Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, has many faces. From the scintillating skyscrapers to the poverty-ridden slums, from the richly fragrant streets of Chinatown to some of Asia’s best golf courses, Jakarta is a city with many layers; scratch one and you will find another, equally beautiful, equally unexpected.
Here, you will be able to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of Indonesia and experience first hand their desire to race ahead of the times. Ask the Indonesians and they will tell you that Jakarta is the place where dreams are made. The city attracts Indonesians from the four corners of the archipelago who come here to seek greener pastures. Populated with people from Sumatra, Bali, Maluku, Kalimantan, Jakarta is melting pot of cultures, in fact, a mini Indonesia in a nutshell.
Jakarta, like any other developing city, has a curious mix of the traditional and the modern—one side of the city has people trading spices in a way that has remained unchanged for centuries and on the other there are the tall steel and glass skyscrapers that have changed the city’s skyline beyond recognition. Clinging to the city limits are people who find it difficult to make ends meet and at the other end of the spectrum are the expats who cut multi-billion Dollar deals in the lap of indefinable luxury. Jakarta, the city of wealth and poverty, is bold, brash, and defiant and it is easy to be caught up in its simmering energy.
Things To See
The main tourist attractions are located in the center of the city. There are many sightseeing trips that begin from here and then proceed to the historic waterfront and the Kota district, and finally weave their way inland towards the Gambir and Menteng districts.
Kota, considered to be the most attractive place of the city, is home to the Jakarta History Museum, the Puppet Museum and the old port of Sunda Kelapa. The inland dotted with a rich sprinkling of mosques and temples is testament to the diversity and varied backgrounds of the people who inhabit Jakarta.
Kota: The centre of old Batavia, the Kota district, is the tourist hub of Jakarta. The main action is concentrated in the historic Taman Fatahillah, a cobbled square that seems to belong to another era. Visit Sunda Kelapa, the old port area, and you can see the schooners returning from the high seas to trade their exotic spices, a picture immortalized in Joseph Conrad evocative descriptions. The brightly painted sailing ships are Jakarta’s most unexpected attractions.
Maritime Museum: Located in Sunda Kelapa, this museum which was until the 19th century a warehouse for the Dutch, is now home to the maritime museum. Model boats and faded sepia photos bring to life the various adventures at sea including the voyage to Jakarta from Europe via Aden. From the old watchtower, you can take in the spectacular views of the surroundings.
Puppet Museum: The museum is a treasure house of puppets from Indonesia and Southeast Asia. You can see an interesting collection of traditional Indonesian puppets such as wayang kulit and wayang golek and enjoy puppets shows, which are a regular feature of the museum.
National Monument (Monas): Towering over Merdeka Square, the National Monument is Jakarta’s most famous landmark. Standing at 132 meters and topped with 35 kilograms of gold, this imposing monument is a symbol of Indonesia’s independence and strength. The Freedom Hall depicts Indonesia’s struggle for independence through a series of dioramas. You can take an elevator to the observation platform and gain a bird’s-eye view of the cityscape. At the base of the National Monument is the National Museum.
National Museum: Considered to be the Jakarta’s most impressive museum, the National Museum provides interesting insights into the history of the city and Indonesia. Exhibits here include early Chinese ceramics, pieces culled from Java’s myriad temples and a bronze elephant that was gifted to the museum by the King of Thailand.
Taman Mini Indonesia Indah: This sprawling 100-hectare park in Jakarta is an interesting diversion. You can discover Indonesia’s rich cultural heritage. There are pavilions for each of Indonesia’s provinces with displays of regional handicrafts and clothing. There is a large ‘lagoon’ where you can row around the islands of this archipelago or take in a bird’s eye view from the cable cars. Besides, there are museums, theatres, restaurants and a bird park with a walk-in aviary. Ask the people of Jakarta and they will tell you that if you visit the park then there is no need for you to go to any other part of the country. For them the park ‘is whole of Indonesia under one roof.’ You can walk, drive your own car, or take a free shuttle to go around the park.
Ragunan Zoo: Located 16 km south of the city centre in the Pasar Minggu area, the Ragunan Zoo is home to around 4000 animals including the famed Komodo dragons. The fearsome Java tigers are another highlight of this park. You can spend a couple of hours just wandering around the extensive parklands, rainforests, and a landscaped lake.
Taman Fatahillah: This beautiful Old Dutch quarter is home to some old and ancient monuments. This is a great place to view some impressive colonial architecture. The main attractions here are the oldest church in Jakarta, the Gereja Sion and Si Jagur, the cannon which symbolized fertility.
Festivals and Events
The Jakarta Anniversary: Celebrated on 22 June, the day marks the establishment of the city by Gunungiati back in 1527. The day is celebrated with fireworks and the Jakarta Fair that continues until mid-July.
JI Street Fair: The fair features Betawi dance, theatre, music and also modern performances. There are street stalls that sell delectable food and souvenirs. Besides, you can see art and photography exhibits.
Independence Day: Indonesia’s Independence Day is celebrated on 17th August and the parades in Jakarta are the biggest in the country.
There are many good accommodation choices in all price brackets. The hospitality sector rates accommodations in Jakarta under two distinct categories: The melati (jasmine) system defines modest lodgings, whereas the bintang (star) system ranks accommodations with more facilities. Under the star system, there are a wide variety of hotels, apartments, conventional rooms, and penthouses. If you are here for a longer stay, you can opt for budget hotels.
Jakarta’s main commercial center is home to many monuments, museums, markets and cultural centers. You can choose from a number of international chain properties such as the Regent, Sari Pan Pacific, President Nikko Gran Melia, Le Meridien, and Jakarta Hilton. The Grand Hyatt, considered to one of the greatest luxury hotels in Jakarta is also located here. To the north of the Golden Triangle, is the Borobudur Inter-Continental, the preferred choice of diplomats and guests of the government.
Jakarta’s downtown area in the South of the city caters to budget minded travelers. You can check out the terra cotta Ambhara and the European-style Gran Mahakam if you are here for a longer stay. You also have the choice of renting traditional vacation villas along the beachfront. In the West of the city, you can try out the Old Dutch quarters. Jalan Jaksa is a haven for the backpackers where you can find comfortable but no-frills lodging.
Jakarta is a world-class culinary destination where you can enjoy ethnic Indonesian and international cuisine and also interesting fusion foods with global influences. Being a pre-dominantly Muslim country there is an abundance of reasonably-priced halal fare. Jakarta has the best selection of restaurants in Indonesia where you can eat anything from monkey meat in the streets of Glodok to exquisite dining in international restaurants. Most restaurants and eateries are expensive by Indonesian standards but the relatively low value of the rupiah means you can enjoy fine dining at a fraction of the price it would cost in other parts of the world.
Street food is very common in Jakarta and there is no dearth of warungs (food stalls) and snacks vendors selling nosh, the quintessentially Indonesian satay or bakso tok-tok (Chinese soup). Jakarta also has its fair share of international chains and franchises. You’ll easily find these in food courts and in shopping malls such as Plaza Senayan, Taman Anggrek Mall, and Plaza Indonesia. In some malls, you can actually see the food being prepared and you can also sample different specialties before deciding on what you want to eat.
Restaurants featuring Indonesian cuisine can be commonly found in the city. Popular dishes include spicy hot Padang food, delicious chicken from Kalasan in Central Java, grilled fish from Ujung Pandang, and sumptuous Chinese seafood dishes.
Jakarta offers diverse international culinary delights for all to experience. You can try out American, Asian, Brazilian, British, Chinese, Deli, Dutch, European, French, Greek, Indian, Irish, and Italian to name only a few. There is also a good selection of restaurants serving these menus ranging from cheap to expensive. Most fine dining restaurants are to be found in the five star hotels concentrated in the Golden Triangle area as also in residences such as Kemang, Menteng and Kebayoran Baru. Cafe Batavia, in the northwest of the city, provides a memorable dining experience through its Hong Kong and Pacific Rim menus. In Oasis, you will be welcomed with live gamelan music. The restaurant has an interesting cuisine and a decent wine list.
The cafes located in Jalan Jaksa dish out standard travelers’ fare ranging from quasi-European to Indonesian. The rates are cheap and the breakfasts served are of good value. The place is a good for the backpackers and the budget travelers. Ya Udah is a popular and relatively upmarket hangout serving Western dishes and a wide variety of pies. Pappa Kafe serves a wide menu including Indian food. Memori has food similar to Pappa Kafe but in the evenings you can enjoy watching American movies.
For a complete listing of restaurants in Jakarta, you can consult the AWA’s Jakarta Shoppers Guide and the Jakarta Dining restaurant guide.
Shopping is one of Jakarta’s biggest attractions. Clothes, shoes and bags are very cheap, especially if they are locally made. Branded goods are also available but are often no cheaper than the rates you would pay back home. Jakarta is a great place to shop for handicrafts from all across Indonesia. Electronic goods are considered to be good buys but you should be wary of cheap copies. You can buy DVDs at bargain bin prices.
Jakarta is home to a number of swish air-conditioned malls such as Plaza Indonesia, Jalan Thamrin, Plaza Seneyan, and Jalan Asia Afrika. For souvenirs such as batiks, brass work and wooden carvings, browse through the flea market at Jalan Surabaya in Menteng. It is always fun to browse through the flea market but bargain like crazy— the prices may be ten times higher than the actual value.
Sarinah Department Store: This is a good place to shop for Indonesian handicrafts. The entire third floor is devoted to batiks and handicrafts from all over the country. The handicrafts are more for souvenirs than buying collectible items and the prices here are reasonable.
Pasaraya: The store is similar to Sarinah but much bigger. The fourth floor is completely dedicated to handicrafts.
Pasar Seni: Located at Ancol Recreation Park, this is also a good place to shop for regional handicrafts.
Pasar Pagi Mangga Dua: This is a huge wholesale market with some of the cheapest clothes, accessories, shoes and other goods in Jakarta.
Excursions From Jakarta
Jakarta is a good base for foraying deeper into Java or even exploring the island of Bali. Gray Line (www.grayline.com) offers day trips to Borobudur. Once you arrive in Yogyakarta, you will be taken to the epic site itself with the world famous temple complex.
Gray Line also arranges for tours to Bali. You’ll be taken to the main sights on the island, including the rice paddies and temples. This is a full day tour and at the end of the day, you will be flown back by a late flight to Jakarta. You can also opt for longer tours.
Pulau Seribu, a group of around 130 islands, is just a short boat ride away. Many of the islands, which are accessible by tourists, have been developed by resorts. These islands are well worth a visit for their white beaches, calm seas, and the beautiful wilderness.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Jakarta, inhabited by people from across the Indonesian archipelago and beyond, is a melting pot of cultures and therefore offers a wide range of entertainment options to suit all tastes. For the latest events, films, special events and concerts, you can check out the entertainment pages of the Jakarta Kini, Jakarta Post, or Djakarta! If you want to experience something really traditional, you can witness Indonesian performances such as wayang kulit (shadow puppet shows) and gamelan (traditional Javanese) music.
To see Jakarta’s cultural showcase, you can visit Taman Ismail Marzuki where there is a performance nearly every night. You can see Balinese dances, attend poetry readings, or gamelan concerts. Another popular venue is the Gedung Kesenian Jakarta where you can enjoy traditional dance and theatre as also European classical music and dance. The annual arts festival at the Jakarta Arts Building also provides the perfect opportunity to see world-class dance, music and theater performed by local and foreign artists.
Jakarta is Indonesia’s most broad-minded and sophisticated city offering an impressive nightlife. There are hundreds of bars, discos, karaoke lounges and nightclubs ranging from sleazy to refined.
Bars and live music: Bands start around 10 PM or 11PM and continue until around 3 AM. Hotel bars are the most popular and they seem to burst at the seams during weekends. Burgundy, in Grand Hyatt, is the place for the who’s who of the city. Then there are the chain cafes like Planet Hollywood, Newscafe, Fashion Café, and Hard Rock Café, which are very popular during the weekends as well. Other bars worth checking out include Pitstop Club in the Sari Pan Pacific, Chequers in the Mandarin Oriental, and B.A.T.S. in the Shangri-La. Jaya Pub is nothing less than a Jakarta institution with live performers most evenings.
Discos: Tanamor is very popular among expatriates and is Jakarta’s best-known discothèque. It makes for a great place for letting your hair down, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when it pulsates with the excitement of a full house. Other well-patronized discotheques include the stylish Jalan Jalan, catering to the young crowd, and Garasi, the favored haunt of financial executives and stockbrokers.
Nightclubs and Karaoke bars: Jakarta has some sophisticated clubs with high-tech lighting, massive sound systems, and pumping dance music. The clubs open around 9 PM but the action doesn’t really start until midnight. On weekends, they are open till 4 AM or later. For some of Jakarta’s best nightclubs, you can head to Chinatown, situated north of the city. Here you can find among others, the Rap Club and Haze.