When it comes to Indonesia, most people tend to visit Bali or Yogyakarta or Sumatra etc. A few years back, this remarke would be followed by a “WHY?” coming out of my mouth… but now I know better. Not that I have been to those places yet, but from the thousands of Instagram photos I have seen, I can say that those places look indeed magical!
But I have visited Jakarta, the crowded and congested gateway to Indonesia. I had only few days holiday back in January (2017) and I thought to visit only this megacity due to time shortage. For Bali or elsewhere, I would need to plan ahead and would need two weeks off at the least, if not more! And it really sucks that I couldn’t make it this time, but I definitely have plans for it in the near future 🙂 Let’s talk about just Jakarta for now.
They say there isn’t much to see in Jakarta. Unfortunately, I have to agree with this statement to a certain extent but not wholeheartedly. It’s true – Jakarta doesn’t have much to offer like its neighboring Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Bangkok for example. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth visiting the city. After all, you can actually spend full two days visiting different places in Indonesia’s capital. I’m going to show (or tell?) you how you can actually spend 48 hours in the city. Tell you what, let’s go through them mostly on photos so you can enjoy more and have less of my blabbering. Let’s begin with the first day.
MONAS – Monumen Nasional or National Monument
Standing tall right at the center of national ‘Merdeka Square’, it’s hard not to miss this monument. It represents Indonesia’s independence. But did you know that you could go up the monument to have a 360º view of the city?
If you are into travel photography or love capturing city panoramas like me, then you definitely wouldn’t want to miss a trip to the top, which costs only like 1 euro for entry ticket. But there are two very important matters to keep in mind here; numero uno – the ‘Monas’ is closed every Monday. And secondly – unless you enjoy waiting in a queue for hours, or even want to make a personal record of your longest waiting queue either way, don’t ever go there during weekends or public holidays. I was there on a Sunday morning (around 10:30-11 am) and had to wait full two hours in the line to go up the elevator (and that even by cutting line which earned me some unfriendly stares and comments from local Indonesians).
Chances are that your trip in Jakarta falls on a weekend you have no other choice. In that case, it would be best to go very early morning (before 8 am). But seriously, the views of the city from the top are really impressive and you wouldn’t want to miss that!
A visit to Indonesia or Jakarta is incomplete without visiting the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere. Istiqlal/Istiklal means independence in Arabic and Turkish languages. Hence, the mosque can be easily seen right across the Merdeka Square and Monas. So after you’re done at the national monument, head right towards the mosque!
The mosque building is huge! It can accommodate 200,000 worshippers at a time on 6 floors. Despite the grandness of the building, the mosque has only one 97-meter-tall minaret, symbolizing as God being ‘One’.
If you’re a non-Muslim, no worries because you are definitely welcome. You have to go through an ‘information desk’ on the ground floor to get some special robes to wear (to cover your arms and knees) but covering the heads for non-Muslim ladies isn’t strictly enforced – which is quite an exception when visiting mosques – and especially in the largest Muslim country in the world! But then you get to visit the interior of the mosque from the second floor, as the first floor is usually filled with worshippers and going there would mean you have to cover your head.
Done visiting the mosque? Great! Now why not just go out the exit, cross the street onto the other side and enter the Jakarta Cathedral? 😉 Yep, that’s how amazing it looks and feels when you see how close these two important places of worship are standing next to each other!
This catholic cathedral has existed since Dutch colonial times, built in neo-gothic style. At 60 meters height, the white spires look a bit unusual, almost skeletal – but I have to admit it does look cool! I even loved the interior of the cathedral. Funny thing though, when I went in, there was a wedding ceremony taking place so it felt like I was intruding like the ‘Wedding Crashers’ 😀 They didn’t seem to mind though, and I also took the opportunity to photograph the newlyweds!
But here is even more awesome part! During Christmas, Easter, or any other major catholic celebrations, the Istiqlal Mosque provides its parking space for the Christian worshippers. On the other hand, during Eid or Islamic holiday celebrations, the cathedral provides their parking space for Muslim worshippers in a symbol of religious tolerance of the city. 🙂
Trust me on this; even if you visited just three places all day, Jakarta’s sweaty weather can make you easily exhausted. And all you want to do at night is chill somewhere and have a drink while enjoy the bright and shiny view of Jakarta’s skyline at night. Yep, I know just the place. Head up to ‘SKYE Bar & Restaurant’ located on the rooftop of Menara BCA Tower right next to Grand Indonesia Mall.
Compared to western standards, the drinks are cheaper but if you keep in mind how (almost) everything in Jakarta is cheap, SKYE Bar can be slightly expensive. But for one night I think it’s manageable :-P, and the views you get from up there are totally worth your money. Expect to spend about 20 euros or so on food and drinks. And although it’s not enforced, it’s best to dress casually for a visit up there. When you see the visitors up there (many of whom are expats), you really don’t want to go there looking like an exhausted, sweaty tourist.
Your first 24 hours in Jakarta is done. Let’s move on to the second day shall we?
National Museum of Indonesia
I guess you can understand from the name what the museum is about. It was my first time inside a museum in like, four years, and only because I was forced to go in there with a fellow traveler I met at my hostel in Jakarta 😀 But if you’re interested to know more about Indonesia’s history and its colonial past, this museum would be a good place to start.
Walk just a few blocks from the National Museum (and from Monas/Istiqlal Mosque) and you’ll find the Istana Negara, which in English would literally translate into ‘State Palace’. The building is one of the significant Dutch-colonial style ones in the city. So you can imagine that it served as headquarters of Dutch East Indies in the past. Now it houses the offices and residence of Indonesia’s president. I haven’t been inside but I was told that visitors can go in during weekends if they are dressed formally…
Kota Tua (Old Town of Jakarta/Batavia)
Whaaa? Jakarta has an ‘Old Town’? Sure it does! How else would you know that the Dutchies have once been here? 😉
But really though, thanks to them for leaving behind a charming little old town in midst of highrises and traffic chaos of modern Jakarta. The Old Town is located a bit further north of the city and features a European-style town square with museums and cafés around it. Needless to say, most buildings feature colonial architecture in them. And make sure to have an Indonesian lunch at the famous ‘Café Batavia’ restaurant!
There are several important buildings in this area. One of them is the old town hall (Gouverneurskantoor) which now houses a historic museum of Jakarta. Other important sights include Bank Indonesia Museum, the colonial Post Office, and Pasar Baru Market nearby.
Now that you have visited most of the important places in Jakarta city, you can choose how you would like to spend the night. I recommend strolling along the streets around the Hotel Indonesia Roundabout and along Jalan Sudirman, because you can really admire the skyscrapers and shiny night cityscape of Jakarta!
Otherwise, you can also visit some of the fanciest malls (also around that same roundabout) and buy some Indonesian souvenirs or have dinner! But even if you don’t shop or wine, it’s still worth checking out those malls – they surely beat the ones here in Germany in terms of decorations and ‘modernness’ 😉
And there you are ladies and gentlemen, congratulations on visiting this city of 30 million people in just 48 hours! Time to head to Bali perhaps?
Oh hang on a minute, few tips!
Seriously, forget public transportation.
Taxis are cheap and it’s the best way to get around anywhere in the city comfortably. Starting fare is around 50 cents and most of the places to visit in the city would usually cost an average of 2 to 4 euros max (given there is no or little traffic)! Another cheap alternative is to use Uber or Grab/Gojek. Grab is similar to Uber popular in Southeast Asia and Gojek is purely Indonesian. These services also provide motorbike rides and the drivers will provide you with a helmet. There are also tuk tuks/CNGs which can be cheap but price has to be negotiated with the driver in advance as there are no meters running. And most of the time, the drivers charge such prices which would otherwise be actually cheaper with a taxi!
And be careful when getting in taxis. There are only two taxi companies you should trust. The blue colored ‘Blue Bird’ taxis (look out for logos/company sticker/drivers’ uniform) and the white-colored Express Taxis. Forget about any other taxis you see (unless you don’t mind getting scammed of course). Before any taxi ride, always make sure the meter is running.
Contrary to what you may think, the restaurants and food courts at malls are actually quite a good option to dine. Many of them have traditional Indonesian dining options as well as international/multinational cuisines.
But there are three places I’d definitely recommend you to try.
– Café Batavia in old town of Jakarta for a great Indonesian experience
– Lara Djonggrang – also Indonesian cuisine. But the ambience and decoration of this restaurant is just fantastic!
– Aljazeerah Restaurant & Café – they have some of the best Arabic and Malay food I have ever tasted.
I didn’t stay at a luxury five star hotel or something, so can’t say much about them – sorry tourists 😉
I stayed at Six Degrees Backpackers Hostel. A really amazing hostel and one of the best ones I’ve stayed at in recent times. Definitely budget-friendly and later I found out that it’s apparently the best hostel in all of Indonesia (according to some of their awards)! I will definitely write a review on the hostel sometime later 🙂