It’s a huge modern city with a towering skyline and a patchwork of small back lanes where life continues as it has done for hundreds of years.
Words: Stephanie Brookes
Photography: David Metcalf
Jakarta has a fascinating mix of modern and traditional kampong (village) life. Local vendors still push colourful kaki limas (wooden carts) along the streets, wielding wares such as chicken feather dusters, straw brooms, and plastic buckets or offering a wide variety of delicious street food. At the same time, a helicopter can often be spotted overhead, dropping an executive to a meeting in midtown. Jakarta is the nation’s capital and a city steeped in history and culture. If you want to soak some of it in, the first place to head to is the heritage zone of North Jakarta.
Wandering around Fatahillah Square will bring you to the Jakarta History Museum (Museum Fatahillah), which was built in 1710 and houses over 23,000 items. After some time here, you may want to move on to the Maritime Museum to absorb some seafaring culture. Don’t miss the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics located nearby and housed in a building dating back to 1870. My personal favourite is the charming Puppet Museum (Museum Wayan) where you can learn about Javanese puppetry.
Nearby is the old harbour of North Jakarta, which is still stacked to the brim with wooden boats called pinisi. Wandering the old port is fascinating as you can still see lots of activity here, including loading and unloading of the boats. The crew and other workers manage to balance huge loads as they move backwards and forwards on skinny gangplanks, a practice that has hardly changed in centuries.
FINDING THE GREEN
The theme parks of Ancol, Waterbom, and Taman Mini Indonesia are all large green open spaces in Jakarta. They offer an opportunity to explore and have some fun, as well as to find some leafy shade – particularly welcome given the city’s location only six degrees below the equator. Golf courses abound in Jakarta, with over 35 in the city area, and 50 in the wider area including the hills of Bogor and Puncak. The green fees are some of the most affordable
in all of Asia. Take a car and driver for around for a day and enjoy the mountains of Bogor or Puncak. Or you might want to grab a speedboat and zoom off on a short trip to the 1,000 island chain, a string of islands stretching for 45 kilometres just to the north of Jakarta’s coast.
SHOPPING AND MARKETS
There are over 170 shopping malls in Jakarta, but why not start with a walking tour of Pasar Baru, which offers you an original local traditional market experience. You will find a variety of local wares, Chinese and Indian products and many colourful textiles. The Mangga Dua area in North Jakarta has six popular malls with bargain low-priced clothes, accessories and shoes. However, most people are attracted to Jakarta’s super luxury malls. These are a meeting place for business people, travellers and local families alike. Pacific Place, for example, features the ever-popular Kidzania, the Hard Rock Café and a wide variety of dining options from food court style to fine dining. Many of the top-end malls gyms as well as gold class cinema complexes. In fact, Pacific Place even includes a hotel right at the mall. Most Jakarta malls have the major global brands and also house extra attractions like bowling alleys or skating rinks – a perfect place to escape the heat. Plaza Senayan, Pondok Indah Mall, and Senayan City are three of the most popular malls, and offer some of the best restaurant choices. It’s a place to see and be seen, so time to bring out your most stylish outfit.
WELLNESS AND SPAS
Javanese massage treatments draw on natural remedies, including ancient recipes and herbal potions. You do not want to miss a Royal Javanese spa treatment, which has its origins in treatments used in Javanese palaces dating back to the 17th century. So how can you find the option that’s best for you? To start with, all the five-star hotels have luxurious spas and do check the prices. Local salons are easy to find and tend to be cheaper, whatever your budget, you will find a fit. One thing is assured though, you can expect to be treated like royalty at any day-spa or wellness retreat centre. You can float off luxuriating in the aromas of local herbs, enjoying calming water therapy or enjoying a traditional Javanese body treatment using jamu (traditional Indonesian herbal remedy).
ARTS AND CRAFTS
To know a place like Indonesia is to appreciate its talented artisans and their craftsmanship. Jakarta is a place
to source arts and crafts from all over the archipelago. Woven songket cloth, intricately printed batik, delicate
beadwork, pottery and beautiful jewellery are among some of the treasures you will find at Pasaraya Shopping Mall. It is a paradise for art and craft and it is one of the more established older malls, where batiks can be purchased for low cost. Pasaraya is an Indonesian institution and you can find some some unique pieces of handicrafts.
Also, try Jalan Surabaya in Jakarta’s Menteng district early morning or in the late afternoon (it is outdoor so its advisable to avoid the heat of the day) and discover this treasure trove of antiques including colourful puppets, brass items, art deco lamps and porcelain pieces. Jakarta offers a truly cultural experience.