Jakarta: Gateway to Indonesia
Mike Smith says you need time, private transportation & a great deal of patience to survive the heat, humidity & heavy traffic in Jakarta. If you have all three it is easy to enjoy the shopping, fine dining, historical areas, culture & quality entertainment in Indonesia’s capital city.
I had been to Jakarta on many occasions, but always in transit or for business meetings, rarely staying more than 24 hours. Being published in numerous magazines & online travel websites such as GoNomad has its advantages as you can get free trips.
Thus, I was happy to take accept Visit Indonesia Tourism’s offer of a familiarization trip, accompanied by two young bloggers, Mint & Tsuriki, to experience how Jakarta has developed as its economy has boomed.
Jakarta is a sprawling city of 13 million people, almost as many motorbikes & several million cars. It is culturally diverse, has a colourful & controversial history and a host of modern facilities. Public transport, except for taxis, is not easily available to tourists who must rely on private means or group tours.
Our trip got off to a perfect start with an upgrade from Garuda to executive class & an invite to breakfast in the SATS premier lounge before boarding their new Boeing 737-800 plane. Garuda has certainly made a huge effort to re-establish itself as a viable international airline & the service & comfort was comparable with major competitors on the one & a half hour flight from Singapore.
Paying USD 25 for a visa on arrival at Jakarta sucks but that is the admission fee for British citizens! My Singaporean colleagues waved as they took the fast track through immigration free of charge! Immigration was a breeze for me too & our welcome committee headed by Pak Agung of the Government Tourism & Culture Office was waiting for us as we exited the airport. Unsurprisingly we got stuck in our first traffic jam on the toll road well before our hotel, the five stars Sari Pan Pacific, on Jalan Thamrin in the heart of the business district.
Sparkling Malls & Cluttered Shop Houses
Jakarta is rightly proud of the growth in up market shopping malls demonstrating the local purchasing power. They can compete on price & selection with Singapore & Hong Kong. Plaza Indonesia was our first port of call. One of the finest in Indonesia this mall contains many of the leading global luxury brands including Gucci, Georgio Armani & Bvlgari. Local companies such as Alleira, a supplier of fashionable batiks, rapidly forging a reputation in Indonesia & overseas are also present. We all enjoyed trying on their stylish clothes & couldn’t resist a souvenir! The extension to the mall features Hard Rock Café amongst others & is a popular hangout for those seeking burgers & live music in the evenings.
Antiques & Curios
I soon get bored in modern shopping centres but I do enjoy browsing antique, junk, & curios shops. Jalan Surabaya is a long street with perhaps a hundred outlets displaying everything including brass ornaments, wooden carvings, clocks, puppets, silver spoons, cannons & plenty more. I wish I could have spent half a day there but in the 1 hour that was scheduled I bought 3 lovely, small, porcelain vases salvaged from a Chinese Ching Dynasty ship wreck (or so I was told). Be sure to bargain hard, because even an inexperienced shopper like me got a 70% discount!
Shopping makes me tired, but fortunately a visit to a spa for a massage to rejuvenate before dinner was in the programme. Luxury indeed as we enjoyed being pampered in private rooms at Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa. There are a whole range of treatments available including the signature Royal Javanese 90 minute Taman Sari deep tissue massage.
This uses the thumb & palm pressure with firm strokes & Indonesian essential oils to improve blood circulation reduce tensions & promote relaxation. It worked for me! I was tempted to use the indoor swimming pool too but peer pressure moved me on to dinner at CITOS a lively & popular hang out place in South Jakarta with a range of restaurants, cafes, pubs & shops.
Day two was devoted to history. Our tour began at Jakarta’s most noticeable landmark the 132 meter National Monument in Merdeka Square. It symbolises Indonesia’s fight for Independence, with a golden flame on top. Around the bottom are reliefs of Indonesia’s past depicting ancient scenes & progressing through colonization, Japanese occupation & independence.
It’s best to visit the park at a weekend. You need extra time to access the viewing deck at 115 meters but it’s more than compensated by the fact that the park comes to life with hawkers, children flying kites, picnickers & cyclists. If you stay until evening you can watch the dancing fountain display around the monument’s base. Our leisurely horse & carriage trip around the outside of the park was great fun & cost about a dollar.
Our tour progressed to Jakarta Kota, the older colonial area, where we ambled through the pedestrian street markets with shoes, clothes & cooling ice creams for sale. The place hums on weekends with pop bands performing in the square to entertain the crowds & families chill out.
The Jakarta History Museum (former City Hall) & the Wayang or Puppet Museum are housed in impressive buildings in Old Batavi. Internally both could do with upgrading but they do have some interesting collections, particularly the large dining tables sourced from a single tree trunks & massive double bed which could easily sleep four in the former.
Consider taking lunch upstairs, preferably at a window table, in the newly restored Café Batavia opposite. The ambience is great with a grand staircase, an interesting collection of photographs & art deco but the food & service were only average when we dined.
Sunda Kelapa Harbour, a short drive away, was my favourite place of the trip. Once a thriving port dealing with trade in cloves, nutmeg and pepper, sandalwood, silks and more it’s a fascinating place to visit. It is hot, dusty, dirty and active. There were dozens of amazing Bugis phinisi, sail boats at anchor. These huge, wooden craft still ply the Indonesian archipelago.
The loading & unloading is largely done manually by coolies who carry heavy cargo over narrow planks to the ships. It’s a living history museum. Unique is an over used word but it is a fitting description for this port! An added bonus was that a couple of models were on a photo shoot & agreed to briefly pose for me.
Dinner was at Bandar Djakarta, a big, brash 1,400 seat seafood restaurant. I knew it would be good when it was full when we arrived & we had to wait for a table! We were not disappointed, the chilli crab, fried fish & steamed prawns were excellent & good value for money.
Day Trip to Bogor
Wanting to see what the countryside had to offer we organised a day trip to Bogor to include Taman Safrai Zoo & Gunung Mas Tea Estate. Travel time, as always, depends on the traffic so allow at least two hours each way, more on a weekend.
Up Close & Personal with Wild Animals
Having been to some of the best zoos in the world I was curious to see Taman Safari. My expectations were quite low but I was very pleasantly surprised at how different & well laid out it was. You know when you are getting near. You can’t miss the fruit & vegetables! As you approach the Safari there are hundreds of stalls at the side of the road, with beautiful simple displays of crisp orange carrots & fresh yellow bananas.
Do buy some as you can feed many of the animals by hand from your car. For me the highlights were the elephants, hippos & of course the big cats (keep your car windows shut!) but there was a wide selection of Asian & African animals. You get very close to the animals as you drive through the enclosures; a camel (with bad breath) had its head through our open window searching for carrots! It was not exactly being on safari but it’s not a bad alternative. A few kilometers further & we arrived at Gunung Mas.
My idea of a drink usually involves something stronger but a refreshing cup of tea accompanied by a snack of fried tofu & pisang goreng covered in melted cheese was more than welcome after a stroll around the workers village at Gunung Mas tea estate. The factory, which admittedly looked somewhat run down, was closed when we arrived so we couldn’t see the tea processing. However the rural location in the hills beyond Bogor, with rows of tea shrubs, thick forest & friendly children made it a peaceful spot to spend an hour or two.
Local expats visit Bogor to play golf in the cooler climate there. I didn’t have my clubs with me but was assured that the golf courses are cheap, challenging & located in beautiful country side.
Dance the night away
I was too tired to party after a three-hour journey back to the hotel but was reliably informed that Jakarta’s nightlife is hot too! Discos, nightclubs or music bars in top class hotels offer a wide variety of music and dance opportunities. My younger companions on the trip confirmed that the clubbing was great with a different beat to similar clubs in Singapore.
If you like thrills & theme parks you will love Dunia Fantasi (Dufan Fantasy World) at Ancol which has over 30 rides & attractions. The twisted roller coaster Halilintar, Kora – Kora the swinging pirate ship & Hysteria gained the loudest screams. The more sedate rides such as the giant Ferries Wheel had plenty of eager supporters too.
The colorful street parade with brass bands, cartoon characters & dancers kept me firing away with the camera. The Magic Fountain show with lasers, 4D animation & water display in the early evening drew a large crowd & compared favourably with anything I’ve seen in the region.
The Dapur Babah restaurant was the perfect place to end our trip. It is fascinating with weird, themed dining rooms, colorful art work & early 20th century paraphernalia. Comfortable sofas & heavy teak tables & complement the setting. We were served like royalty on huge heavy plates. The company & food were great, with original recipes derived from the Babah culture of mixed marriages between Chinese settlers & native Javanese women. The service was also excellent in this converted old shop house on Jalan Veteran.
If you love nostalgia take the legendary spaghetti ice cream at the next door Ragusa Es Italia. It is a simple independent establishment which has been manufacturing & selling ice cream at the same location since 1932.
Unless I was visiting friends I probably wouldn’t book a specific trip to Jakarta for a holiday but I would extend a business trip or transit stop if I had the time. Jakarta is an interesting but frustrating city. There are lots of things to see & do but it is essential to have private transport. I thoroughly enjoyed my familiarization tour with Pak Agung & his team who were wonderful hosts.
Trip organized by Visit Indonesia Tourism Office Singapore
Hotel – Sari Pan Pacific Jakarta –
Airline – Garuda International flies from Singapore to Jakarta several times a day
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