For starters, don’t trust every recommendation you find on the Internet. By Tan Lili
On a whim, I decided to fly to Jakarta with fellow Go Away editors Deborah and Vanessa a couple of weekends ago. Having never been to the capital of Indonesia before, we did a bit of research on the Internet to note down interesting places we could visit. Since we only had about one full day to explore Jakarta (we arrived on a Friday night and our flight back to Singapore was on Sunday afternoon), we narrowed down the places to check out on our list from eight to five. In the end, we only managed to visit one. Why? The answer, in one of the tips below.
1. Decide on the region of Jakarta you want to visit – and explore within it
Because, two words: Traffic jam. If you didn’t plan your itinerary well, you might end up wasting hours commuting from one part of Jakarta to the other! We didn’t realise how atrocious the jams could be, so we made the mistake of travelling out of Central Jakarta (where our hotel Keraton at The Plaza is located) on Saturday morning to check out Kota Tua, an old-town neighbourhood that lies within North Jakarta and West Jakarta. The travelling time alone took up most of our morning, so by the time we got back to the hotel it was nearly 1pm. Our initial energy and excitement sapped, we decided to simply chill out in our hotel first before we ventured out again in the evening – another bad decision, but more on that in the third tip below.
Given you’re only going to be in Jakarta for a weekend, there is no point wanting to cover different parts of the city unless you know for sure the route you’re taking is clear of heavy traffic. Where you choose to spend your weekend largely depends on your travelling style. If you’re the type of traveller who relishes in creature comforts, consider sticking to Central or South Jakarta. The hotel we stayed in is within walking distance to plenty of great shopping and dining spots, including a super awesome mall we wish we had more time exploring, Grand Indonesia Mall.
2. When travelling by taxi, only choose the Blue Bird Group
If you have been to Bali a few times before, you’ll probably be familiar with the Blue Bird Group of taxis. They are unanimously known for being the most reliable taxi fleet in the city as you wouldn’t need to ask them twice if they use the meter. It’s easy to spot a Blue Bird taxi – it is blue and has a picture of a bird or wings on the taxi headsign – but be alert as there are apparently imitations of Blue Bird taxis with drivers who claim their meters are broken. So besides looking out for colour and the headsign, make sure you see the name “Blue Bird Group” on the taxi before flagging for one. For more identification tips, click here.
Alternatively, if you’re carrying a few luggages (although you probably wouldn’t since it’s just a weekend trip), consider taking the slightly more expensive Silver Bird, which is also operated by the Blue Bird Group. We hear most of the Silver Bird drivers can speak at least conversational English – the drivers we met from the regular Blue Bird taxis could only speak in Bahasa Indonesia, so make sure you write down the address of your intended destination on a piece of paper. The rate for Silver Bird may be a little higher, but we reckon the comfort and service that come with this executive taxi would be worth it – especially if you’re travelling to or from the airport, whose roads are almost always jammed!
Speaking of traffic and the airport, don’t forget to factor in the time you may potentially spend on the road when you make transport arrangements to and from the airport. Oh, and one more very valuable tip regarding the notorious Jakarta jam: Don’t drink too much water right before you’re about to hit the road. #truestory
3. Be camera-ready (if you’re Caucasian)
Because at some point during your stay in Jakarta, you will be accosted by the locals to take a photo with them. When we were exploring Kota Tua, we noticed a short line of locals queuing up to take a picture with a Caucasian. We didn’t think much about it, until we saw another group of locals looking positively mesmerised by a Caucasian couple. I Googled it later in my hotel room, and found that many Indonesians are, indeed, fascinated with “bule” – a term they coined to describe Caucasians. I read that some expatriates living in Jakarta find the term offensive but, really, the locals mean no harm.
4. Not every “must-do’s in Jakarta” you see on the Internet is a must-do
While researching for places to check out before our trip, one of the places that always crops up is Kota Tua, also known as Old Batavia. It used to be the CBD area during the era of Dutch colonisation, and is home to beautiful colonial architecture as well as several museums. Sounds interesting, right? So we went – and we instantly knew we were in for a disappointment the moment we arrived. Yes, there are many museums in the vicinity, but only if you’re into things like Javanese puppetry, contemporary art, ceramics, or monetary policies throughout the history of Indonesia. Cafe Batavia is really cool, though. The interior of this 200-year-old building gives off serious retro vibes, with the walls plastered with photo frames of old stars (see pics below).
Another “must-do” we found on the Internet is to visit Pasar Santa, a newly spruced up traditional market (read: hipster haven) in South Jakarta. Refusing to be dispirited by the heavy traffic earlier in the day, we gave the address of Pasar Santa to our taxi driver and braced ourselves for the long journey ahead. Even though many write-ups about Pasar Santa mentioned that taxi drivers would know where Pasar Santa is, ours wasn’t very sure. That ought to have been an ominous sign for us. After what felt like an hour, we arrived at a traditional market with nary a sign of life. We circled the area a couple of times to make sure we didn’t miss a turn or something. We didn’t. Really dispirited now, we apologised to our taxi driver and asked him to drive us back to our hotel. And of course there was a jam on the way back.
5. Don’t worry about calories
Granted, we didn’t get to cover many areas when we were in Jakarta, but every dining opportunity we had left us pleasantly surprised! We were told Sate Khas Senayan is a must-try in Jakarta – and good thing for us, there is an outlet at the super awesome shopping mall I mentioned earlier, Grand Indonesia Mall. The F&B section is HUGE and filled with mostly local establishments. We wanted to save some stomach space for Pasar Santa (sigh), so we exercised great discipline and checked out only Sate Khas Senayan. The chicken satay was so good – actual chunks of chicken meat sitting on smooth, rich peanut sauce. We also ordered gado gado (an assortment of vegetables served with peanut sauce and crackers) and soto ayam (chicken soup), both of which were entirely devoured by three hungry girls as well.
There’s definitely so much more to Jakarta than what you can possibly explore over one weekend. Now that we have had a taste of what the city is like, we are curious to find out more. Tips, anyone?
28 Oct 2016