Welcome to Jakarta!
Whether you’re here for business or vacation, Jakarta is truly a city full of vigor, surprises and exciting things. It has even gained the reputation as one of the most underrated city in Asia, if not the world.
As Indonesia’s main government and business hub, Jakarta is rarely viewed as a tourist destination, although with its historical sites and authentic cultural heritage, there are actually a lot to explore. To wit, the Jakarta authority has recently explored the opportunity to develop the city’s reputation as a service and tourism city. We are seeing endless new developments of tourism infrastructures, entertainment centers, and world-class hotels and restaurants, constantly growing in numbers in Jakarta.
One of the biggest surprise you’ll find in Jakarta is that once you get past the persistent taxi drivers hustling their services at the airport, you will find that the people are among the most friendly, hospitable, and helpful people you’ll find on the planet! You can say “Halo apa kabar?” (Hello how are you?) and you will always get a big smile. With a reputation as the country’s cultural melting point, you are guaranteed to meet all sorts of character of people.
Despite of the heavy traffic and pollution, the city is filled with exciting nightlife, wide variety of shopping centers and a number of tourist attractions, made particularly unique thanks to the city’s long history and multiple cultural acculturation that developed over the past four centuries.
Some of the must visit historical sites in Jakarta includes The National Museum (Monas), The Old City (Kota Tua) area, Jakarta History Museum (formerly known as Museum Fatahillah), Gedung Joang 45, The National Gallery, and some other sites that are particularly special because of the building they are in, which were mostly built during the dutch colonization era.
For cultural tourist attractions, head to Taman Ismail Marzuki, the Istiqlal Mosque, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (TMII), and The Jakarta Arts Theatre (GKJ)*. While for travelers looking for more outdoor activities, do visit Ragunan Zoo’s Primate Centre–one of the largest in the region–, The Mangrove Ecotourism Park, the Thousand Islands (Kepulauan Seribu) and Taman Impian Jaya Ancol.
*accessible with event admission, do check for GKJ’s calendar of events
Kota Tua (Old Batavia)
Kota Tua or Old Batavia lies in a 1.3 square kilometers area across North and West Jakarta, covering Pinangsia, Taman Sari and Roa Malacca. As the city’s main area at the early years of Batavia (the old name for Jakarta), it is an area rich with history and strong presence of both Dutch and Chinese culture.
Kota Tua presents a unique atmosphere of the old world, with its dutch-built buildings turned museum and walkable pebble roads. Other than the museums, Kota Tua is also the point of access to other attractions like the Nautical Museum (Museum Bahari), the Sunda Kelapa port, and some shopping centers like the ITC Mangga Dua and Pasar Pagi which are within minutes away from Kota Tua.
From Kota Tua, you can also head to Taman Impian Jaya Ancol (or Ancol for short) for a more playful & family friendly atmosphere. Established in 1966, Ancol Bay City or also known as Ancol Dreamland is the largest outdoor recreation complex in Indonesia. It consists of, among others: golf course, theme park, hotels, nightclubs, water park, and restaurants. It is located at the north tip of Jakarta on a reclaimed land at the Bay of Jakarta.
It is safe to say that there will be no shortage of malls for everyone in Jakarta for a while. Love them or hate them; there is no way of escaping it! With an array of malls or shopping centers encompassing those with the super chic and high end exclusive brand boutiques, to the elbow bumping flea market type malls, you name it, Jakarta has it. It can be dreadful to visit on the weekend (especially on Satuday nights!), but you’re not in Jakarta until you’ve spent your whole day in one 🙂
Jakarta’s expats usually enjoy visiting the various malls not only to find the latest fashion trends; but to spend hours on hours walking around, eating world-class international food, bowling, getting massages, going to the movies and even karaoke all in the same place. Describing the malls in Jakarta as big would be an understatement; most of the major malls does not only offer multiple floors of stores, restaurants but also bars, playgrounds for kids, entertainment venues, fitness centers and even medical centers.
Most of the shopping malls carry the same internationally known stores with some minor exceptions here and there. ITC shopping centers carry anything and everything from imported goods and bootlegged DVDs and computer programs to gadgets, phones, and computers for every budget.
Jakarta has some of the most vibrant and current nightlife, with the constantly new ones popping up all over the city, the bars and clubs considered as the place to see and be seen. Some of the hippest clubs in Jakarta like Dragonfly, Immigrant, Diagonale Club are patronized by a mix of models, artists, and business people. It is very easy to make new friends in these clubs as the ambient bubbly, the music loud and the lighting is very friendly. Go with a bunch of friends, book a table, and order by the bottle, and you’ll be guaranteed a great time!
It is very easy to find great food in Jakarta. From fine dining, casual bistros to exotic cuisine, you will find food from most parts of the world. But one thing not to be missed when you’re in Jakarta is the street food! As you step out of the door, it is almost impossible to miss a street food vendor, at any time of the day and at any part of the city. We recommend the staple street food like Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Chicken or Goat Satay, Bubur Ayam (rice porridge with chicken), and Soto Betawi.
Essential Street Food
Soto is actually one of the most common type of food found in many Indonesian region; Soto Kudus from the city of Kudus in central Java, Soto Bandung, Soto Madura, and of course, Soto Betawi of Jakarta. These soto usually consists of a savory and flavorful broth and either beef, chicken, or goat meat, and some condiments of sambal, pickles, and crackers or kerupuk. The good news is that you can get a good version of any of these Indonesian food, in Jakarta.
There are also the Warteg or Warung Tegal, a Jakarta style ‘fast food’ which you can find on any roadside of Jakarta. Imagine a small stall with a display of pre-cooked homey food, which you point and add to your plate of nasi or rice, to be eaten together as a meal. These wartegs are mostly really cheap and good too. You do need to be very careful for their hygiene though, so be sure to ask around for the reputation before you go into one.
For a more light snack, do try the selection of Jakarta sweet cakes and snacks like Kue Ape, a Jakarta style pancake made from rice flour and coconut’s milk, or Kue Cubit, which translates as ‘Pinch Cake’ and the one thing that we think is closest to a western style pancake. These type of food are usually cooked in front of you so that’s a good thing if you want to be on the safe side!
Living in Jakarta
For expatriates particularly, Jakarta has got a lot to offer. Luxurious shopping malls, fine dining restaurants, hip bars and night clubs are always within an arm’s length. With an expat’s salary, you can get relatively high standard of living with the low living costs in Jakarta; even if you are getting paid slightly less here than back home. One of the great perks of living in Indonesia is also how affordable it is to hire helpers for your domestic works or even drivers. Renting a house as opposed to apartments is also not necessarily more expensive than apartments too. In fact, the Global Property Guide recently listed Jakarta as one of the top 20 destinations to emigrate for young people.
Many guides you’ll see about Jakarta focuses a lot on how dangerous it is and how everyone seemed to have a bad experience, of one sort or another. Yes it is a third world country—which is easy to forget with all the glitzy new buildings popping up everywhere— yes there is corruption, and yes there are fairly decently skilled pickpockets, and guess what? Most big metropolitan cities in the world will have1 or 2 of these problems. Don’t worry, living in Jakarta is not that scary. That’s why we have these tips to get you prepared.
Our Tips on Living in Jakarta
Beat the traffic in Jakarta. Remember to always position yourself on the good side of the street when you try to get a taxi. If you want to go to a building that is on the right side of the road, you should always take the taxi on the right side of the road. In other cities with less problematic traffic jam, it may not be that important, but in Jakarta it is essential because of what we call the “putar balik” (U-turn).
Cars can rarely just turn on the right to go to a building. They frequently have to make a u-turn far away down the road to go on the other side of the road. This is the “putar balik” and it explains why you have to position yourself correctly when taking a taxi. You’ll never know how long a small “putar balik” can be, which can be a few kilometres long. In a rush hour traffic, this could add up to an hour of your travel time.
Another tip to beat the traffic is to utilize your gadget with reliable apps like Google Maps, Waze or the locally sourced www.lewatmana.com for live traffic updates.
Plan and research carefully for your accommodation option. Depending on your budget and the size of your family, there are a lot of factors to consider. If you are living alone or have a small family, your best bet would probably be is to rent an apartment. There are quite the selections and most offer facilities like swimming pool, tennis courts and a gym. Apartment also means you don’t have to deal with the Jakarta floodings.
For bigger families, especially those with pets, renting or even buying a house is definitely something worth considering if you plan to live for longer period. You will obviously have more space and privacy, but it is important to remember that being in the tropics, means being exposed to ‘intruders’ like lizards, cockroaches ants (these creatures naturally have easy access to houses), and last but not least: mosquitoes, which is on another level of ‘annoying’ for those living in houses, especially at night time.
Go for the street food. In fact, a huge majority of Indonesian never set foot in a restaurant, and even a meal in a Rumah Makan (basic eatery) is not always common. However, eating in street stalls can be considered almost as common as eating at home simply because how ridiculously cheap it can be.
Street food is one of the most authentic Indonesian experience you can have in Jakarta, and with so many places to choose from, it is also the easiest way to integrate for expats and practice your Bahasa Indonesia. You will sit elbow to elbow with other customers and since expats are not always a common sight on the streets, you won’t have any difficulties to engage in some chitchat. Eating in the street is also quite lively: You often have some singers or musicians trying to make a few rupiah as well as street vendors approaching you. It is definitely a vibe like no other.
The street food available in Jakarta mainly consists of The Kaki Lima or the small wheeled carts that usually only offer a few kind of dishes: Bakso (meatball), soto (soup), ketoprak (rice cakes, tofu, sprouts drizzled with sweet peanut sauce) snacks like Pisang Goreng (fried banana), fresh juices, and countless others. The portions are small service is quick since the food has mostly been prepared. It’s extremely cheap, ranging from Rp. 3000 to 10,000, you will be tempted to sample everything. In some cases, you might have to pay a few thousands rupiah more if you look like an expat, but consider it as a tip!
Never bribe a policeman. If didn’t do anything wrong but get pulled over but, just stay calm and don’t worry. some police man would try to play the intimidation game by giving you a little warning and make you wait a maximum of 10 minutes; but that’s it. Never be tempted to bribe and try to nicely reason with them that you’re not doing anything wrong. If you did do something wrong, best if you ask for a ticket and pay for the fine (done through a bank).
Visit Kemang. With great selection of restaurants, cafes, bars, and boutiques, Kemang is very popular amongst expats and has turned into one of the busiest areas in Jakarta, especially at night. On weekends, Kemang turns into a gathering place for the young and executives of Jakarta from various circles to hangout.
With the bars & restaurants sometimes close together, this is the area where you can go bar hopping with no need to change you car parking. Park your car or hop off a taxi in one place and you can go walk from bar to another in the Kemang street.
Kemang is also where you can find a lot of good quality hair salon and spas, antique shops, international groceries, and lots of others. Check out or guides for more!
Malls to malls. Stick to mainly, but not exclusively, the medium to upper-scale malls for shopping as they have pretty decent security, and are more likely to be fair. If you want to venture to lessor known, or backpackers’ touristy areas, then do not wear any fancy or expensive jewelry or clothes, as that is a sure fire way to attract thieves in any country.
That being said, the Ambassador Mall is a great place for some serious bargain hunting, Senayan City and Pondok Indah Mall are the top malls in Jakarta where you can find authentic branded bags and shoes.
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