One of the world’s greatest megalopolises, Jakarta is a dynamic city of daunting extremes that’s developing at a pace that throws up challenges and surreal juxtapositions on every street corner. An organism unto itself, this is a town in the midst of a very public metamorphosis, and despite the maddening traffic, life here is lived at an all-out pace, driven by an industriousness and optimism that’s palpable. Dysfunction be damned.
Translation: it’s no oil painting, yet beneath the unappealing facade of new build high-rises, relentless concrete and gridlocked streets, fringed with rickety slums and shrouded in a persistent blanket of smog, Jakarta has many faces and plenty of surprises. Its citizens – even the poorest among them – are remarkably good-natured and positive, and compared to many of the world’s capitals, crime levels are low.
From the steamy, richly scented streets of Chinatown to North Jakarta’s riotous, decadent nightlife, the city is filled with unexpected corners. Here it’s possible to rub shoulders with Indonesia’s future leaders, artists, thinkers, movers and shakers in a bohemian cafe or a sleek lounge bar and then go clubbing till dawn and beyond, the sober desires of current lawmakers notwithstanding.
Jakarta needs to be experienced well.
A city full of life and colour, with the outlying regions offering just as much diversity. At ground level you will see people hanging out of bus windows, street musicians busking, motorbike taxis expertly navigating the heaving traffic, right next to sleek, high-rise residences and corporate skyscrapers. There is indeed much to see and do.
1. Jalan Surabaya
This is Jakarta’s antique street. It brims with shops selling antiques, brassware, old china and textiles. If foraging for curios is your thing, this place will fascinate. Jl Surabaya, Menteng.
2. Café Batavia
The most unique feature of this landmark historic building in the old town is the photo gallery that adorns the walls of the restaurant. Give yourself a good hour or two to view the unique collection of black and white photos of film stars, royalty and generals dating back to the 1920’s. Check out both the men and women’s toilets where the gallery continues. A staff member will standby outside whilst you view the exhibits inside. Café Batavia is open 24 hrs and the prices are extremely reasonable. Fatahillah Square, Kota, Old town Jakarta.
3. Pasar Baru
This is one of Jakarta’s oldest markets. Pasar Baru is a traditional market, where everything is about 30% cheaper than the malls. The market is famous for textiles, furnishings, Indonesian herbal remedies (Jamu), and sporting goods. It also has a wonderful selection of shoes. This is a fascinating area to explore and a walking tour will lead you to Hindu, Sikh, Chinese and Buddhist temples and a Dutch church. Jl Pasar Baru, Kota.
4. GLODOK (JAKARTA’S CHINATOWN)
The chaotic and maze-like market is made up of narrow alleyways lined with food carts, temples and hawker stalls, selling everything from incense to electronics to traditional snacks. I’m a big fan of wandering around markets – finding weird trinkets, sampling unique foods and doing some good ol’ people watching. And Glodok is the perfect place to do just that.
After a day full of sightseeing there is pretty much nothing better than visiting Martabak Boss. This place is pretty much a food truck and there are a few locations around the city. For those who don’t know what martabak is it’s like a super thick pancake that’s stuffed with anything from chocolate to cheese to chicken. And they are so good!
Martabak Boss is all the rage in Jakarta right now because they put a contemporary twist on this traditional street food. You can get martabak filled with anything from Toblerone to Green Tea Kit Kat to Nutella.