Jakarta is the birthplace of the exotic. All of the entrancing colours, textures and patterns of batik originate here, as does the eerie and ethereal sounds of the gamelan music. Traveling to Jakarta also showcases some of the world’s best coffee beans, so good that Java became a synonym for coffee. This is a city of ancient Portuguese and Dutch cultural influences mixed up in a stew with flavours of Chinese, Arabic, and Pacific island life. That pretty much defines exotic and Jakarta is the one place where you will find it all.
Before you start your adventure
Before you begin exploring, take advantage of the incredible spa experiences and cleanse your mind and body. Many of the hotels in Jakarta have luxury spa treatments that include a full body scrub, reflexology, delicate facial treatments, and a traditional Indonesian massage that uses flower petals and aromatic oils.
Unexpected locations to explore
Glodok (China Town)
On the west side of the city, in the busy and crowded Taman Sari district, are the ancient twisting corridors of Jakarta’s Chinatown. In fact, Glodok is among the largest urban Chinatown neighbourhoods on the entire globe. It has been called Chinatown for several hundred years, yet it only takes a few moments to see how astonishingly modern it all is. Amid the historic architecture and medieval temples, you will see people paying with Bitcoins on their smartphones.
Shop like a professional on the only pedestrian street in the city when traveling to Jakarta. Amazing deals on clothing and batik can be found at Pasar Baru, sold by local business that come and go, like a permanent flea market. Sumptuous Indonesian street-food, lovingly prepared by traditional methods, are all up and down the street.
One of the nearby suburbs is known as Bogor, a place with plenty of Western diversions like golf and tennis. The Bogor Botanical Gardens are an expansive 75 hectares of Indonesia’s unmatched trees, flowers, and strange plant life like that gigantic Bunga Raksasa flower, which opens up to be one meter across and weigh 11 kilos. There are calming fountains amid orchid gardens and greenhouses. Trails will lead you through fern forests and flowering bushes unique to Java.
No more than a couple hours east of Jakarta is one sight that people come half way around the world to see. An incredibly unique opportunity when traveling to Jakarta, Krakatoa is an island volcano that has erupted many times throughout history. The most recent was 1883. You can take a tour right up to the edge of the smouldering crater, which continues to spew sulphuric gas and noxious fumes. Tours to Krakatoa normally include a swim and snorkel with giant, carnivorous monitor lizards. Yes, you read lizards.
One-of-a-kind places to eat
There are many street markets open day and night where you will find original creations and traditional dishes that will reawaken your taste buds. Try street versions of satay, gado-gado (vegetables with a peanut dressing), or nasi goreng (fried rice with spicy vegetables and fish). This is also the place to try exotic fruits like the durian, also called jackfruit, and rambutan.
Angke (Ketapang and Kelapa Gading)
Discover how the Chinese “Hakka” restaurant is interpreted with Indonesian style. There is a large banquet area where families can socialize inside a wide dining room. Grilled duck or lindung cah fumak, a mixture of shrimp and steamed chicken, are some of the leading entrees. If you are particularly adventurous, the deep fried pigeon is highly recommended.
Ikan Bakar Cianjur (Jalan Cipete Raya 35)
One of the surprising aspects of traveling to Jakarta is how many cultures it has touched over time. The culture and cuisine of the Sudanese, who are concentrated in west of Java, finds its representation in this high quality restaurant. Spicy carp soup is one of the most famous dishes served here. Another is rujak cingur, which combines vegetables and fruit in a shrimp paste, which is common to Indonesian cooking.
Sampan Matsuda Sentra (Jalan Teuku Cik Ditiro II No. 1)
Every region within Indonesia has its own unique culture and traditions. Sampan Matsuda Sentra seeks to combine food, music, and dance into an overall experience of life that many visitors never get to see. Professional musicians and dancers entertain throughout the meals, but space is limited to only 50 people. Make reservations early.
Lively places for nightlife
BART (Jalan Sunda 3)
It’s cooler up above the city on this rooftop bar. Don’t expect a great deal of excitement here. It is an enchanting getaway with a black-and-white theme where you can meet up with friends and review your most recent discoveries. BART has plenty of room to stretch out, but it can get crowded later in the night. If your taste buds need a break, there are Western specialities on the menu here.
Dragonfly (Jalan Gatot Subroto)
If you want to find the kind of place where you can just dance and forget everything else, Dragonfly is where expats and the clubbing set spend their time in Jakarta. It has an enormous dance floor but still manages to get pretty tight on weekends.
Bharata Theatre (Jalan Kalilio 15)
Nightlife is more than drinks and dancing when traveling to Jakarta. Set aside a night or two for high culture in the form of live performance. This is more like Japanese kabuki theatre than what Westerners normally expect to see. The majority of shows at Bharata Theatre involve traditional Javanese dance dramas that are known as “Wayang wong.” The subjects are well known to locals but may require some interpretation and back story to fully appreciate them. The stories are operatic in their mixture of comic and tragic elements in epic tales.
Taman Ismail Marzuki Art Center (Jalan Cikini Raya 73)
This has become an extremely popular place for entertainment, such as modern music and movies from around the world. Taman Ismail Marzuki Art Center is actually comprised of six theatres that keep a constant schedule of performing arts, art displays, and films. The largest hall is the Graha Bhakti Budaya, a performance hall with hundreds of seats and a balcony. The Galeri Cipta 2 and 3 house all the fine arts, paintings, and sculptures on display. The other halls host experimental art forms and performances in the open air.
Unique museums and other attractions
This giant obelisk, which is 132 meters high, is usually referred to simply as Monas. The observation deck is 115 meters off the ground and gives an impressive view of the city caught between the ocean and the jungle. At the foot is the National History Museum, which is a very informative series of dioramas illustrating Jakarta’s biggest moments.
Wayang Puppet Museum
This is what Jakarta is known for around the world. The richly detailed wooden and leather puppets that star in shadow theatre sets have been enthralling viewers for hundreds of years.
Dedicated to batik and other local textiles, Museum Tekstil‘s mission is to conserve traditional approaches to making textiles. Woven materials have been an important part of life in Indonesian history for ceremonial clothing and religious objects. The artistry and skill of batik is renowned throughout the world, and this is where you can discover its history and secrets with exhibitions, seminars, and various workshops.
Chicken Market Drawbridge
A relic of the past in this ultra-modern city, this drawbridge operates by ropes and wood, just as it has for 300 years. This type of bridge was very common in the Dutch colonial period, but it is the only one left in Jakarta today.
When traveling to Jakarta, you can talk to locals and find them very friendly and inquisitive about what brought you to their city. With so much to do and life happening fast all around, it is easy to get caught up in the whirl of the city. Try to hang back, observe, and ask questions. You will be rewarded with an insider’s view of one of the most complex and compelling cities on Earth.