We were in Malaysia and Indonesia for the month of June while Ramadan was taking place, making it an exciting time to travel. We had never experienced this before, as we had never traveled to Muslim countries during the month of June. This was fascinating as it allowed us to engage with people in a different way, in short, we learnt a lot. Ramadan is the time of year when they renew their spiritual commitments. During this time, they fast from sunrise to sunset over the period of a month, this includes abstaining from drinking and smoking. The majority of people in Malaysia and Indonesia are Muslim, Indonesia having the greatest amount with approximately 13% of the world Muslim population. Here are five things we learnt while travelling during Ramadan.
During the day people are fasting so often times restaurants and small shops will be closed because nobody wants to cook during this time (I know I wouldn’t want to while I am fasting). In the larger centers where there are a lot of tourists this does not change the situation. Many chain stores are open for business as usual, but in the smaller towns it can be a struggle to access proper food during the day.
When dusk hits, many services shut down for a few hours. As we were told before taking a taxi, “you better take a taxi soon because once the fasting ends at dusk people will be eating and you won’t be able to find a ride anywhere.” The same happened to us in Malaysia, the bus was supposed to leave the station at 7:30 p.m. but the bus driver did show up until closer to 8 p.m. because he was scarfing down his first meal as the sun just went down.
If you’re heading to Indonesia, for example, and looking for some good parties you could be disappointed, unless you go to Bali of course. Bali is mainly Hindu and therefore the partying never stops. If you’re in Gili Trawangan, on the other hand, an island off Lombok known for its partying, you may be surprised that during Ramadan the bars are closed around midnight. It is not too horrible; it is just something to be aware of while you’re travelling.
When you are travelling around it is good to situate yourself at a place far from a mosque or the speakers that are around town. All throughout the day there is singing and the reading of scriptures played through the loudspeakers. Okay, it isn’t all that bad and you don’t need to plan your accommodation around this, but when it wakes you up at 3 a.m. don’t be surprised, it is just part of the atmosphere and you won’t get that back home. On the plus side, it is nice to listen to, especially when you’re falling asleep.
As one person described to us, you have to be patient with us this month, it is not that we don’t understand you it is just that we are hungry and sometimes aren’t paying attention like we normally do. This can be said the same for people working in ticket counters, security, airports, etc. It is always good to keep in mind while travelling, if there is a mistake just take it easy, it probably was not on purpose.