City resident Unggul Hermanto explains why you’ll either love or hate the mall-centric capital
Eight million people inhabit the capital of Indonesia, yet it’s rare to see as many as a hundred of them outdoors at the same time. Instead, armies of their cars create havoc on the city’s streets. Jakartans don’t like to use their feet – at least, not outside. They prefer to meander around the ubiquitous air-conditioned malls, hundreds of thousands of Jakartan consumers supporting the country’s economy. While the rest of the world reels from the recession, Jakarta has welcomed the opening of Harvey Nichols and Indonesia’s fifth Louis Vuitton boutique (the biggest in the country to date).
Yet the capital was deemed the second worst place in the world for expats to work by an ORC Worldwide survey. Admittedly, the traffic is terrible – and the city is often paralysed come rush hour – but the fact that people can’t get home straight after work means white-collar workers, most of whom live in the suburbs, have developed a post-work habit of shopping, eating and drinking while waiting for the traffic to subside.
Come the weekend, the malls are still full, providing an air-conditioned playground for all the family. At a glance, present-day Jakarta looks as though it’s made of concrete, steel and sin. It’s ugly and sexy in equal measure – certainly not a place for sightseeing. Historical museums are legion, but only a handful are visitor-friendly. And while any Jakartan can point you to two of the city’s major theme parks, none will ever be an international destination. Designer clubs and lounges complement their million-dollar decor with rows of Ferraris parked outside, while in the underground bars, punk, rock, electronica and many other scenes keep hipsters happy in the knowledge that they’re doing their part to deconstruct the mainstream.
Outside the glittery city centre, the middle-class Jakartans celebrate life differently. Family and community are key: martini brunches are replaced with a round of thick black coffees served in transparent glasses, and wine-tasting evenings are substituted with arisan (social gatherings involving money and lottery). Here, the closest they come to hedonism is going to a dance performance or a dangdut (traditional Indonesian music) concert. For many, city-centre life is as real as the life portrayed in sinetron (Indonesian soaps) that they religiously watch on TV.
Often referred to as The Big Durian, Jakarta carries a distinctive smell of kretek (clove cigarettes). For some, it’s pleasant; for others, it’s repulsive. When it comes to the capital of Indonesia, there’s no middle ground.
Getting There Singapore Airlines flies direct from Dubai to Jakarta daily, with prices from Dhs2,200 (including taxes). See www.singaporeair.com
‘A sweaty, congested sprawl of a city, Jakarta tends to be a place most travellers pass through on their way to the archipelago’s more exotic destinations. But anyone with a bit of time and patience on their side will find the capital to be a colourful, and endearingly crazy patchwork of life. While the city doesn’t boast any ‘sights’ as such, it’s brimming with fantastic places to eat – from great street food to some of the best high-end restaurants in the region – and the nightlife scene is the best-kept secret in South-East Asia.’ Oliver Robinson, former associate editor, Time Out Jakarta
Population 14.2 million (core city 9.4 million)
Area 1,360sq km
Where is it? At the mouth of the Ciliwung River on Jakarta Bay, on the north-west coast of Java island.
Climate Hot and humid with short, heavy bursts of rain all year (it rains almost daily from late October to May).
Ethnic mix The city is home to Javanese, Chinese-Indonesian and others from the Indonesian archipelago.
Major sights Sunda Kelapa (old port), Kota (old Jakarta), Presidential Palace, Istiqlal Mosque, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Ancol Dream Park, Pasar Ikan (fish market), Monas (National Monument), Museum Nasional.
Insiders’ tips Don’t miss Salihara art complex in Ragunan, the late-night street food vendors in Menteng, or the art galleries in Cikini.
Where’s the buzz? Try Loewy in Mega Kuningan, or the bars in Kemang, Plaza.
Independence The Netherlands recognised Indonesian independence in 1949, after four years of guerrilla warfare.
Also known as The Big Durian (a fruit famed for its pungent smell and acquired taste).
Number of rivers flowing through the city 13
Recent protests In 1998, there were widespread protests and rioting to topple President Suharto. Around 1,200 people were killed.
Number of people made homeless during floods in 2007 340,000
Number of people dead or missing in Indonesia after the 2004 Tsunami More than 220,000
Number of bajaj (three-wheeled vehicles) in Jakarta and its surrounds Approximately 14,000
Local flavours Gado-gado (a salad with peanut sauce), soto (clear soup with slices of beef, veal or chicken), sate (skewered meat served with soy or peanut sauce), sop kaki (soup made from beef or goat shank), sop buntut (oxtail soup), sambal terasi (hot dried fish or shrimp paste), and bakmie Goreng (Chinese-style fried noodles).