We ended up spending closer to 36 hours in Jakarta but the sightseeing part was mostly limited to 24 hours!
Jakarta wasn't really so much an active decision as by chance as it served as the gateway for our trip to Indonesia. QATAR Airways had fantastic deals from Cape Town direct to Indonesia and the best price we could find was to fly into Jakarta and depart from Denpasar, Bali with the return tickets coming to around $450 each. That sounded like good enough motivation to check out Jakarta and boy, aren't we glad we did!
Most travellers head straight for Bali, but as we've learned there are plenty of reasons to also check out the capital city, Jakarta. Although somewhat crowded and suffering from pollution, those who visit will find it to be a lively, bustling city with something to discover around every corner. The best part is that because Jakarta is usually not on the radar of tourists, there’s an authenticity to much of it that is hard to avoid.
After 15 hours of travel from Cape Town via Doha, we landed in Jakarta late on a Monday afternoon. No checked luggage meant we breezed through customs and immigration and also somehow managed to avoid most of the usual taxi madness one finds outside airports in Asia. We did some homework beforehand and knew that the Damri Airport bus was one of the most comfortable and economical ways to get from the airport to the city. The Gambir route is most frequently used and goes right to the centre of Jakarta in an hour or so depending on the traffic. No reservations are necessary – just buy a ticket at the counter. From the Airport to Gambir station was IDR 40 000 per person (about USD 3).
This is where we found the best, up to date information: Damri Airport Bus
If you want to make use of a taxi to get around pay careful attention to the names on the vehicles as there are many copycats of reputable taxi operators around. Your best bet is to make use of a reputable operator like Blue Bird which even has an app to order a taxi when you need it.
Be warned that peak hour on the roads is from 07:00 to 09:00 in the morning and again from 16:30 to 19:00 and making use of any transport during this time is not recommended - traffic backs up all over Jakarta for kilometres and you're best off avoiding these times when possible. Luckily Jakarta has one of the most reliable public transportation services in Indonesia and the city’s Transjakarta covers virtually every area, and the best part is that it costs only about $0.3 per ride.
From Gambir, there are plenty of buses departing. Across the road from the station, we hopped on a local bus (IDR 3 500) heading south towards Cikini where we arrived 15 minutes later and walked the last bit down an alley to find our accommodation. We usually only book the first night or two at our arrival city just to avoid the pain of having to deal with it after spending a day travelling. In Jakarta, we found the Capsule Hotel Old Batavia where we would be spending the next couple of nights. The Capsule Hotel is more of a hostel than a hotel but it has some private rooms with en-suite bathrooms as well. It’s somewhat basic but well located and we found the staff to be extremely helpful and welcoming. We paid IDR 300 000 (USD 20) per night for a private double en-suite which included a basic breakfast and free coffee throughout the day. The area is perfect to explore on foot and just down the road, there are plenty of eateries. It had been a long day and although we were pretty tired we headed out for our first taste of local Indonesian foods. The hotel staff recommended us to try Martabak Telur (a spicy folded omelette/pancake with bits of vegetables in it) and Soto Betawi (Jakarta soup) which came to a total of IDR 58 000 (USD 4).
Our first stop the next the morning was a Telkomsel shop - where we purchased two SIMPATI pre-paid sim cards. Telkomsel is the only operator which is active in all provinces in Indonesia and supposedly has the best coverage on the outer islands. Including the SIM and 12Gb of Data valid for 30 days, it came to IDR 110 000 (USD 8.50) each - great value and we ended up using it all over Java, Bali and the Gili’s without any problems.
Finally, we can get down to some sightseeing! The traffic can be somewhat intimidating in Jakarta but there are plenty of places you can comfortably walk to and most of the sights are concentrated around the National Monument area.
As with any big city, there are a number of cultural and religious sites in Jakarta to enjoy. The most impressive is the huge Istiqlal Mosque. The biggest mosque in South East Asia, it has a capacity of 120,000. Close by you will find the beautiful Saint Mary of the Assumption Cathedral which is built in a Neo-Gothic style and was constructed in 1901.
Across the road, you will find the statue of the West Irian Liberation Monument which was built after the annexation of West Irian into Indonesia. The monument is an 11-meter tall bronze statue of a muscular man, shouting, with arms outstretched breaking free of the chains of colonialism. With the pedestal it stands on it reaches an impressive 36 meters!
As part of the National Monument Gardens, you will encounter numerous impressive statues, museums and monuments to explore.
Masuk Monas is the National Monument of Indonesia - a 132-meter high tower in the centre of Merdeka Square topped by an iconic, gold flame. Underneath the monument is the National History Museum which features a number of well-made dioramas displaying scenes from Indonesian history. The observation platform at the top of the tower allows for some excellent views of the city.
Late afternoon we took a bus to the Jakarta Old Town where Fatahillah Square is centre of a bustling area surrounded by historic buildings & museums. The 'old town' of Jakarta contains a number of Dutch-style, colonial buildings from the 17th century. Around Fatahillah Square you will also find three museums, the Jakarta History Museum, the Wayang Puppetry Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics. Step away from the main square and the streets are lined with street performers. You can rent some colourful bicycles or hire a horse and cart to take you on a ride around the square which is an excellent way to see the old town of Jakarta.
As we found in the Old Town, the main reason to visit Jakarta is how friendly and welcoming the locals are. Everywhere we walked we were greeted by a number of “hellos”, people inviting us for a chat, kids asking you to join in their game of soccer and most of all random people wishing to take a photo of you. The locals are friendly and take delight in welcoming you into their part of town, especially if you explore the side streets away from the usual tourist sites.
We had a great time on our quick visit to Jakarta and will no doubt make a point of not missing it again en-route our travels. From Jakarta, our plan was to take a train to Yogyakarta the following day but it made more sense to get a cheap local flight with Air Asia instead - more on that in the next post!
PART 1 Video of our month-long trip to Indonesia during 2016
This video shows us arriving in Jakarta and travelling via Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) on to Mount Bromo near Probolingo and from there to Kawa Ijen near Banyuwangi. It was made before we started our Youtube channel and was mainly recorded using compact cameras.