Jazzin’ it in Jakarta
It is a huge city, with a reputation to match. Traffic hell in a dirty concrete wastelands with shabby neighbourhoods in between cannot be anyone’s idea of fun. Well, if that was all there was to the metropolis. There is much more.
I got up early, very early, to beat the heat. My intention was to explore the colourful Utara neighbourhood, ot North Jakarta, by foot. There weren’t many on the same quest as me, but the streets were busy with families eating breakfast, street hawkers and children on their way to school. Not to mention street artists of varies degree of talents, groups of people working out on the command of high-pitched leaders and people simply transporting people or goods. People watching heaven!
Everyone was there, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I have rarely come across collectively friendlier people. The amount of greetings and smiles I received was enough to put a big long-lasting grin on my face all throughout the morning. Until noon, when the heat became unbearable for an anything but sun accustomed Norwegian. I retreated into the first place with air conditioning, coincidentally a Starbucks café. Where it turned out that the air conditioner was so effective that I ended up ordering a hot latte not to freeze to death. Contrasts, indeed. And Jakarta is full of them.
There are many poor neighbourhoods, where people live in shacks and where the sewage goes straight out from holes in walls or floors into streams or rivers beneath. Neither sight, sound or smell does anyone any favours. There are narrow streets, sometimes better described as paths between the households. People selling various items from carts or food from mobile stalls are everywhere. So are the smiles. I was often greeted “Hello, Mister!” as I walked throughout, trying to answer as best as I could, sometimes engaging in pleasant conversations.
And then there are the shopping centers. There are 170 of them in town, according to The Guardian. Then again, they cater to 10 million people, twice the population of Norway. Expect to find everything and anything! Some of the walls cater to the high heeled, others anyone but. There is at least one reason why everyone goes here, the same that brought me to Starbucks: Aircon. And the super popular food courts with a selection that caters to Jakarta’s multi-cultural history. Although, I’d rather recommend the many markets for such. More colours, more odours and more life. Atmosphere, in a word.
Expect a strong Dutch influence in the north, nearby the seafront. And do by all means visit Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, a park with pavilions showcasing cultural aspects of every one of Indonesia’s 33 regions.
There are a lot of different accommodation options in Jakarta, from cheap and cheerful hostels to top of the line luxury havens. I don’t usually stay in the latter type of establishments, but when you come across a deal that seems to good to be true, an exception is for sure in order. I used hotel website www.traveloka.comfor the first time, and was in for a pleasant surprise.
Fairmont Jakarta is in the middle of town, but next to a big lush park and virtually surrounded by restaurants, bars, shopping meccas and even a golf course. I have rarely, if ever, experiences such hospitality from the people working in a hotel, let alone in one of such a size with close to 400 rooms. But five stars means five stars, and they are clearly not going to risk a single one of them. Clearly. Not a hotel I’d normally pick – due to budget issues – but I found an offer that was simply too good to miss on the previously mentioned website.
There is no way to write about Jakarta without mentioning its restaurants and its nightlife. The selection of both of the above makes Jakarta a challenger to famous party cities such as Paris, New York, Beirut and Tokyo. You can even enjoy it alone, in parts thanks to the hospitality here.
The Kota area in the north competes with Amsterdams Red Light District in more ways than one. Blok M, Kemang and Sudirman Central Business District come with better reputations. Although parties are known to keep going forever. Who would have guessed this is a muslim country? Just make sure your hotel isn’t nearby a mosque. Then again, you’ll probably stay out long enough for the morning prayers not to disturb you anyway.
Jakarta has some problems typical of megacities, such as pollution, traffic and inequalities. It is furthemore not at all like Kuta, Gili or Lombok – but neither would you expect of a metrolopolis its size. Jakarta is, all in all, an undervalued city and certainly worth a visit.
You need more top travel tips?