Jakarta Stories and Tips


Monas Photo, Jakarta, Indonesia

Indonesia is not gifted with the most pretty capital in the world. It is one of the largest cities in the world with its 8 million inhabitants. Officialy, Jakarta is not a city, but forms a province named Propinsi Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta (or the Province of the Special Capital Region of Jakarta) consisting of 5 cities and 1 regency. It suffers from the problems of many big cities, pollution, dangerous traffic, theft, riots, uncontrolled urban planning, etc making it a difficult town to appreciate, also due to the lack of major attractions.

Nevertheless, people should come here at least one day like we did. We stayed in the much smaller nearby hill town of Bogor, nicer and cooler than the huge city. Locals in Bogor warned us that Jakarta is a very dangerous city, but this is relative. It will probably be the most dangerous city in Indonesia, but compared to any major American or European city, crime in Jakarta is close to non-existing. The only place where we didn't feel completely at ease, was at the American Embassy, looking more like a fortress under siege. Bogor has got plenty of trains going straight to Jakarta's central Gambir station, costing 1500-6000Rp (15-60¢) and taking 20-40min. You should take an "Ekonomi" class train at least one way: there are many strange birds on the train, including people selling anything.

Just a little west of the Gambir train station is one of Jakarta's main attractions, Medan Merdeka or Freedom Square. Right in the centre of this square, almost 1000 square meter, is the Monas or National Monument (Monumen Nasional in Indonesian). This huge 137m high tower, dubbed Sukarno's last erection, is topped with a gilded flame-like structure. There is a lift going up for a good view on the square (5000Rp). Just next to the square is the white Istiqlal Mosque, built in 1984. It is the biggest mosque in South-East Asia. The square lies in the city of Jakarta Pusat (Central Jakarta), the modern centre of the city.

Other major attractions are situated in the city of Jakarta Utara (North Jakarta). Here is Kota, the centre of the old city of Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies. This nice area is still full of old colonial buildings, like the Jakarta History Museum, the former Batavia City Hall. This museum has exhibits on the long history of Jakarta, mainly on its colonial history when the Portuguese, Dutch and English were controlling the city. Kota is located 6km north of Merdeka Square, but the Kota train station is located in the area. You can take a train to Bogor and Bandung, but they are less frequent than in Gambir station. 1km to the north of old Batavia lies the old Jakarta port of Sunda Kelapa, still in use today. Many vessels are nicely painted Makassar schooners, large wooden sailing boats, bringing in wood from other Indonesian islands. You can take a water taxi for a closer look at the ships.

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