Basically this question but then for Indonesia.

In the coming year I (male) plan to travel through Indonesia (Java and Sumatra) with my girlfriend. We will probably travel several weeks, aim to stay in the larger cities, but also plan on several multi-day hikes in the nature where we would camp or sleep in smaller villages.

Indonesia is mostly an Islamic country and the Shariah law is enforced in Aceh, meaning that at least there one should adjust their behaviour (compared to how couples behave in Western Europe).

How about the other provinces of Java and Sumatra?

To make this question not too specific I am omitting any possible cities we might visit (itinerary is far from set), in the hope that an extended and broad answer is given that is also useful to others visiting these islands.

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    You may want to specify whether you're an opposite sex or same sex couple. I suspect they'd treat the two differently.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 7:37
  • Are you going to actually visit Aceh? If yes, please mention it in the question since the answer may be very different. If not, I guess it's not relevant whether Sharia is enforced there or not.
    – user69715
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 17:42
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    @user69715 I'm not sure if we'll visit Aceh, but I thought it to be relevant as it is part of Indonesia and Medan (the biggest city of Sumatra) is nearby. It would for example be possible that just outside of Aceh the Shariah law is not officially in place, but it is used as a guideline. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 18:17
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    No that is really not the case, Medan is a fairly modern city (by Sumatran standards) and Sharia is not used there. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 18:32

7 Answers 7


I stayed a long time in rural Aceh, so here are my tips:

First of all, do not think of Indonesians as very religious. They are usually traditionalist (some may say conformist). This is different.

Cover yourself

You should both wear pants below the knees and real shirt (no tank top), no cleavage, no belly button displayed. Nobody will throw rocks at you if you don't, but they will be more friendly if you do.

Do not display signs of affection

Do not kiss in public. Even holding hands should be avoided (same-sex couple, see below). Once again, nobody will throw rocks at you but...

Unmarried in the same hotel room

This is legal only if BOTH of you are foreigner. This is not only Aceh, but the whole Indonesia.
If one of you "looks like an Indonesian" expect problems when booking a room. My advice: pretend you are married. If it gets complicated give them any text in the Cyrillic alphabet and say it is a marriage certificate (same-sex couple, see below)

Note that

This is also true in the mostly Christian province of North Sumatra (booking a room should be easier.)

In a "tourist Ghetto" nobody will have a problem if you drink booze naked in the street (after all, you conform to their idea of a western environment.) But as soon as you go to the nearby village, conform fully to Indonesian standards. Even a bartender or a gogo dancer would be tolerant towards a foreigner, but very strict at home.

Same sex couple

Counter intuitively, same-sex couples may have it easy in Indonesia.
Friends (male or female) often hold each other in a way that would look romantic in the western world. Also you can book a room for 2 men/women with no question asked.

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    @DavidRicherby No. I mean it is very comon in Indonesia to have physical contact with your friends. Men and women often hold each other in a way that lover hold each other in the west. And also, 2 men/women are alowed to share a bed. It is assumed they are just friend (while it's illegal to assume this if they are opposite sex)
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 10:29
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    @Szabolcs The shirt rule do not apply in Bali.Also it is not straightforward indecent, but very casual to wear those clothe (note those are mainly children photo). If you are not currently plowing your field and are above 15yo, you should wear proper clothe. And "should" is a strong word in traditionalist mind. "Proper" also depend on the context.After all, socks are OK but not with sandals
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 13:05
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    Mostly true, but I'd like to add: don't worry too much about it. People are friendly. You may run into a hotel which is too strict, but for that hotel there are 10 others where you'll have no issue. I've never been asked to show proof of marriage in Indonesia, neither when I was unmarried or when married. But everyone will ask if you are. Telling them you are, especially as a woman, may get some unwanted attention off your back in any case. Likewise, if you're not religious, better "choose" a religion because many people will not understand if you don't have any. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 14:21
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    @ErwinBolwidt If you follow the advice of "choosing" a religion, would it also be advisable to not choose "Islam" as that religion? I'm not familiar with Indonesia specifically, but I know that some places that do apply Sharia law only do so for Muslims. That is, if you say you're Muslim, then more strict laws would be applied to you that would not be if you're just a non-Muslim Western tourist. I think I've also heard this about Aceh, but I have no first-hand knowledge of that area.
    – reirab
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 17:17
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    Do mixed-marriages (inter-racial) have issues, esp. if neither is Indonesian/Asian?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 19:36

I live in east Java and have been to Sumatra before, though I traveled alone so I have no direct experience traveling as an unmarried couple. However I have heard of foreigners being asked if they were married and even of people being denied a room together, but it's rare. Usually they are more lax when it concerns tourists, especially so in the touristic places. And small villages on the way to a tourist attraction are still considered touristic places. For example, I met a German unmarried couple on a bus and we got along well so at our stop we got a bungalow room with a big bed for them and an additional single bed for me to save on costs. This was no problem on Samosir island, only hours from Aceh.

For Indonesian or mixed Indonesian-foreigner couples it's a different matter altogether and there will be more hotels that will give you issues. Though I'd say even then money often rules and you can still find a place.

If you can fake marriage and have no problems with doing so, perhaps it would be easiest to do so. But if you can't/won't or still are denied somewhere, there will surely be another place to take you in, especially outside of the main tourist season it's easy enough to book something else on the spot. If you do have issues, try to find a place owned by non-native Indonesians. The ethnically Chinese own plenty of places to sleep.


I have travelled a lot in various parts of the world, and from experience I can add to the other points - wear wedding rings. Most people will assume you are married anyway if you are sharing a room. Never admit to being unmarried among older people, or you may get treated badly. Again, I speak from experience. Among younger people you can tell them you are not married, but expect to get some strange questions about it, like "But why does your father permit this?"


I think other answers are pretty much spot on.

Avoiding public display of affection and dress modestly is pretty much the norm. Mind what is considered revealing in the West can be very different to the East. A good tip, is to google "[name of city] people" to get the idea on how they dress / behave.

Also when you got closer to the locals (you mentioned staying in the village) it is very possible that you will be asked with questions such as "When did you get married?" or "Why aren't you married?". Please do not take this personally, as this is the way they bond with strangers, and cohabitation is frowned upon. Just answer those questions like you would to those awkward Thanksgiving questions.

Different cities, or even different villages will have different standard and it is best to do research beforehand to understand those particular areas. Generally almost no people are trying to be moral policemen, however when tourists are being harassed it is generally because they want some cash (albeit under the pretext of something else, so use your street-smart to overcome these kinds of situations).

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    Welcome! One small point: the asker appears to be Norwegian so "Just answer those questions like you would to those awkward Thanksgiving questions" probably isn't an experience they can relate to. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 11:46
  • Maybe "awkward holiday family get-together questions"? Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 14:28

Indonesia is like my second home (I'm Australian) I have spent many months in Bali, I've been to Lombok, I backpacked across Java and went to a few places in Sumatra and did research work with orangutans in Borneo. You will be fine!!

Yes they are Muslim but it is different from the Islam of Arabic countries. The people were originally Hindu so their religion to me seems a little mixed. They are extremely sweet people. Through Java and Sumatra you might have some people just staring at you because they don't see white people often.

I traveled with my friend and in Jogjakarta we were treated like rock-stars...every kid wanted a photo taken with us. If you are going to take a bus or train just try to pick up a little Indonesian as they don't speak too much English in some places. In Java we went to Mt Bromo and saw the temples at Prambanan. We also went to Pangandaran beach and did some exploring around there.

Jakarta is crazy but there should be a lot of people who can speak English. I also traveled to Sumatra and did some trekking in Bukit Lawang. They don't drink alcohol because of their religion but you will be able to find beer in some of the areas I mentioned which see a little more tourists.

I have not been to Bandah Aceh which I hear is a little different and stricter but my friend went on a surf trip and he said the people were still lovely. One of the reasons I love Indonesia is because the people are so sweet. Do not worry!! :)

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    No offense but you are barely answering the question and there is a lot of irrelevant personal experience in here. I'm not the one who just downvoted btw, but you may want to edit your answer a bit. Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 10:06
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    It sounds like you've had some great times in Indonesia. But what does this have to do with the question? Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 10:20

Hotel: Just wear rings, when asked say you are married and you should be fine.

In public: Don't kiss or hold hands in public places, but that shouldn't really be such a big issue. IMHO there really isn't such a big difference from what is considered acceptable in most western countries in formal situations.

Source: Personal experience (mostly Java and Sumatra).


Wear rings, Dress modest, don't drink in public. Been a few years last there. But my reports from expats who go there is it is tense. Watch your back behave. But No reports of trouble by them. Just a feeling right now. I live in Missamis Oriental. Southern Philippines. Know more about S.E.Asia than most. Have first hand reports + internet. So stay in touch with some expats were ever they are in S.E.Asia. You should be fine in groups. I do not know if I would wander of alone to villages right now. Or ride a rented motorcycle in some area's. Just say from what I hear from expats it is not as friendly as a few years ago.

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