Indonesia’s most populous and capital city has lots to offer, for your entertainment
It is true; a trip to the Special Capital Region of Jakarta, the official name of Indonesia’s metropolis, may not necessarily be revolutionary or life changing, but it can definitely be remarkable and fun-filled. While other provinces and regions of the massive republic – comprised of more than thirteen thousand islands – remain the go-to places for a hiatus of a deeper, more fervent nature, the multi-cultural capital city is the destination for some straightforward enjoyment.
On a recent trip to Jakarta, by gracious invitation of the Jakarta Tourism & Culture Office, I discovered three things: Jakartans love fun, and know how to have it; I am terrible at batik making; and Jakarta is a multi-cultural melting pot and is totally “cool bingit!”
Hot mess, cool bingit
With a population of 12 million people spread out over an area of approximately 660 square kilometers, Jakarta city can be – and often IS – one hot mess. I kid you not: the city’s streets burgeon underneath the weight of traffic (both human and vehicular); a condition which must be factored into one’s travel time – all the time. This, coming from one who resides in Manila! However, once you have gotten past this, or have mercifully grown accustomed to it, you will find that exploring Jakarta is one exciting adventure. The former Dutch colony retains the charm of the Old World, yet has transitioned into the modernity of the New World. Rounding out this balancing act is the fact that Jakarta is a multi-cultural melting pot, marked by diverse ethnicity, with people from throughout Jakarta and even from across the globe having relocated to the city, whether for business or personal matters. The end result? A city center that is – to borrow Jakartan youth jargon – “cool bingit!” Very cool, indeed.
Multi-cultural melting pot
The multi-cultural melting pot that is Jakarta is evidenced in many things, from food and fashion, to rest and recreation. Restaurants offering delicious international fare have mushroomed across the city. Our first meal on Jakartan soil was – odd as it first seemed – not at a traditional Indonesian establishment, but at Iseya Robatayaki Restaurant, a high-end Japanese restaurant located in the cutting-edge Sampoerna Building. Nonetheless, the cuisine was delectable, and proved the refreshing sustenance we needed upon our arrival.
From our little foray into palatable Japan, we went on later that evening to enjoy a customary Indonesian dinner feast that was as sumptuous as it was sensual; complete with ceremonial presentation in song and dance. On the 11-course menu were items like Sambel Goreng with Tempe, Lombok and Idjo en Taotjo (stir-fried marinated soya bean cake with green peppers and black beans), Kuah Acar Ikan Blimbing Wuluh (yellow stewed fish in tamarind soup), and Sate Lembut Betawi (skewers of spicy minced beef with smoked shredded coconut). This delightful meal was had at the exquisitely designed Tugu Kunstkring Palais Restaurant in Menteng. When dining at Tugu Kunstkring Palais, do make sure to give yourself ample time to enjoy the wonderfully decorated interiors, which give an effortless nod to the romance of old Java, along with the heady sensuality of more cosmopolitan eras.
Heritage, on showcase
Jakarta is big on its ethnic heritage, as well as its Dutch colonial roots. This rich heritage is showcased it the city’s many parks and museums, as well as on its side streets, on which everything from local street food (like yummy pecel salad) to antiques and other old trinkets and treasures are sold.
The Museum Tekstil (Textile Museum) is a must-visit for an up-close look at indigenous garments and fabrics such as batik, pelangi, and ikat. A trip to this museum, housed in an old Dutch villa, is a visual treat and journey into olden days, through the stories told by intricately designed, woven or hand-painted tapestries and traditional outfits. While at the museum, sign-up for a crash course in batik making, to enhance your appreciation of the fine art that is batik. I came away with not only a heightened admiration for batik makers everywhere, but also with the realization that I was not born to make batik. Though I had great fun trying!
For a more in-depth look at Jakarta’s past, a trip to the Museum Sejarah Jakarta, or the Jakarta History Museum (which is also known as Fatahillah Museum or Batavia Museum) in the picturesque Old Town is in order. The building in which the museum is located is in itself a historical gem, having been built in 1710, and intact, to date. Artifacts date from the prehistory period of the city region all the way to Indonesia’s Independence in 1945.
On the other hand, for a lighter look at Batavian artistic flair, stroll over to the nearby Wayang or Puppet Museum, in the De Nieuwe Hollandsche Kerk, also in the Old Town. An impressive collection of hundreds of Indonesian puppets – old and new, big and small, ceremonial and for show – as well as puppets from all over the world, await within the walls of this former Dutch Church.
To complete the Old Town experience, a meal at the iconic Café Batavia – yet another relic from a bygone era – is a must.
Festive fun and frolic
Jakartans certainly know how to enjoy themselves, and there is no shortage of places at which to have some festive fun and frolic. Modern and massive shopping malls are aplenty, and offer world-class retail therapy and dining. I particularly enjoyed eating at the Social House in upscale Grand Indonesia East Mall, and relished the hip café’s take on local Soto Batawi (a hearty soup, made from beef or chicken, usually mixed with coconut milk, noodles, sambal, and served with empeng crackers). Trendy shops such as Alleira Batik and Gaia Tea highlight the best of local merchandise, from fashion to food. The night scene is also big in Jakarta, and one of the best places to hang out when the sun goes down is at the Skye Restaurant on the 57th floor of Menara BCAT near enough to Grand Indonesia East Mall (you will want to maximize your road trips – remember the traffic?) Skye offers gastronomic treats, pulsating beats, as well as a sweeping view of the city’s nightscapes.
Aside from shopping and clubbing, Indonesians enjoy strolling through parks, and other recreational areas. Among the more popular R&R spots are the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, where the country’s landmarks and attractions have been replicated on a smaller scale, as well as Fantasy World in Ancol Dreamland, the local version of Disneyland.
It was at dinner at Bandar Jakarta Restaurant in Ancol Dreamland, however, that I encountered,
firsthand, just how fun-filled Jakartans can be. Our hosts thought it a good idea to celebrate my “birthday” (which it, of course, most certainly was not) after a mouthwatering meal of freshly-cooked seafood. At their go-signal, out came sparklers, a birthday banner, and musicians singing the birthday song in heavily accented English. The joke was on me, and I loved it!
Fun meets fervor
Indeed, a trip to Jakarta may not necessarily life changing. Then again, one person’s fun can be another person’s fervor, so who’s to say exactly where the metamorphic experience lies? All the same, enjoy Jakarta; to the fullest you possibly can!
By ANGIE DUARTE