Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia and is home to over 10 million people. It is a mish mash of mighty malls, sprawling slums, and areas of colonial history. We wanted to visit the city briefly to experience the other side of Indonesia away from the stereotypical image of island life.
As we only had a quick 36 hours in Jakarta so we tried to make the most of our time. Our first stop was MONAS, which is the National Monument tower in the centre of Merdeka Square, just a short distance from our hotel. MONAS was opened in 1975 and was built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian independence from the Dutch. Unfortunately we arrived on a Sunday afternoon, which is one of the busiest days for people to go to the top of the tower, meaning the queue was at least a couple of hours long so we decided not to go to the top (it’s also closed on a Monday so we couldn’t even postpone our visit to the next day). We wandered all around the park/ square that it’s located in, which was bustling with Indonesian people making the most of their Sunday.
We then wandered through the park to look at the Istiqlal Mosque (Independence Mosque), which is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. I had high expectations for a grand and beautiful building but I think I was slightly let down by the fact that I have visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, which is particularly stunning. We stumbled across a random market road so we walked up and admired the street food stalls and people selling their wares.
After a quick nap (after 20 hours of travelling we thought we deserved it!), we walked to the Grand Indonesia Mall. There are quite a lot of malls in Jakarta but we decided to see this one as it’s voted the best on TripAdvisor. We wouldn’t usually visit a mall but reading different blogs before we came it appears that going to the mall is a favourite pastime for those living in Jakarta so we thought we’d check out what all the fuss was about. We went to the food court for lunch and walked around to see the different shops. There was a fountain to see but it was a bit disappointing! It was an ok mall – nothing to see compared to the malls in Dubai and Malaysia – but it was nice to escape from the humid and polluted outside for a couple of hours.
We’d spent the morning walking around the city, which we’d found particularly difficult… it’s definitely not a city built with pedestrians in mind as the paths were in really bad condition and there were very few safe crossings (just a few bridges over the road every now and again). Therefore, we decided to get into our first bajaja (rickshaw/ tuk tuk equivalent) back to our hotel, which was an interesting experience. Traffic in Jakarta is crazy! Somewhere like Vietnam is mad but that’s because of all the scooters but here you have probably equal numbers of cars, scooters, and bajaja’s competing for road space. We stopped just before our hotel and got our first massage, which was very much appreciated after all the travelling and walking around.
In the evening we went to a restaurant located in a colonial building left over from Dutch rule. The building itself was very grand both inside and outside and the food was very tasty but for some reason that neither of us could put our finger on we felt really uncomfortable the whole time. We got dropped off just before our hotel and were amused to find tons of people sitting on the pavement glued to their phones, which we soon found out was because there was a Pokemon gym!
The next day, on our way to our first stop at the market in Pasar Baru, we saw Jakarta Cathedral, which was built in 1901 and is the seat of the Archbishop of Jakarta. We were going to Pasar Baru as it was supposed to be one of the rare streets of Jakarta that is actually pedestrian friendly. The attraction was that the market is not specifically for tourists and has lots of family-run business selling clothes, watches, jewellery etc. We thought pedestrian friendly would mean no cars but there were quite a few cars going up and down the road! I would say it’s more of a shopping street than a market but was good to see nevertheless.
We then went to Kota Tua (the Old City), which is a nod to Jakarta’s colonial past, and boasts beautiful buildings leftover from the Dutch. There were a riots there in 1998 and I’d read that much of the area was still pretty rundown, however we thought the buildings were still quite impressive. It was a great place to walk around and take a look at the old buildings, most of which are now museums but that were previously the Former Court of Justice, a 17th century church (the oldest surviving church in Jakarta), and the 18th century City Hall of Oud Batavia.
We walked away from the main square for about ten minutes to see a watchtower as Simon had an app that had designated this as a site to see in the area, however this was a bit of an anti-climax. On the way back to the main square we saw the Kota Intan Drawbridge, the only surviving Dutch drawbridge in Indonesia. For lunch we went to Cafe Batavia, which is set in a 200-year-old building, making it the second oldest building in central Jakarta after the Fatahillah Museum. It has retained its 19th century colonial feel and was a great spot for lunch with excellent food and a view of the previous City Hall.
Overall, I’m really glad we visited Jakarta while we had the chance but I wouldn’t rush back. It doesn’t feel like there’s a massive amount to do once you’ve visited the main sites and it’s a difficult city to be a pedestrian in (which is annoying for those of us who love to walk).