Jakarta's history began as a flourishing port north of the city and developed southward over the centuries. Five autonomous municipalities emerged, together offering a veritable city of contrasts. As overwhelming as the crowds and congestion may be, the metropolis contains pockets of attractions that make a gratifying stay for those who plan their trip well.
Central Jakarta: The Moneybag
Embassies and businesses tend to gravitate towards Central Jakarta, the capital's nucleus. Indonesians from all over the archipelago flock to the city for a share of commerce. Most companies choose to establish their base along Jalan M.H. Thamrin. This district, with its close proximity to the concentration of government offices at Lapangan Merdeka , assures quick access to the rest of the city.
For the leisure traveler, Central Jakarta showcases some of the best museums in town and plenty of photo-taking opportunities. The National Museum , Textile Museum , Jakarta Arts Building , Puppet Museum and Taman Ismail Marzuki Arts Center all do their part in initiating visitors to the city's past and culture.
Several monuments grace Central Jakarta's busy traffic circles. In the middle of the Lapangan Merdeka towers the gold-topped obelisk and the mos t famous landmark in the metropolis, the National Monument . Sooner or later visitors are bound to stumble upon the Welcome Monument and other imposing statues— Farmer's Statue , Arjuna Wijaya Statue and Prince Diponegoro Statue . The Istiqlal Mosque , Cathedral Church and Immanuel Church also make excellent backdrops for snapshots.
The avid shopper hunting for designer labels will find absolute delight in the luxurious Plaza Indonesia . For a taste of the local shopping climate, check out the Cikini Traditional Market for gold and trinkets, Jalan Surabaya Antique Market for antiques and handicrafts and the sprawling Tanah Abang Market for virtually anything else.
South Jakarta: Glitz and Glamor
South Jakarta covers an extensive area, stretching from the Golden Triangle financial district to Pondok Indah far south. It is synonymous with glitz and glamor, a description partly supported by the classy shopping complexes dotting the district—Blok M Mall, Blok M Plaza, Pasaraya, Plaza Senayan and Pondok Indah Mall . From international brands to local handicrafts, the district holds a plethora of merchandise for discerning shoppers.
The prime residential districts of Pondok Indah, Kebayoran Baru and Kemang are also situated in South Jakarta. Plush restaurants, cafes and bars abound, catering to the discriminating residents in the neighborhood. Cafe Gran Via , Toscana , Sportsmans and Prego Restaurant and Bar are but four competitors for your attention. Kemang Duty Free boasts the widest selection of fine wines in town.
East of the municipality lies the modest Ragunan Zoo , which provides a good platform for learning about endangered species and animal protection. (To experience wildlife up close, ma ke a day trip out of Jakarta to Taman Safari Indonesia at Bogor , down south.)
North Jakarta: Timeless
North Jakarta is also the historical district, where visitors can uncover the origins of the capital. An archaeological excavation near the Cilincing Coastline provides evidence of civilization dating from 3000 BCE.
The Lookout Tower commands an enchanting panorama of the Sunda Kelapa Harbor , the 12th-century port that once prospered on the spice trade. The late 16th Century V.O.C. Warehouse was built by the Dutch to store their trading goods. Today, the Maritime Museum immortalizes life on board the steamships that linked Batavia (Old Jakarta) and Holland around the turn of the 20th century through archived photographs. Further inland is Jembatan Pasar Ayam , a historical Dutch drawbridge that marks the Dutch occupation of Batavia.
Many locals also equate North Jakarta with recreation. Ancol Dreamland , a beach resort, packs in several fun-filled theme parks, an art and handicraft market, an oceanarium and even an 18-hole golf course. Ancol Marina operates as a gateway to the Thousand Islands scattered in the glistening Jakarta Bay.
West Jakarta: Glodok
Glodok , also known as Chinatown, dominates much of West Jakarta. Initially a Chinese ghetto, the area has developed into a bustling commercial district. Thousands of small businesses (some of which have been around for centuries), along with traditional markets and hawker stalls, bustle with activity. Ancient temples such as the Vihara Dharma Bhakti provide spiritual solace from the materialistic world outside.
In 1740, Dutch antipathy towards the Chinese community led to the massacre of at least 5,000 Chinese. Fatahillah Park (Batavia's old town square), Kota Train Station and Jakarta History Museum witnessed this horrifying bloodbath and, more recently, the May 1998 riots.
East Jakarta: The Hodgepodge
Of all the five municipalities, East Jakarta is the most difficult to epitomize, as it contains a bit of everything. Some of its popular spots include the Bird Market and Pasar Rawabening , a trove of exotic gemstones. A walk through the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah introduces one to the enormous cultural diversity of the vast Indonesian archipelago. The theme park houses many other attractions, such as the Keong Mas Imax Theater , several museums and a bird park. The historical town of Jatinegara Meester Cornelis also warrants a visit for its local-produce market, gemstone bazaar, several quaint places of worship and kampongs.
Jakarta is a world-class culinary hybrid where ethnic Indonesian and global influences come together to produce diversity and a spectrum of intercontinental fusion foods with a local twist. As the capital of a developing, predominantly Muslim country, it possesses an abundance of modestly-priced halal fare. That said, however, this is a city where you can eat anything from curried pork to grilled kangaroo and order drinks from a lychee mocktail to a glass of Chateaux Lafitte. On the same block, you can spend IDR8,000 on a hearty plate of fried noodles and IDR800,000 on an artful tableau of cold-water raw fish.
Food Stalls set the Scene
Most eating in Jakarta takes place in the street. Even the most casual observer cannot miss the mo bile army of warungs (food stalls) and snack vendors in perpetual search of customers, weaving their way among jalopies, juggernauts and BMW sedans. These vendors sell nosh, quintessentially Indonesian satay or bakso tok-tok (Chinese soup) from as little as IDR500 a portion.
Visitors are more likely to encounter this breed of vendors in office blocks, shopping areas and popular entertainment districts. Miraculously, these peddlers also spring up around more itinerant crowds at building sites, queues, traffic jams and even demonstrations! They serve Indonesians on modest salaries, foreign visitors on tight budgets and long-term residents who take pride in their strong stomachs. As a rule, these stalls have no access to running water, and vendors either bring along non-refrigerated cooked food or cook in the open, dusty, humid, traffic-clogged street, where patrons also eat. Consequently, as quaint or exotic as t his experience may seem, it is only recommended for the intestinally courageous. If you decide to sample anyways, following some basic rules may keep you healthy, such as eating only food you watch being cooked, abstaining from chutneys and sauces that have been sitting out and avoiding raw and cut up fruits and vegetables.
Fast Food and Global Grazing
The city is home to the usual Third World assortment of First World fast-food franchises, plus a flood of inexpensive local clones and other modest eateries. They proliferate around busy shopping areas like Blok M and at food courts in fancier air-conditioned malls such as Plaza Senayan , Taman Anggrek Mall and Plaza Indonesia . There you can graze your way around t he world for less than the price of a sandwich on Madison Avenue or a gin and tonic in a London pub. Choose from a huge selection of foods such as pizza, quiche, tacos, kebabs, curry, sushi or hamburgers. Follow this with low-fat yogurt, ice cream, tropical fruit salad or chocolate-chip cookies. To accompany your meal you can order from a vast array of fresh fruit juices, soft drinks or a limited choice of alcoholic beverages, such as the local Bintang beer, and end with a cafe latte or a bowl of green tea.
Eating across the Isles
Alternatively, you can sample modest cuisines from across the country's 3,200-mile-wide archipelago, including safer versions of all the items offered by the warungs described above. Classics include bubur ayam, a chicken-and-rice porridge; the West Sumatran, Padang dish rendang, consisting of beef cooked in a dry, spicy coconut sauce; gado-gado, an assortment of blanched vegetables and fried tofu in peanut sauce; and the very spicy pork or chicken dish from Manado, rica-rica. Satay House Senayan, Mirasari Restaurant , Dapur Sunda , Dapoer Tempo Doeloe offer a wide range, while spots such as Restoran Pulau Dua and Raja Laut Restaurant specialize in Indonesia's diversity of seafood dishes.
Gastronomic Ghettos and Swank Selections
Smarter eateries can be found dotting the city and in major hotels. Again, they offer a local and international kaleido scope of choice. Those located in and around the business district of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman, Jalan Jenderal Gatot Sobroto, Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said and Jalan M.H. Thamrin cater to the lunch crowd and affluent after-work diners and drinkers. Dip into Cinnabar for chic fusion, Lan Na Thai for Thai, Le Souffle for French, Hazara for Indian, Tien Chao for Chinese and Chianti Classico Bistro for Mediterranean. These establishments are a few examples of the stylish central eateries popular with the business crowd. You can also indulge in even fancier eating experiences at Riva , Margaux and Zigolini .
Many of the city's classier bars lie in this same city-center area, mostly in hotels. CJ's Bar and B.A.T.S. are some which attract well-heeled city workers. More modest drinking establishments sprawl in less plush surroundings around busy shopping districts like Blok M.
To some extent, the demographics and living arrangements of expatriates drive the restaurant and bar business. Therefore, Japanese and Korean food and drink are readily available throughout the city, in office blocks and near centrally-located apartment complexes that these communities tend to favor. Bushido Japanese Restaurant is a particularly popular spot. In the meantime, an abundance of upmarket restaurants, cafes and bars targeting Western tastes sp rout up in the residential expatriate enclave of Kemang, south of the city, especially along Jalan Kemang Raya. William's , Toscana and Anatolia are just four of the dozens you will find along this busy stretch.
Jakarta offers a few absolutely matchless dining and drinking experiences. Cafe Batavia , facing the splendid colonial Fatahillah Park northwest of the city, provides another memorable experience. Named after Jakarta's Dutch colonial antecedent, it captures the old city's elegance in its magnificent architecture and conveys a stylish, international assurance in its eclectic art collection and in the twin Hong Ko ng and Pacific Rim menus it presents. A visitor cannot fail to be charmed.
Visitors planning to explore Jakarta's every nook and cranny are often advised two things: dress comfortably and avoid the buses. The blistering sun may make for a unpleasant journey if you intend to do a fair bit of walking, so remember to put on light clothing. Arm yourself with an umbrella, too, in case you get caught in a tropical downpour. As for the buses, they are the working grounds for pickpockets. Taxis offer an inexpensive yet safe alternative. Renting a car gives you extra flexibility, but unless you are familiar with the chaotic streets, it is better to get one with a driver.
The tours below incorporate the some of the main activities and sites in Jakarta. However, they only hint at the wealth of what Jakarta offers.
The historic northern part of the city is still known as or Batavia, as it was known during colonial times. The Sunda Kelapa Harbor still operates as the port of call for colorful Bugis schooners. Pass through the Fish Market on your way to the Lookout Tower for sweeping views of the port. You can also catch glimpses of the past by visiting the Maritime Museum and the V.O.C. Warehouses , which once belonged to the Dutch United East India Company.
A short distance to the south of Sunda Kelapa Harbor Jakarta History Museum , Fine Arts Museum and the Puppet Museum stand surrounding Fatahillah Park , Batavia's old town square. If you come on Sunday, be sure to arrive at the Puppet Museum around 10a for a dose of Indonesian ethnic entertainment—a wayang kulit puppet performance. During lunchtime, make a beeline for the historic Cafe Batavia . Afterwards walk southward to the colonial-style Kota Train Station . Further away at Jalan Gajah Madah is the National Archive Building , a window to the opulent lifestyle of well-to-do Dutch colonists in the bygone era. Finish up with a ride eastward to the National Monument in the Lapangan Merdeka . Visit the museum at the base of the monument to learn about Indonesia's struggle for independence, then take an elevator to the top for exhilarating views of the cityscape. Refresh and rest after wards at Warong Shanghai Blue 1920 , one of the oldest restaurants in Jakarta.
Tropical Fun at Jakarta Bay
Ancol Dreamland on the north coast of Jakarta is one of Southeast Asia's largest marine recreational resorts, which kids, especially, will love. If you are trave ling with children, make Fantasy World your first destination. Set aside four hours to enjoy the thrilling rides, including the fearsome Big Dipper. Adults might prefer to pick up some artwork at Pasar Seni , get a portrait made, or just observe the artists at work. Many restaurants and food stalls in the area provide delicious offerings at modest prices, or head over to Raja Kuring for cuisine from North Africa in an old colonial warehouse. In the afternoon, witness the incredible diversity of Indonesia's marine life at Sea World . After that, take a boat from Ancol Marina to the offshore islands of the Thousand Islands mini-archipelago and explore until su ndown. In the evening, treat yourself to some seafood delights in Hailai International Executive Club for dinner, dancing or even private room karaoke.
The neighborhood around the National Monument has the multi-ethnic signature of post-colonial society. Please note that to enter several of the landmarks in this tour conservative dress is required and women wearing trousers may not be allowed to enter. Along the central square are historic churches, mosques, and more. Start out admiring the organ in the Gereja Immanuel , a Baroque style church dating to the 18th century. Next walk across the National Monument square to the cool gardens of Ist ana Mendeka , Jakarta's Presidential Palace. Adjacent to the gardens is the Istana Negara State Palace, where the peace treaty between the Indonesian and Dutch was signed. After admiring the Dutch colonial architecture, cross Jalan Veteran to Jalan Pecenongan to sample snacks such as frozen coconut and avocado or thick pancake-like bandung. Afterwards, continue eastwards along Jalan Insinyur Haji Juanda towards the Mesjid Istiqlal to admire its elaborately decorated floors and walls and the towering minaret that can be seen all around Jakarta. Afterwards, skirt the eastern end of the National Monument again as you make your way to Gereja Katedral , Jakarta's neo-gothic Catholic church. The basement museum has exhibits about the church's construction and Catholicism in Indonesia. Finally, make your way down Jalan Ridwan Rais to Aryaduta Hotel and what may possibly be Jakarta's best Japanese restaurant, Shima.