I struggled to come up with one sentence that would encompass what Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, was really like for us. So many adjectives come to mind – hectic, chaotic, crowded, noisy, dirty, friendly – but none of them really do it justice. Jakarta is all of those things, and many more.
My favorite shot of the city itself is this one, taken right outside of our homestay in Benhil, (which you can read more about in part 2). It really encompasses the contrast we felt in Jakarta, with its sleek and modern skyscrapers, “rustic” housing and trash-filled rivers.
Jakarta is infamous for it’s traffic, and rightly so. It can often take hours to travel only a few kilometers in parts of the city. To say the streets are crowded is an understatement. Riding in a car here is down right scary, and crossing the street is an adrenaline rush at a minimum. The empty lanes in red are only used by buses, so they are often much faster than cabs, and cheap at 3500IDR per way (about $0.30 US). The buses in the city are very nice and clean with air conditioning. Tip for the gents out there: only women are allowed to ride towards the front of public buses. Dan found out the hard way.
We took a full day to explore the center of Jakarta, but we just found that there wasn’t that much to do. The thing is, the city IS trying. There are dedicated buses to take tourists around to the major sights, with decent guides giving you a highlight of the city (for free).
Central Jakarta was very different from the kampung we stayed in (a short bus ride, but a whole world away). The city was sleek, and modern with fountains or statues on nearly every street corner.
The National Monument, is a symbol of the fight for independence of Indonesia, and is often abbreviated to Monas.
Thanks to jet lag, we were up at the crack of dawn and able to get there bright and early, which we ended up being thankful for. It was hot, and when we left there was quite a line waiting to go up to the observation deck. Riding to the top is pretty quick when there’s no line, and the view is incredible. The city is huge and sprawls into the far distance out of view. It costs 15,000IDR to go into the monument which includes going to the observation deck.
Next we swung by the old colonial town of Kota, once inhabited by the Dutch. It was a quaint (but very small) section of the city with food stalls on the side streets and a large plaza in the middle. We stopped and got iced coffee in one of the cafes, and it rivaled Thai iced coffee. Although, everywhere else in Indonesia it was just plain ole black coffee on ice. Bummer.
The old section of the city is falling apart after years of neglect, adding even more contrast to a bizarre city. Within an hour you can go from run down villages, to a shiny central Jakarta to a crumbling Kota and finally to the sea.
After cooling off, we were exhausted and decided to head back to our room. It was hot, almost twice as hot as back home, and we had gotten lost trying to find the first bus station. Even with the bus lanes it would take nearly an hour to get to our guesthouse. The only thing we didn’t get to check off our list was a visit to the old harbor.
Our favorite thing about Jakarta? Hands down: the people. They look at you stern and hard, often staring (or at least lingering too long), but just one little smile from you is all it takes for their face to light up. They grin back, from ear to ear, often say hello and are very curious. Many of those who spoke english asked if we were enjoying their country and thanked us for visiting. The kids in this picture asked to take a picture with us. We agreed as long as they took one with our camera too, of course.
When we were lost people actually tried to help. We asked probably 10 people for directions in the span of a few hours. One woman went out of her way to ask other locals, and then even walked us over to the three-wheel driver and told him where to take us. It was an incredible feeling to be that welcomed in a country.
While I didn’t quite fall in love with Jakarta like I did Bangkok, it was still a very interesting city and worth a visit.
Read all about part 2 of our time in the Benhil section of Jakarta!