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The Quick Guide to Jakarta

Updated on January 6, 2015

Let’s say you’ve wanted to visit a new city in Southeast Asia that is less frequented than say, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. If that’s the case, then Jakarta could be the solution to your craving! The largest city in Southeast Asia has more than just being an ordinary metropolis; it has got some interesting history unheard of as well! Well it’s true that “traffic jam” and “pollution” are two things that may pop at your mind upon hearing the name “Jakarta”, but that shouldn’t be a reason to completely ditch this town. Now, all you have to do is to read the guide below to get some warm up before planning your visit here:

(FYI: As of Jan. 6 2015, 1 USD = IDR 12639.30)

A Real Quick Briefing

Jakarta is divided into 5 districts (known as kotamadya in Indonesian), namely Jakarta Utara, Jakarta Timur, Jakarta Selatan, Jakarta Barat, and Jakarta Pusat, which when translated is North Jakarta, East Jakarta, South Jakarta, West Jakarta, and Central Jakarta respectively. The main downtown district is situated in Jakarta Pusat. Jakarta Utara is where the beach and docks are at, while Jakarta Timur is where majority of the industries is located. Meanwhile, Jakarta Selatan is the most elite region of all five and the favourite side of Jakarta for expats to reside in, and Jakarta Barat is basically where most of Jakarta’s Chinatowns are at.

View of Thamrin Street with the busway lane and bus at the centre
View of Thamrin Street with the busway lane and bus at the centre
Monas on a clear day
Monas on a clear day

Getting In and Around

By air, the city is served by Soekarno Hatta International Airport, some 20 kilometres west of town in Cengkareng, and Halim Perdanakusuma Airport, a domestic airport located right in the heart of Jakarta Timur. By rail, the main stations are Gambir Station and Kota Station, which has trains to various destinations in Java and a stop for commuter trains linking Jakarta with its satellite towns of Depok, Bogor, Bekasi, and Tangerang. And if you decide to go by sea (although no cruise liners call here…at least from my understanding) there is the Tanjung Priok Harbour at the northeastern corner of Jakarta.

Going around, various forms of public transportation roam around town. Here is a short list of what mode of transportations to take:

The Jakartan Experience

  • Angkot: Angkots (portmanteau of “angkutan kota”, or “city carrier”) are small sized yet colourful minibuses that could seat up to 12 passengers. Despite being a shared transportation like the Philippine Jeepney, they are much smaller in capacity and run different routes, identifiable from the stickers at the windshields displaying the route number and destinations served.
  • Bajaj: Similar to the Indian version and Thailand’s tuk-tuk, most bajajs are now gas powered (CNG) and coloured in blue. Bajajs seat two adults, and most of them only serve destinations within the territory of Jakarta.

Taxis

  • Since there are countless operators to choose from, better stick to Blue Bird cabs, which is by far the largest and the most reliable operator. Blue Bird cabs are known for its signature blue colour and a bird or egg logo on the light box. As of January 2015, rates should start from IDR 7,500.
  • If cash isn’t an issue, executive cabs are also available, with notable operators of Silver Bird (same group with Blue Bird) using Mercedes E-class, Mercedes C-class, Toyota Camry, and Toyota Alphard along with White Horse taxis with their Hyundai Sonatas.
  • Lower fare taxis are also available, with the trustworthy ones including Express (white cabs) and Putra (dark blue cabs), using similar cars with Blue Bird.

Buses

  • Various points within the city are served by Transjakarta buses, locally known as “busway”. These air conditioned buses run on special lanes and only on designated stops, just like subways. The tickets are now electronic with prices starting from IDR 3,500, and there are over 10 corridors interlining with one another.
  • From last year, the government has supplied the city with blue double-decker tour buses, which are free to use and run in a loop line that pass several landmarks like Bunderan HI, Museum Nasional, Pasar Baru, Gedung Kesenian Jakarta (Jakarta Art Theatre), Istiqlal Mosque, and Sarinah Department Store.

Other Tips

  • Though non-AC buses of Metromini, Kopaja and the likes are basically everywhere, I would not recommend you to be in one since other than being extremely run down, buses are often packed like sardine cans and the drivers’ way of driving may end you up in a series of heart attacks. But if you still insist to ride on one, just hitch a ride at your own risk.
  • Knowing that Blue Bird is the leading taxi operator, several smaller operators mimic their fleet to that those of Blue Bird’s identity from its colour to its logo. Watch out for these “fake” taxis on the streets. A rule of thumb is that these taxis are usually in poorly maintained sedans and do not bear “Blue Bird Group” taxis on the windshield.

Where to Visit

(Note: the entrance fees of the places below are not included)

  • Monas (Monumen Nasional) – Monas is short for Monumen Nasional, or National Monument when translated. This symbol of Jakarta is positioned right at the heart of Jakarta at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square). An observation deck, which is accessible by a lift, is available to view a panorama of the city, whereas under the monument there is also a diorama museum depicting the history of Indonesia and a copy of the independence proclamation script.
  • Kota Tua – Kota Tua is the other not-to-be-missed spot whenever you are in Jakarta, sited not far from the Chinatown of Glodok in West Jakarta. It is basically what makes up Batavia (old name for Jakarta) during its earliest days and was modeled based on Amsterdam by Dutch colonists. Kota Tua is also home to several museums such as Museum Fatahillah, Museum Mandiri, Museum Wayang, Museum Maritim and Bank Indonesia Museum. If you are not into museums, you can simply chill at the square in front of Fatahillah museum and enjoy various performing arts and affordable food vendors down there.
  • Istiqlal Mosque – Southeast Asia’s largest mosque is located right across the Cathedral, nearby with Monas square and Gambir station. It is able to seat 120,000 people and entrance is free.
  • TamanMini Indonesia Indah (TMII) – Although placed a bit far off in the middle of East Jakarta’s highways, TMII is the place to have a tour of all the 250+ cultures and religions Indonesia has on offer. There are also 30+ pavilions representing each Indonesian province, with every pavilion acting as a museum to the represented province’s culture.
  • Ancol – Ancol, or Taman Impian Jaya Ancol is a huge complex at the coast containing a theme park (Dunia Fantasi or Fantasy World), aquarium (Seaworld Indonesia), ocean park (Gelanggang Samudra), water park (Atlantis), hotels, resorts, boardwalks, beach, restaurants, and much more. Within Ancol itself, there is also a cable car system named “Gondola”.
  • National Museum (Museum Gajah) – This museum is located across Monas, identifiable with a statue of an elephant on the front courtyard, which was a gift from King Chulalongkorn of Siam. This museum hosts a wide collection of prehistoric, archaeological and cultural artifacts from various places in Indonesia. Other than artifacts, the museum also holds collections of arts from Indonesia and its surrounding regions.

Fatahillah Museum at dusk
Fatahillah Museum at dusk

Shots of Istiqlal Mosque

View from Istiqlal Mosque's Courtyard
View from Istiqlal Mosque's Courtyard
Istiqlal Mosque from outside its gates
Istiqlal Mosque from outside its gates

What to Eat

  • Nasi Uduk– Rice cooked in coconut milk served with various side dishes (usually fried) like chicken, beef, tofu, tempe and sambal kacang (peanut chilli sauce). Nasi uduk is presented in small packets wrapped in banana leaves, and the most famous one is in Kebon Kacang behind Grand Indonesia shopping mall near Bunderan HI. As a matter of fact, it is in Kebon Kacang that the nasi uduk was first invented.
  • Nasi Padang – Although it is originally a West Sumatran dish, however Nasi Padang restaurants are widespread in Jakarta. The dish is unique in such a way that once you are seated, the waiter arranged dishes of meats, seafood, vegetables and curries in stacks at your table, and all you need is to pick which one you’d like to have. At any Nasi Padang restaurant, recommended side dishes include rendang, ayam pop, and sambal hijau, or green chilli sambal.
  • Bakso - A popular meatball soup served with noodles and vegetables, easily found in the streets of Jakarta or any other Indonesian city. If you like it hot and spicy, the vendor or stall also has chilli sauce that you can add for free. Other than that, bakso should not cost you over IDR 10,000 per bowl.
  • Kerak Telor – It is an omelette made of either duck or chicken egg, topped with shredded coconut and dried shrimp.
  • Soto Betawi – Soto Betawi is Jakarta’s variation of soto (Indonesian spicy soup, with numerous variations found everywhere in Indonesia) that is cooked with milk and contains beef, tripes, lungs, lime juice, tomato pieces, and crackers.
  • Nasi Goreng – Nasi Goreng, or Fried Rice vendors are basically everywhere in Jakarta, especially when night falls. Although it may not sound special, at least it is affordable, there are countless variations of it in between vendors and can save you from hunger during hours close to midnight, when the city is already at “sleep mode”.

Where to Shop

  • Pasar Baru – Central Jakarta’s Pasar Baru (New Market) has existed since the Dutch colonial era, despite its name. Typical goods offered in Pasar Baru include bags, shoes, and clothing.
  • Shopping Malls – Jakarta has over 100 malls, although not internationally popular as say, Singapore or Hong Kong. Various malls cater different market segments, from high-end to middle and lower income. Other than being ordinary shopping centres, nowadays most entertainment and recreational facilities have shifted to malls as well. Notable malls accessible from major tourist locations include Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia in Bunderan HI, Plaza Senayan and Senayan City in Senayan area, and Kota Casablanca in Kuningan district.
  • Other markets – There are also huge market complexes selling various goods such as clothing, electronics, pirated DVDs, and (counterfeit) branded goods, all at bargain prices. These markets are concentrated mostly in either Chinatowns or downtown areas of Jakarta, just like Mangga Dua, Glodok, and Tanah Abang. As for the latter one, that market normally sells textiles and other Islam related products.
  • Sarinah Department Store – Sarinah Department store is a department store in MH. Thamrin street (the road connecting Bunderan HI to Monas) which has a large collection of cultural products like Batik clothing, arts and crafts, and antiques other than the typical goods sold by a general department store.

Other Useful Tips

  • Smoking is prohibited in all public places and indoor areas, and violators could subject to either a fine of IDR 50,000,000 or 6-months term of jail.
  • Public Display of Affection (PDA) is frowned upon.
  • Depending on where you are, the tap water may or may not be drinkable. For a safe bet, drink from a water bottle sold at convenience stores and supermarkets.
  • Wear clothing made from cotton to stay cool from the tropical sun. Despite being hot and humid all year round, modest clothing is suggested due to the large Muslim demographic of Jakarta.

Enjoy Jakarta!

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