A Day in Old Jakarta

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As Southeast Asia’s largest city, Jakarta is a destination often avoided by travellers, given its relatively poor reputation of being dirty, polluted and bursting with traffic. It doesn’t have the lustful beaches or the majestic landscapes welcoming travellers in. For many, Jakarta is simply an arrival point into Indonesia before quickly heading east towards the drawcards of Yogyakarta, Bali, and Lombok.

Based on what we had heard, we didn’t have great expectations for Jakarta, but still wanted to give ourselves at least a little time there to have a look around and get a feel for the city. We had allocated our final two nights in Indonesia, essentially one full day, to see what Jakarta was all about.

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We arrived late one afternoon into one of Jakarta’s many bus stations after a tiresome, yet relatively comfortable (i.e. functioning air-conditioning and no chickens pooping at your feet), 10-hour bus ride from Pangandaran. After another hour spent battling the bustling traffic in a taxi, we finally checked in to our hotel which was perfectly comfortable, despite our shoebox of a room being so small that we had to give way to each other if we wished to access the door or the bathroom.

It must be said that particularly for travellers on both budget and time constraints, Jakarta is not an easy city to get around. It lacks trains or a metro, and many taxi drivers lack working meters (or the desire to use it!), meaning you're more likely to get ripped off. The cheapest way of getting around this sprawling city is by bus, however there was plenty to see in walking distance of our hotel to keep us occupied for the day without having to face being lost in the expanse of this city nearly 10 million people deep.

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Unfortunately, like many of Southeast Asia’s cities, Jakarta is also relatively difficult for walking around. Lack of a) footpaths, b) pedestrian crossings, and c) road rules in general, makes for a dangerous stroll up the side of the road - especially at night!

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We were staying in the northern part of the city, near the area known as Old Jakarta. We spent the morning wandering in the direction of a nearby local market which we strolled around until the heat got the better of us and we needed some air conditioning and a cold drink.

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We headed in the direction of Fatahilla Square, which houses the popular Cafe Batavia. Despite costing more than we would ever consider spending on a meal, we treated ourselves to a mocktail for morning tea. Sadly, we couldn't justify the price of the real thing on our budget! Cafe Batavia was a beautiful setting - rather fancy compared to most of the restaurants we frequent!

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We wandered around the square for a while and took in the peace and calmness. It was like a little oasis amidst the chaos of Jakarta! You could definitely see the colonial Dutch influence in this part of the city, which dates back to the 16th century when Fatahilla Square was the heart of the city.

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In the afternoon we braved the walk down to some of the nearby malls for a look around - Kota is a popular shopping area in Jakarta. Crowded malls line the streets, each four or five or more stories tall and filled to the brim with so many things I wanted to buy...but that I really didn't need. We re-emerged a few hours later, thankfully with a full wallet and empty hands.

Jakarta was also our first, and only (so far), experience with kedongdong juice. After eating deliciously greasy fast food for dinner the night before, we needed some greens in our lives. We found a great local restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nourishing meal of satay, stir-fried greens and rice. Alan and I are both open to trying new things, so we ordered a couple of fresh juices recommended by the waiter. We were served some kind of dark green concoction that tasted unmistakably like freshly-mown grass (a little bit icky), and the lime-green kedongdong juice, which was relatively pleasant, tasting a little like green apple but much more sour and floury. However, we got a surprise when we were halfway through and noticed what looked like a rotten lump of something in our drink. We both thought there had been some kind of problem with the ice and that we were going to end up horribly ill, but thankfully the waiter was able to explain that it was a preserved sour plum that helps give the kedongdong juice its unique taste. Interesting...!

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We had such a short time in Jakarta, that I'm not sure I can comment either way on whether its poor reputation is justified. There is no doubt that the part of the city we saw is dirty (we saw plenty of rats while walking out to dinner in the evening), there are constant streams of traffic, it is hard to get around as a tourist and it is certainly polluted. On the surface, Jakarta is not a beautiful city. But, I think Fatahilla Square is a gem, and perhaps Jakarta is a bit of a rough diamond. That said, I'm not sure Jakarta will be drawing us back any time soon.

Have you visited Jakarta? What were your impressions?


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