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Why You Can’t Walk on the Sidewalk in Indonesia

Treacherous — the one word that sums up Indonesia’s sidewalks.

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The first time I went to Indonesia I thought it was fluke that there were massive gaping hole in the sidewalk and open manhole covers:

The sidewalk was an obstacle course of ruin and peril: gaping manholes along with wide open spaces where, for some reason, pieces of the sidewalk were either removed or never installed in the first place. There was nearly a dozen cavities spaced at even intervals, like that carnival game where you roll the ball along a table trying to get it in the right hole — only in this instance pedestrians were the ball and you didn’t get points for falling in. I looked down into a hole, black slop was seething five feet below. I suppose not many people walk here.

The second time I went to Indonesia I realized that this was standard fare for the country.

All through Indonesia’s cities the sidewalks are strewn with massive gaps that lead to the storm sewers below that seem to be anywhere from three to ten feet deep. If someone just happened to fall through one of these gaps there is a good chance that he would be severely injured, possibly even killed. At the very least this unfortunate schmuck would land in a pool of toxic black/ grey/ green/ brown muck, the composition of which I do not wish to know.

To make matters more volatile, these booby traps are distributed at an alarming frequency — often more than a half dozen per block — making walking down the streets here akin to a run through an obstacle course. Even in Jakarta, the nation’s capital, only 20 percent of sidewalks are reported to be passable.

These holes are the result of flooding during the monsoon season and an abject lack of maintenance. The storm drains of Indonesia’s cities often run right under the sidewalks, which are not equipped to handle the heavy precipitation that comes down in the rainy season. So the sidewalks are made of removable stone or concrete blocks or have hatches which can be pushed up and out of place by rising water beneath, relieving the drainage system of pressure.

Fair enough.

The problem is that after the storms have past and even after the rainy season is over nobody comes around to repair the sidewalks and put the blocks back in place. So after years of neglect the sidewalks of Indonesia’s cities are shot full of holes and are, seriously, unwalkable. This is not a country to be checking your phone while strolling.

No, it’s not even a country for strolling.

Needless to say, most people in the urban spheres of Indonesia don’t often walk very far, and when they do they are forced to walk in the street — which presents its own assortment of perils.

Hole in the sidewalk hole in sidewalk in Jakarta hole in sidewalk Indonesia dangerous sidewalk Indonesia Jakarta sidewalk Indonesia sidewalk Hole in street Jakarta
Filed under: Indonesia

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Hil December 16, 2019, 7:16 am

    very true. as an indonesian, the farthest distance ive ever walked here is only around 3km but im so annoyed with the sidewalk facilities.. there are people claiming half of the sidewalks for their own sake and when you walk passing way thru the people who stay or sit there people will see you as a weird person, even possible getting catcalled if youre a woman. i also personally dont like with the banner and poster everywhere making visual pollution (and i have to move or lower my head while i just want to walk peacely…) being a pedestrian in indonesia is so tough. when i was having a holiday in singapore, it was the best thing ever in my life.. the sidewalk is really beautiful and you’ll meet so many pedestrian walking with you too

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    • Wade Shepard December 17, 2019, 11:12 am

      It’s really interesting how the concept of public vs. private space changes between cultures.

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