Sondang Grace Sirait gets the measure of Indonesia’s cultural and political hub.
Through all its complexity, the bustling mega city called Jakarta lives up to Ms. Jacobs’s ascertainment.
Its official metropolitan area, known as Jabodetabek—comprising Jakarta, Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi—is the second largest in the world. Its metro area doubles the size of Bangkok and its population more than twice Los Angeles, London or Paris.
Owner of a long history of international trading, and home to the ASEAN secretariat, the city formerly called Batavia has always been where it all happens.
Migrants from Asia and Europe have called it home, adding a multicultural twist to what’s already a rich melting pot. Uniquely, the national motto of Indonesia, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, derived from an old Javanese phrase, envisions a nation built on the concept of unity in diversity.
In each and every corner of the sprawling Indonesian capital await guaranteed space, independence and identity for everybody.
Seventy-two hours may not be enough to fully absorb the soul of any city, but given the right itinerary, it may suffice to lend a good look into the lives of its people. In Jakarta, one shall focus on the city’s favorite pastimes: dining, shopping and sightseeing.
8 AM – Food is a big deal here. Jakartans are picky about what they eat, always comparing notes and tend to get hyperventilated about new, promising places. Despite its multicultural background, Jakarta today remains fond and proud of its own culinary heritage, which as you may discover, is an amalgamation of regional delicacies.
A favorite breakfast item is none other than Bubur Ayam, rice congee served with shredded chicken, chicken broth and lavished with various condiments on top. Bubur Jalan Tanjung in Central Jakarta and Bubur Barito in South Jakarta are among the most popular in town. Get bowled over and prepare to be addicted.
9 AM – Hop on a double-decker for a glance around Jakarta’s main thoroughfares, beginning from the Hotel Indonesia roundabout. Check out the routes and schedules on the Twitter account @CityTourJakarta.
12 PM – Jakartans plan their schedules around its infamous traffic and spend a lot of time at shopping malls, not necessarily to shop, but to run errands. All malls provide prayer rooms and gyms or banking services are aplenty. You could even renew your driver’s license at appointed shopping malls, where the Police have set up shop. So, while in town, do check out what makes the mall experience in Jakarta different from that in other big cities.
Gran Indonesia in Central Jakarta is a good place to start. Divided into the West and East Wing, it could take up to one full day to fully peruse through the massive shopping mall.
Down South, Gandaria City or Pondok Indah Mall 1 and 2 are great options. All three are popular and, guaranteed, there’s always an attraction going on. Up North, one can’t go wrong with either Baywalk Mall Pluit or Mal Kelapa Gading.
7 PM – For a fun night out and great food, try Tugu Kuntskring Paleis in Menteng, Central Jakarta. Housed in a heritage building, the restaurant’s culinary delight is the rijsttafel Betawi, a grand meal created by the colonial Dutch that offers a sampling of dishes in various spices, color and flavors.
8 AM – The must-try breakfast item today is Mie Ayam, a dish that’s similar to Shan egg noodle with chicken, but on a sweeter note. Bakmi GM, Bakmi Permata, Bakmi Naga are some favorites, though the street vendor versions might taste just as good.
10 AM – One of the major attractions to the city, as many would admit, is cheap shopping. Today, discover the other side of Jakarta as you hone your bargaining skills. Common guides would take tourists to the flea market in Menteng, Central Jakarta. I say skip the common and head to the real place.
For furniture, head to Kemang Timur in South Jakarta, for affordable, tailor-made items. For everything else, Mangga Dua is a one-stop shopping experience that’s not to be missed. Winter wear, rugs, baby products, tech gadgets—they’re all here. Clothing items and fashion wear are aplenty, from super fake to amazingly real.
3 PM – Ever heard of the wax resist fabric dyeing called batik? Indonesians are believed to have been doing it since the sixth century and today is home to a wide range of batik patterns, each equally, if not more, unique and beautiful. Many of these patterns are symbolic, some reserved for royalties, others only used for ritual purposes. This afternoon, get cultural by learning more about this cultural pride of Indonesia and, better yet, making your own batik at the Textile Museum in Central Jakarta.
7 PM – This evening, continue your exploration of local food by enjoying classic Padang cuisine, and naturally, breaking a sweat while at it. Nasi Padang comes with a variety of meats, fish, vegetables and spicy sambal (chili paste). Hailing from West Sumatra, this cuisine has been embraced worldwide. Some local favorite joints include Sari Bundo, Sari Ratu, Pagi Sore and Sederhana.
10 AM – Now that you’ve got a glimpse of the city and its people, why not put things in perspective and join a private tour to understand more about the country and its history.
The Old Batavia Trail is a popular tour that ventures into Glodok, Indonesia’s oldest Chinatown, and the Fatahillah Square, a compound that plays home to several museums, including the Jakarta History Museum. The building was built in 1710 as the city hall of Batavia and served as the administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company and later of the Dutch colonial government, which ruled Indonesia for three centuries. Also on the itinerary is a brief stop at the old Sunda Kelapa Harbor.
4 PM – Peek into the Pasar Santa, a traditional market in South Jakarta, which has been revamped into a hip culinary and art hangout spot. The market also houses some excellent coffee shops that boast homegrown coffee beans.
7 PM – Still in the same area, wind down along Jalan Senopati, a burgeoning neighborhood in South Jakarta that plays host to some of the city’s best restaurants, lounges and bars. From authentic French to original Javanese, the choice is all yours. Cheers to a fruitful three-day trip!