Initially giving the first impression of being one of Asia’s most chaotic cities, Jakarta tends to turn off most visitors, many of whom who were on their way to somewhere else in this vast country. While this busy metropolis of almost 10 million people can be intimidating at times, those patient enough to give the place a fair chance will find a cultural blend of every ethnicity and cultural group present in Indonesia. There are many fascinating relics of this countries’ complicated past in this city, having been conquered and brutally repressed by the Dutch and dictatorships until about 30 years ago. Modern Jakarta also holds many delights for those who like modern attractions, and have some cash to flash.
So linger awhile before heading off to the volcanoes of Java or the beaches in Bali … you may find a taste of 21st century Indonesia, served up gritty but real on the steamy streets of Jakarta.
The first place you should check out in Jakarta should be Old Batavia, the historical core of Jakarta’s Dutch colonial era. Stroll amongst the tastefully designed buildings, some lovingly restored, while others have been weathered by the ravages of time. Be sure to stop by Café Batavia, a gorgeous restaurant open since the 19th century, which stands ready to cater to your cravings 24 hours a day!
After walking through that bit of living history, delve deeper at Museum Nasional (National Museum). This museum houses collections of artifacts from cultures and events from across the whole of Indonesia, from the prehistoric era to the events of more recent times, such as the massive eruption of Krakatoa 200 years ago.
Since you are in the world’s largest Muslim nation by population, it is only appropriate to visit the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in South East Asia. This place of worship was made even more popular after American president Barack Obama dropped by in 2010, and it also has the ironic distinction of being designed by a Christian architect when it was erected back in the 1950’s.
Those looking for an experience in the Indonesian performing arts should take in a show at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, a concert hall constructed by the Dutch and the English back in the early 1800’s. Over its intriguing lifetime, it has served as a venue to entertain British, then Dutch soldiers, a gathering place for youth political activists during the National Awakening in the 1920’s, a military headquarters for the occupying Japanese during World War 2, and before returning to use as a concert hall, it served as a movie theatre for Jakarta’s significant Chinese minority. Today, it brings in outstanding fine art acts from around the world, as well as showcasing the most brilliant performers from across Indonesia.
With the economy booming throughout Indonesia in recent decades, obscene amounts of wealth have been generated. While many have been left behind by this economic progress (as evidenced by the slums you see all around you in Jakarta), many more have been lifted out of poverty and into the middle class. The presence of all this disposable income has fueled the development of many chic and fabulously constructed shopping malls throughout the city: one you should make the time to visit is Taman Anggrek, the largest mall in the country that boasts its very own skating rink … quite the novelty in the tropics, and an amazing opportunity to wow the locals with your skill on blades, especially if you hail from a winter nation!
Looking back at the dictatorial times of the Suharto administration, there is little that people admire … except maybe the construction of Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, a theme park that represents Indonesia’s cultures in miniature. Over countless pavilions, sample the highlights of Indonesia’s 26 provinces, splash around at the water park on-site, take in a movie at the 4D or IMAX cinema, and explore even more aspects of Indonesian society at one of many museums on the 400 acre grounds of the park, ranging in topic from sports to the military to stamps. Yeah … stamps!
Finally, if you’re looking to let your hair down like a kid and just have an adrenaline and hoot powered day on the rides of an amusement park, then Taman Impian Jaya Ancol is the place for you. This favoured entertainment spot for thousands of Jakartans has much to offer, from an aquarium, to roller coasters and another refreshing water park, which is just the break you likely need from the relentless humidity in this moist city.