Jakarta—the name says it all. An exotic blend of what has been considered both exotic and enticing, primal and bizarre, but no less alluring. Chances are excellent that if there’s anything you want to do or see in Southeast Asia, you can find it here.
As Indonesia’s capital and most populated city, it has a strange connection to the modern world and its archaic culture intertwined with the many influences of Indonesian history.
To get a mere glimpse of where the old world meets the new amid the prolific hustle and bustle, you only need to turn to the main thoroughfare JL Sudirman—the city’s busiest street.
Old Town, also known by its Dutch roots as Oud Batavia, has a strong historical influence, with some interesting museums to visit. The Puppet Museum, for example, is dedicated to ancient Javanese puppetry, or wayang, such as the Wayang Kelit or the Wayang Golek. It also displays dolls from various other countries.
Given that Indonesia is 85% Muslim, it’s not surprising that Southeast Asia’s largest mosque, the Istiqlal, is located in the heart of Jakarta. Istiqlal is the Arabic word for independence, and this place of worship was built to commemorate Indonesia’s on August 17, 1945. To learn more about Indonesia’s history, including its endeavor to gain independence from the Netherlands, a visit to the National Monument, also known as Monas, and the National History Museum, both located in Mederka Square, is well worth your time.
For anyone truly interested in the history of the country’s culture, there’s always topeng. Meaning ‘mask’ in Indonesian, it’s a form of drama and dance in which mask-wearing performers in costume interpret traditional narratives concerning fabled kings, heroes, and myths.
Of course, let’s not overlook the cuisine. The food in Jakarta comes together from across the 17,000 islands that constitute the Indonesia’s expansive archipelago. Street vendors are on almost every corner, eager to serve frustrated motorists stuck in the city’s legendary traffic jams. Many times you can get a decent meal for about a dollar. Restaurants that serve nasi padang are also extremely popular. This meal of steamed rice is complimented by various choices of precooked dishes that range from chunks of beef stewed in spicy coconut milk, curried fish, spicy vegetables, and dried jerky meats.
Other cuisine favorites served all over the city include kerak telor, a spicy omelette, bedek gorang, fried duck, martabok manis, a sweet stuffed pancake, satay meat skewers, the most popular dish in the city, siomay, fish dumplings, and a wide assortment of gorengan, or fried foods.
Country wide, traffic congestion is a regular occurrence, lasting up to four or six hours. Most visitors avoid the issue by simply walking to their chosen destination, or renting a bicycle. Having a hotel ideally located can save visitors from frustration. One that’s highly regarded for its location and modern amenities is the Traveloka, Fave Hotel Jakarta where rooms can start at $33.00 a night. Visitors, who aren’t up for walking around the city, can also rent a bajaj, a small car taxi, or an ojek, a motorbike taxi. Rates vary depending on how far you travel, and most drivers are up for negotiating prices.
When it comes to money, the currency in Indonesia is the rupiah, with 20,000 equaling $1.50 USD. For most monetary transactions foreign currency isn’t accepted.
What would a visit to a tropical paradise be without a visit to the beach? While there are several beaches in and around Jakarta, one that’s recommended by locals and tourists alike is Swarna Beach. Located in the Gendol Bayah district, it features crystal-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and lush vegetation. The beauty of it is truly breathtaking.
For whatever reason you visit this tropical wonderland, one thing that’s clear: there’s something for every walk of life. The sights, sounds, smell, and feel of Jakarta can be intoxicating. When one considers exactly what the concept of the word ‘paradise’ truly means, I can’t imagine Jakarta being all that much different.