When I first heard about Mini Indonesia, the first picture that came to mind was the Indonesian equivalent of Legoland, featuring mini-size versions of popular buildings or landscapes. However, after visiting Mini Indonesia, the World Expo is a much better comparison! Understand Mini as a small-scaled Indonesia, but nothing is mini in the park. To be honest, as an adventure traveler, Mini Indonesia might not have been on our itinerary because of that misconception, but I am glad we went as it broadened my understanding of Indonesia and I would recommend to anyone interested in discovering the country beyond the popular spots.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII) per its official name, meaning “Beautiful Indonesia Miniature Park”, is a huge complex of 250 acres (100 hectares). The park was initially created following an idea in 1970 from Siti Hartinah, Indonesia’s First Lady at the time, also known Tien Suharto. Opened on April 20, 1975, the goal of the cultural site was to promote national pride among Indonesian as few traveled throughout their own country. Today, Indonesian and travelers alike can learn about the diverse heritage of the country, discover the different islands within a short time and without actually traveling. But believe me, it will make you want to pack your bags to explore some of Indonesia’s 18,000 islands.
As it turned out, Mini Indonesia is a really interesting and informative park, composed of six main areas corresponding to the six major islands of Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi, the Lesser Sunda Islands, Maluku, and Papua. The initial park from 1970 represented 27 provinces but as Indonesia now includes 33 provinces, new pavilions such as West Papua and West Sulawesi are being added, as well as a new Confucian template in recognition of the Indonesian Chinese culture.
Each pavilion presents its own architecture, reproducing real size buildings and houses, mostly built with the original material and techniques from the island – same wood, same design, same purpose. Each province is responsible for maintaining its own pavilion, and a few took construction shortcut by using concrete instead, but these still look nicely made. We ended up spending most our time on the Sumatra, Aceh, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Bali Pavilions. Though this was obviously a very tiny part of Mini Indonesia, this gave us a good appreciation of what the park is about, and how we could have easily spent three days and not just three hours.
Our guide Erick started our visit with the West Sumatra Pavilion, where we admired the delicate paint artwork of the buildings. I was fascinated by the variety of the design patterns, the strong colors, and flowing architecture. The roof is shaped like a boat, a reminder that Indonesian are used to travel by boat.
The houses are in general 2 meter-high in order to protect against animals such as tigers, snakes, and tapirs.
The pavilion also featured a few of the local livestock, such as buffalos, made of stone.
We then followed the trail along the lake that represents the main contour of Indonesia, a floating map of grass if you will.
Our next stop brought us to the North Sumatra pavilion, and I immediately noted the beautiful design of the entrance gate. A province can display different styles of traditional houses, depending on the local culture, which was the case in this pavilion with several traditional houses welcoming us. I hopped from one to the other, amazed by the design as well as the decoration, such as the head on one of the main floor beams on the traditional House of Batak Simalungun.
The House of Malay is also a popular structure across Sumatra, a representation of the Malay ethnic in Sumatra. Similar houses can be found in Malaysia.
A large yellow house facing the pavilion entrance had a particular roof with several openings. In North Sumatra culture, each of these represents a generation living in the house. A new roof opening is added for each new generation. The house, big by any standard, has movable partitions inside which allow creating separate sleeping quarters at night. These are pushed aside during the day to make it a large open communal area.
Artifacts & Lifestyle of North Sumatra
That same house hosted the North Sumatra exhibition, where we saw clothes such as wedding costumes, dance attires, traditional outfits, and artifacts from ceremonial masks, shield and spears, musical instruments, utensils, to tools. Erick, our guide, was deeply knowledgeable about the use of the displayed artifacts and regaled us with stories of his own about how important some of these were in Indonesian daily life, even to this day.
The Nias Stone Jumping Tradition
Our next stop was a short stone wall and a smaller one aside. When I heard the story behind it, though, I now longer considered it small. Indeed, this was no ordinary stone but the Nias stone. The Nias are an ethnic group from North Sumatra, and they have a particular manhood initiation called Stone jumping or Fahombo. This requires young men to jump over a 2-meter high stone, without touching it, and of course without hurting himself upon landing on the hard ground. One needs to specify that this is done wearing the traditional clothing that didn’t look made for jumping. The initiation is to test the physical strength of the young men and is a requirement prior to going to war. This is also a mental challenge as those victorious are deemed adults and are then allowed to marry.
Erick asked us whether we wanted to try it out, but I kindly waved the opportunity – no way I could even get on the stone, let us jump over it!
Other traditional house styles like the Rumah Bolon house feature the fighting sheep (“hambing marsimbat”) head and display a large wheel at the top close to the roof. The wheel symbolizes the center of the ethnic community, as well as the cycle of life.
Different statues embellished the gardens, including a tall stone statue made of heads
Traditional dances or music performances can be watched in several pavilions and are usually on Sundays. Bigger pavilions offer a glance into their local cuisine and food can be purchased for immediate enjoyment.
Indonesian follow different religions and as a country, Indonesia has five official religions, though the country is a secular republic. While the country is majoritively Islamic, many Indonesian are Hindu, Catholic, Buddhist or Protestant. Each of the main belief is represented across Mini Indonesia, with buildings such as the Pangeran Diponegoro Mosque, Santa Catharina Catholic Church or Penataran Agung Kertabhumi Balinese Hindu temple.
The country history and relations with religions can be witnessed with the Bell at the Aceh Pavilion. The Buddhist bell represents the Chinese influence in the Aceh province in centuries past and was still used to call people to pray, even after the Sultan became Muslim.
Many Indonesian families can have members of different religions – our guide’s grandfather was a Dutch Catholic, his father Muslim and his mother-in-law Buddhist.
Our path led us to this Kalimantan pavilion where we were stunned by a tall house. This traditional Sebujit house is built according to its environment and the local fauna. The tall and thin poles are indeed here to prevent monkeys, especially orangutans, to reach the house. We would also see houses built on pilotis to protect against crocodiles.
The beautiful and charming white Anjungan Kalimantan Barat had a different flair and a more grandiose look.
As a reminder that Indonesia sits over the equator, the city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan is known as the “center of the earth”, the only city over the equator. Regardless of where the town sits, I really enjoyed the house designs and colors.
Previously known as the Celebes, this pavilion was another pretty impressive sight. We first saw a traditional house from Anjungan Sulawesi Selatan, displaying buffalo heads on its walls and a tall structure made of cow horns in front of the entrance. The number of heads is representative of the wealth and social position of the family – the more heads, the wealthier. Indeed, this represents the number of animals the family provided in past events, be it a wedding, a funeral or any kind of social gathering.
Besides the social indication, it was the woodwork and the peacock head that got my attention. Beautifully carved and painted, the panels and the head were striking.
Just a few steps away stood the Tongkonan, traditional burial houses in South Sulawesi. The body is laid in the central building. The family griefs in the building on the left, and neighbors on the one the right. It is believed that one cannot cry by the dead therefore grieving friends and families have to retire in one the side-structure to do so.
Each of the tree burial houses had different designs on their inside walls, details representing daily life.
After the end of the ceremony and grieving visits, the bodies are actually buried in caves high in the mountains. These are considered holy places.
We concluded our visit by the Bali Pavilion and passed through the gate, which according to Hindu belief, cleans you from your sins. This is another large pavilion featuring several temple elements, statues, and dance platforms.
The details of the stone carving are impressive and I could have spent hours admiring each statue.
Several areas also display traditional musical instruments as well as wedding or dance costumes.
The Diversity of 18,000 Islands
The biodiversity of Indonesia can be experienced by visiting the ten gardens spread throughout the whole complex, ranging from the Orchid or Jasmine Gardens to the Medicinal Herbs Garden or Bird Park. An impressive number of museums, 14 to this day, are available and cover different topics: Indonesia Museum, Soldier Museum, or Insect Museum.
If museums are not your thing, head to one of the three theaters including the Keong Emas (Golden Snail) Imax Theater – the only IMAX in Indonesia, ride the Skylift Indonesia cable car for an aerial view of the park, boat around the Indonesian archipelago lake, or rent a bicycle to explore the park on two wheels.
Children will particularly enjoy the Istana Anak-Anak Indonesia (The Castle of Indonesian Children) or the Snowbay Waterpark swimming pool.
And Mini Indonesia is a great people’s place. We were approached by so many Indonesian wanted to talk to us, asking where we were from, chatting a bit for the less shy or just posing for a photo. This would be a common them during our stay, with Indonesian women and men alike welcoming us in this great country.
How to Get To Mini Indonesia
The cultural park is located southeast of Jakarta and can be reached in one to two hours from the city center, depending on traffic, days of the week and time of the day. Since this is a popular destination for Indonesian as well, the weekends tend to be busy, so it might be better explore on a weekday.
Mini Indonesia is open from 7 am to 10 pm, Monday through Friday, though each attraction inside the park has its own opening hours. Adult entrance ticket to the park is currently at Rp. 10,000 (~0.75 USD as of November 2016) and extra activities, special buildings and performances require their own additional tickets. More information on the Mini Indonesia ticket page.
Once in the park, take your time to explore. You can walk, rent a bike, take a taxi to take you to the further side and go for a bird’s eye view with the aerial cable car.
This visit, as well as my entire Indonesian trip, including the tour of Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta or the Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Bali, was organized thanks to the Konsulat Jenderal Republik Indonesia di San Francisco and provided by Marintur Indonesia. Thank you for the terrific opportunity! Our opinion is our own and is not impacted by this partnership.