Forget The Big Apple, if you want vibrant nightlife, exotic food culture and a burgeoning art and music scene then look no further than Indonesia’s own capitol Jakarta. Playfully nicknamed The Big Durian, this city isn’t for the timid, but once you get passed the city’s gritty facade then a plethora of megalopolis adventures awaits you.
Like its smelly fruit sobriquet, Jakarta can be a very divisive place; light on tourist attractions and known more for its jammed streets, polluted air and dilapidated buildings, the usual holiday set tend to stay away. But their loss is your gain: with a low tourist trade, Jakarta is able to retain a sense of genuine authenticity that’s usually amiss in other more popular locations throughout South East Asia. One of the major benefits of this is reflected in the price of goods and services; without any tourists to scam or rip off, what you’ll end up paying will be either pretty close to what a local would be expected to shell out for the same thing. Another major draw and yet another additional benefit to a low tourist trade is that petty crime in the city is relatively low, with some studies even suggesting that it’s far lower than its western counterparts such as New York and London.
But you already know why Jakarta is great, that’s why it’s on your BuckitDream list; so before I start carrying on like an enthused fangirl, let me get straight into what makes this city tick and impart a few tricks and local knowhow that’ll make your trip one for the ages.
- Monas: It just wouldn’t be a how-to-guide without mentioning the city’s biggest tourist attraction. However, Jakarta definitely ascribes to the ‘less is more rule’, so as far as site-hopping is concerned this is where it starts and stops. Opening in 1975, Monas serves as a symbol that marks Indonesian independence; climb to the top of the 137-meter high monument and take in what is widely believed to be one of the best views in town. Admission is just 15,000 IDR (roughly $1.25 USD), so you’ve no excuse to not visit this iconic pillar.
- Pasar Baru: Dating back as far as 1820, Pasar Baru is the oldest walking market in Jakarta. No cars allowed, this pedestrian-only shopping heaven is practically erupting with exotic vendors hawking everything from vintage cameras to fresh flowers, as well as a wide array of traditional Javanese, Chinese and Indian street food.
- Pasar Santa: Out with the old and in with the new, Pasar Santa is the newest hotspot for entrepreneurial ventures and start-ups across the city. What was once a traditional market was transformed back in 2014 into a trendy and innovative space for aspiring small business owners to flog their wares. Sip on artisan coffee whilst munching on a vegan hotdog and blissing out to the latest in indie rock: if hipster is your vibe then Pasar Santa has all that you want in spades.
- Kota Tua (Old Town): The old Dutch colonial district of Jakarta is probably the second on everyone’s list of ‘Top Tourist Attractions’; however, after the riots of 1998, much of this area is still fairly rundown. But don’t be disheartened as Kota Tua now has an eerie charm, making it a fantastic spot to capture some interesting street photography as the people-watching in this eclectic area can be utterly fascinating. Aside from interesting denizens and a moody landscape, Kota Tua is also home to a smattering of small museums, which, if you’re interested, offer a comprehensive overview of Javanese culture and history.
- Istiqlal Mosque & Jakarta Cathedral: Istiqlal Mosque is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia; opened back in 1978, the mosque represented yet another mark of Indonesian liberty (istiqlal literally translating to ‘independence’). Purposefully built directly across the street from the Jakarta Cathedral (a neo-gothic style building that dates back as early as 1901) the mosque’s location was intended to demonstrate religious tolerance throughout Indonesia. Located close to Monas, if you’ve got your tourist hat on for the day then it’s definitely worth popping over for a look.
- Glodok (Jakarta’s Chinatown): Unlike other Chinatowns that you may have visited, Glodok’s interesting and complex history isn’t exactly traditional. You’ll be hard pressed to find the usual dim sum stalls, squeaky baby shoes and kites but what you’ll find instead is a bustling, friendly and frenetic atmosphere, made up of narrow alleyways lined with countless hawker stalls, temples and food carts.
- Shopping: I know this one seems a little obvious, but that’s until I tell you that with 173 shopping centres within the capital, Jakarta has more malls than any other city in the world! Jakarta’s malls are not only huge, they’re also comfortable, decadent and filled with a cornucopia of different shops, restaurants and entertainment arenas. For the best of the best, check out PIM, Plaza Indonesia and Pacific Place.
Where to stay:
High-end: Being a capital city, Jakarta is home to all of the big hitters. From the Ritz Carlton (two of them, actually) to The Hyatt and Raffles, if there’s one thing that Jakarta isn’t missing is five-star luxury; on which velvet pillow you decide to lay your head all depends on personal taste.
Mid-range: For a unique design and cool atmosphere that won’t break the bank, take a look at the Kosenda Hotel. Just an 11-minute walk from the Plaza Indonesia and 2 km from Mona, it’s central location makes it a perfect spot from which to base your exploration. Rooms from around $80 USD per night.
Budget: There are plenty of budget accommodations to choose from in Jakarta, but being a capital city renowned for crumbling buildings and a pollution problem, it’s probably best to up your nightly budget slightly to ensure a good night’s sleep. The Artotel in Thamrin is a great choice and you can snag a room for around $50-60 USD. It’s dripping with contemporary art and given it’s low price range it still manages to feel very ‘high-end’.
Where to eat:
Aside from the local food markets mentioned above, Jakarta is quickly becoming a foodie destination hotspot. Critically acclaimed chefs have started dragging their Michelin stars from around the world and depositing them into Jakarta’s culinary scene. The most famous of which is restaurant Amuz; bringing 20 years of fine dining experience with him, Chef Gilles Marx ensures customers a unique dining experience that they won’t soon forget.
The nightlife in Jakarta is legendary; here are a few of the city’s hottest bars and clubs:
For music: The Safehouse is a relative newcomer to the Jakartan bar scene; it’s a little small and grimey but is said to play the best music in the city. Popular with expats, visit Safehouse if you’re into electronica.
Hipster: Lucy in the Sky is where the local cool kids hang out. Bedecked with comfy couches and parasol lampshades, Lucy in the Sky manages to bring a little bite of Brooklyn to the South East.
Cocktails: Although more of a restaurant, E&O have exceptionally trained mixologists who offer up a taste of the best tipples in town.
Rooftop: Cloud Lounge boasts one of the top views in the city. Start your night here and take in Jakarta’s enviable skyline, whilst sipping on cocktails and chatting amongst friends.
Club: X2 is the favorite amongst many of the Jakartan clubbers. Entrance is 200,000 IDR ($15 USD) and you can expect to find a lot of loved-up 20-somethings dancing to either hip-hop, R&B, trance or EDM.
Tips and Advice:
Check out the nearby city of Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta or Jogja for short). Having gotten a lot of press recently, Yogyakarta has been heralded as ‘Indonesia’s most livable city’ and is known for being the spiritual, arts, culture and intellectual hub of the island. It’s close proximity to the breathtaking Buddhist temple of Borobudur, heavenly Hindu shrines of Prabanan and the awe-inspiring active volcano Mount Merapi make it the ideal base for both the adventurous explorer and cultural Columbus alike. The heart of the city throbs with the sounds of Indonesian Gamelan (a type of wooden xylophone orchestra), dance, poetry and, of course, traditional shadow puppetry; a speciality of the region and something that the Jogjanese people are particularly proud of. If we were to recommend one must-see from your visit, it would be a traditional performance of this beautiful and unique art.
Already visited Jakarta or made a list of your own? Share your dream experiences with the BUCKiTDREAM app on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and make use of the app’s diary feature so that you can inspire others. As they say, ‘The only dreams worth having are the ones you share’.