saya mau besar (SYE-ah MAH-oo BEH-sahr)
Learn more about bahasa Indonesia here.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation in the world with more than 267 million people. The country is comprised of more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Learn more about Indonesia.