Indonesia Travel

Indonesian Language For The Adventurous Traveller

Motorcycle in Indonesia

Travellers will often say that the first few hours you spend in a new place are the most exciting, most tiring and most isolating of the entire trip. This is before you’ve managed to navigate your way to the safe, welcoming arms of your accommodation. This is when you’re at the airport, surrounded by your bags, trying to find a way to get from point A to point B with as much of your money and dignity as you can spare. Guidebooks aside, and this is especially true for Asia, getting around at the start can be tough, and that’s why it’s handy to a little bit of language on your side.

Now, my area of expertise is Indonesian. It is a language I have had a love/hate relationship with for more than 10 years, but I think I’m finally tipping the scales towards the positive. I mastered it both living in Indonesia (mostly through a whole lot of trial and error), and then afterwards studying it at high school and university.
If I’ve learned anything through becoming fluent in another language its that language gives you major access to local people, in a way few other things will. I’m yet to meet a person who wasn’t either incredibly entertained, or rather impressed, that I was trying (even if failing) to speak Indonesian. There is a definite feeling of annoyance among some Indonesians that all Westerners expect them to speak English, while making absolutely no effort to learn Indonesian. Considering that Indonesian is a phonetic language that is widely considered to be quite simple (although the sentence structure is certainly different), that’s a bit dodgy.

Picking up a few words, or even a few phrases of Indonesian will probably make your trip to Indonesia a lot more interesting, giving you a chance to meet new people, and digress a little from the path of every other tourist and traveller ever to set foot on Indonesian sand and soil.

So here it is: Indonesian Language For The Adventurous Traveller!


Greeting people

Good Morning:                            Selamat Pagi (SEH-lah-MAHT PAH-gee)
Good Day (11am to 3pm):            Selamat Siang (SEH-lah-MAHT SEE-ahng)
Good Afternoon (3pm to dark):  Selamat Sore (SEH-lah-MAHT SOHR-reh)
Good Evening (after dark):         Selamat Malam (SEH-lah-MAHT MAHT-lahm)

Pro Tip: In colloquial language, Indonesians LOVE to shorten words and phrases. This means that for the most part, people will understand, and actually they mostly use, just the second part of the greeting. So if you’re walking down the street in the morning and you say Pagi, people will know what you’re talking about, and congratulations you’ve made a connection.


Making Conversation

How are you?:                                  Apa kabar? (AH-pah KAH-bahr)
I’m fine/good:                                 Baik/Bagus (BYE-eek, BAH-goos)
Thank you:                                       Terima kasih (Tuh-REE-mah KAH-see)
Sorry:                                               Maaf (mah-AHF)
Excuse me (getting attention):      Permisi (PER-misih)
What is your name?:                      Siapa nama anda? (SEE-ah-PAH NAH-mah AHN-dah)
My name is _____ :             Nama saya _____ (NAH-mah SYE-ah)
Where are you from?:             Dari mana? (DAHR-ree MAH-nah)
(I’m) from ____ :                 Dari ____ (DAHR-ree)
Where (are you) going?:         Ke mana? (keh MAH-nah)
(I’m going) to ____ :           Ke ____ (keh)
How much (the cost):            Berapa harganya? (BER-apa HAR-gahn-NYA)
So expensive!:                         Mahal sekali! (MA-hal SE-KAHli)
No:                                           Tidak (TEE-dah/)
Yes:                                          Ya (EEYAH)

Feeling out of your depth?

I don’t understand:                       Saya tidak mengerti
Do you speak English?:              Bisa bicara bahasa Ingriss?
I’m not fluent in Indonesian:   Saya belum lancar bicara bahasa Indonesia.
Sorry, can you repeat?:               Maaf, bisa ulangi lagi?


In the End

From personal experience I can happily say that the Indonesians I’ve come across in more than 10 years in and out of the country are impressed at any level of Indonesian language, from basic to fluent. In most cases they’re happy to correct you, have a laugh, and send you on your way with a few more words than you had before.

Since I’ve taken the time to actually learn the Indonesian language, my trips to Indonesia haven’t just been easier for me, but also considerable more entertaining and exciting. I’ve had the freedom to meet new people, explore new places and learn about so much stuff that I’d been missing out on simply because I couldn’t communicate effectively. Plus, I REALLY enjoy eavesdropping on people!

I know some people get around just fine without a single syllable or word of any local language. But, having been on the other side, I couldn’t imagine being back in the realm total confusion. Speaking from the side of the bilingual, get yourselves over here people, because life is all about communication!


This post originally appeared on, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.

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