- Street food and skyscrapers
- City Life
- Hustle, bustle and hurly-burly
One of the largest, most populous, and busiest cities in the world, Jakarta is southeast Asia’s definitive megalopolis, but buried beneath the seemingly chaotic urban splash, you’ll find traces of a rich colonial past and a progressive dynamic present.
Like its namesake, ‘the Big Durian’, Jakarta is larger than you’d think, pungently aromatic, and, once you’ve got used to its dramatic flavour, unexpectedly addictive. Known as Batavia under Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia’s capital retains architectural traces of its history as the administrative centre of the East Indies and culinary relics abound in its cafés and restaurants. Today, however, Jakarta is vigorously modern outpost with a thrumming nightlife, a robust shopping scene and an eye for art and design. Located on the east coast of Java, this non-stop traffic-clogged city makes a striking contrast to the rugged tropicana of the rest of the island.
Much of Jakarta’s Dutch colonial legacy was destroyed with the demolition of Old Batavia in the early 19th century. Luckily for historians, the old town square, heart of Batavia’s administrative centre and witness to everything from blood-spattered executions to vibrant city fairs, has been carefully preserved. Now, Taman Fatahillah, as it has been renamed, is a great place to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon exploring Jakarta’s colonial yesteryear. If you’re feeling peckish after your afternoon’s architectural ogling, pop into the legendary Café Batavia, an art deco café-bistro which oozes old Hollywood glamour.
- Stick to the Blue Bird taxis, distinguishable by the blue paintwork and bird logo. Major shopping centres and buildings all have ranks, and flagging one down on a main road rarely poses a problem. They’re surprisingly affordable too – it’s the traffic that’s the turn-off.
- Tipping culture
- Many hotels add a 21 per cent service charge and government tax to bills. 10 per cent is the norm where service isn’t included. While tipping taxi drivers is not obligatory, you can round up your fare to the nearest Rp 5,000.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Most businesses are open from the usual 9–5pm, and banks from 8.30am to 4pm. Both close on weekends. Shopping centres in Jakarta tend to close between 9 and 10pm, but 24-hour cafés can be found fairly easily.
- Packing tips
- The Jakarta in-crowd dresses as snazzily as the city’s hot and humid climate will allow, so pack some eye-catching outfits, especially if you plan to sample the nightlife. Indonesia is largely a Muslim country, however, so dress sharp but not scanty.
- Recommended reads
- For an intelligent, fast-paced tale of an ex-pat Brit immersed in post-colonial paranoia and murky dealings in the Javanese capital, try Jakarta Shadows by Alan Brayne.
- Jakarta’s cuisine is a melting pot of culinary influences, from Dutch to Chinese. The Javanese typically favour chicken and fish dishes with white rice (nasi putih) as a staple. Taste-wise, Javanese foods lean towards the sweet side, with coconut milk a favoured ingredient, although this is less apparent in Jakarta and East Java, where chilli dishes are more prevalent. As the region is predominantly Muslim, there’s no shortage of halal food. If you’re hankering after some local specialities, the food courts in major shopping centres such as Plaza Senayan (www.plaza-senayan.com) offer a wide variety of affordable and hygienic local cuisine.
- Indonesian Rupiah (Rp); £1 is around Rp 19,000.
- Time zone
- GMT +7
- Dialling codes
- Country code: +62; city code: (0)21.
- Do go/don't go
- Thanks to the Indonesian archipelago’s equatorial position, Jakarta is hot and humid all year round, although the November to April is the wettest period (January especially). For a drier visit, go between June and September.