We hadn’t heard great things about Jakarta but we were kind of excited about it, especially after Malaysia and Singapore, a chaotic capital sounded fun. It wasn’t.
I’m being a bit harsh, Jakarta wasn’t awful. But it has 2 big problems – horrific traffic and no metro system. It’s a huge city and nothing is very close together, so both of those things make it incredibly frustrating to get around.
It does have the TransJakarta busway, which we used once, that has special bus lanes that avoid some of the traffic, but then you have to contend with the immense crush of people at the stations and on the bus. Not to mention when we tried to get another one, staff insisted we needed to buy a prepaid card for 40,000IDR each – when an average taxi journey is only 20,000.
The taxi’s have to be commended in Jakarta. While they can’t get you to your destination any quicker, they are very cheap and with honest drivers. Anyone who’s tried to get a driver to use the meter in Bangkok will be pleasantly surprised by Jakarta.
So you may be thinking, why not walk instead? Well as I said, Jakarta is huge, and I mean HUGE. It also doesn’t want you to walk. Crowded pavements are common in Asia but Jakarta takes this to another level – there are holes, food vendors and cars parked across the whole pavement. Add the humidity and the difficulty of crossing roads and you have a whole world of frustration.
But it’s not all bad.
There are things to see in Jakarta, and while we didn’t exactly fall for the city in the 2 days we were there, with more time you might get more under the skin and discover more.
The city centre is unusual, in that it is entirely based around the National Monument in Merdaka Square, which isn’t so much a square as a huge, fenced off park which you can only get in and out of at a couple of points. The monument is quite ugly as well. However the square did seem to be a place where families and friends got together, and it was at least a respite from the fumes and honking horns.
On the west side of the square is the excellent National Museum. For the insanely low ticket price (10,000IDR), we weren’t expecting much, but it was actually a fascinating museum. It does a great job of bringing together all the different islands and cultures of Indonesia, and has some fasinating exhibits set in a beautiful building dating from the 1800s.
The Dutch colonial old town is called Kota Tua and is located in the north of the city (eg a long boring taxi ride away from central). The main square is another rare break from Jakarta’s chaos, though the amount of young girls asking for photos with our group made us realise that not many tourists visit the city.
I’ve always wanted to visit a Mosque. After visiting Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic and even Russian Orthadox places of worship on our trip, I wanted to finally see one. They are not always very easy to visit, as while many welcome visitors, times are restricted because of prayers.
The largest Mosque in Southeast Asia (fitting for the largest Muslim nation on Earth), Istiqlal is located near Merdaka Square and always welcoming of visitors. You aren’t allowed to go into the prayer hall but after covering up with a robe you are free to walk around upstairs admiring the scale of the colossal building and look down to see people praying.
It is an interesting building, relatively new and so maybe not as beautiful as some Mosques from outside, but inside the sheer scale and the immense dome was stunning.
On our last evening, we decided to go to Skye Bar. Situated on top of the BCA tower in the glittering mall district of Jakarta, it was a great place to get an expensive cocktail. We’ve been to quite a few sky bars now and often they are a disappointment but Skye was probably the best we’ve been to.
For a start it’s actually open air so you can really feel the height. The cocktails are really good and the atmosphere quite relaxed, save for some over zealous security. Alas, we could only stay for one drink.
Afterwards we went to Jalan Jaksa which is supposed to be the place for budget eating and drinking in Jakarta. Well, there is virtually nothing there and no atmosphere. I’m not really sure why it’s recommended?
One more thing, that I so, so wish I’d got a photo of, was that the streets of Jakrta were full of goats! Every other road had small pens with people selling them. It was only later I found out that we visited just before Idul Adha, a Muslim festival where goats are sacrificed and dished up to the poor and needy at the Mosque. It was such a bizarre sight seeing all these goats, and it’s something that you can’t see very often.
So, we didn’t love Jakarta. But I’m loathe to say we hated it, because when I look back we actually quite enjoyed it, when I forget about all the traffic! I wouldn’t rush back, but maybe we’ll find ourselves there again one day and we can explore it deeper.
The airport is some distance outside of the city, and your options to get in are by bus or taxi. The bus is a lot, lot cheaper. It’s not particularly well signposted at the airport, but if you come out of arrivals and keep walking left, you will eventually come to the bus terminal. We bought tickets to Gambir, which is the central bus/rail station at Merdaka square, which cost us 30,000IDR each.
From Gambir you can take the TransJakarta busway or get a taxi/tuk-tuk. We took the busway, and the tickets cost us 7,500IDR each. It’s not a comfortable ride though, and as we only had 2km or so to our hotel we should have got a taxi. Our hotel was north of the square but most budget accommodation is south, near Jalan Jaksa.
If you want a SIM card, buy it at the airport. I had huge trouble finding one once in the city. I describe the process more here.
We stayed at CitiResidence. It was a lovely little guesthouse with decent rooms and full HD cable TV (!). They provided a nice breakfast and the staff were helpful. The location however, is fairly awful. You have to walk through what looks like the entrance to a building site to get to the road. There is also virtually nothing in the vicinity, save for a huge Carrefour supermarket across the road. 7/10