| For sheer size, scale and variety, Indonesia is pretty
much unbeatable. The country is so enormous that nobody is really
sure quite how big it is; there are between 13,000 and 17,000 islands.
It's certainly the largest archipelago in the world, spreading over
5200km between the Asian mainland and Australia, all of it within
the tropics and with huge areas of ocean separating the landmasses.
Not surprisingly, Indonesia's ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity
is correspondingly great - the best estimate is of 500 languages
and dialects spoken by around 200 million people.
The largely volcanic nature of the islands has created tall cloud-swept
mountains swathed in the green of rice terraces or rainforest,
dropping to blindingly bright beaches and vivid blue seas, the
backdrop for Southeast Asia's biggest wilderness areas and wildlife
sanctuaries. The ethnic mix of Indonesia is overwhelming: this
is the world's largest Muslim country, but with a distinct local
flavour, and there are also substantial populations of Christians,
Hindus and animists, whose forms of worship, customs and lifestyles
have been influencing each other for centuries.