Asia 2013 Indonesia

Dear Jakarta, You’re Kind of Awesome!

I couldn’t breathe, for every time I did, I let out a horrid cough. The air was so rancid. So pollution filled, choked by all the endless stream of cars passing by. Where was this CouchSurfing host of mine? He said 15 minutes!

That was my first impression of Jakarta, the bustling capital of Indonesia, where everyone else I’d met left and right throughout the vibrant archipelago had warned me…”there’s nothing to do in Jakarta…just traffic, heat and mosquitoes.” I was determined to give it a chance, having just flown in on Lion Air, only 90 minutes late this time (as opposed to my last domestic flight in Indonesia where AirAsia had me 4 and a half hours late).

Sunset from a Plane
Sunset, as seen from my flight to Jakarta

Finally, my host arrived, having been stuck in Jakarta’s infamous traffic (an experience I would share a few days later) and before I knew it we were sharing a lovely traditional Javanese dinner. This was a quieter part of town, where my host lived, in the Southeast section of the city. Maybe there was more to Jakarta than everyone said there was…

Javanese Food
Delicious Javanese street food!

By day, I went off to explore on my own and actually found getting around Jakarta to be pretty easy. From where I was staying I could catch a local bus (called Mini Metro, which was 3,000 IDR or (US$.0.30) to Blok M Square, where I could hook into the generally fantastic TransJakarta bus system (3,500 IDR (or US$0.35), a bus rapid transit system where you pay in advance and wait in air-conditioned bus stations. The buses have their own dedicated bus lanes too so they beat that infamous Jakarta traffic…well, most of the time.

Traffic in Jakarta
Jakarta’s infamous traffic

I found my way to Kota, the historic old city, and while the old colonial buildings are nice and all, I was much more interested in the harbor, a short walk from the terminus of Koridor 1 on the good old TJ (it’s ok if I call it TJ, right?). Here was something you don’t see so often. An actual working harbor, a delicate ballet of cranes, forklifts, and nearly everything you can possible imagine being put on or pulled off ships. Nylon chips. Various chemicals. Fish. Brand new cars (that’s right, I said cars). Crates were everywhere (and sometimes, spilling everywhere). And you know what? It was fascinating!

Cars Loaded Onto Ships
A car is hoisted onto a ship at Jakarta’s old port
Cargo Loading
A forklift hoists cargo onto a waiting truck at Jakarta’s old port
Wooden boats docked at Jakarta’s old port

By night, my host showed me around some of the more atmospheric parts of the city. The fancy neighborhoods where the U.S. Ambassador lives (a rather extravagant looking bunker, which is apparently host to a number of parties), a cool park with sculptures from the different ASEAN nations (Association of SouthEast Asian Nations), art galleries and even a salsa-dancing club!

Late Traffic in Jakarta
Central Jakarta in the Evening
Photo Credit

The side streets we perused were a world away from the sheer madness of the main roads. Here was high society. Here was the school that Barack Obama attended when he was young (which, for the record, is a public school, not an Islamic school as some in the media had reported). Here was a cool city with a definite vibe. It was a view I never would have found through a guidebook.

Obama's School
A plaque marking the school that Barack Obama attended during his childhood in Jakarta

I became absorbed with wandering, my favorite part of exploring a new city. I took TJ to one of those ubiquitous malls that are so popular throughout Southeast Asia for some lunch before setting off on foot, passing the phallic-like National Monument, the U.S. Embassy (which could easily be confused for a military base and where I was yelled at for taking this photo of some graffiti on an elevated railroad bridge, seen below…) and a really cool Cathedral. Wasn’t Indonesia supposed to be a Muslim country?

Graffiti and Motorbikes
Graffiti on an elevated roadway. I actually got yelled at for taking this photo as it was right next to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta!

It was only when I got that text from my host about where to meet for dinner that I braved the TJ at rush hour. It was only 2 stops to Harmoni Sentral, where I could get back on the proper Koridor. Except, of course, I should get on the wrong bus that would skip Harmoni entirely and end up in the worst traffic jam I have ever seen. A disabled vehicle in one lane caused cars to dive right into that dedicated Busway, rendering it useless. All said and done, it took me 90 minutes to move what was effectively 2km (1.2 miles)! But I finally made it.

The striking Jakarta Cathedral

“You walked to where?!,” was the disbelief I was greeted with when I reported my day. Yes, Indonesians don’t tend to walk all that much. But I like it. I had gained a certain appreciation for the city through my explorations. Yes, there was bad traffic…really bad traffic. But if you avoid rush hour, you’re gonna be ok. And yes, it was warm, but not really any worse than anywhere else in Indonesia I had been. As for the mosquitoes? I didn’t get a single bite the entire time I was there!

There’s a lot of Jakarta-hatred out there, but, as I learned, if you look at it with open eyes, you might just be surprised at what you find…


By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

11 replies on “Dear Jakarta, You’re Kind of Awesome!”

When I was there, I stayed near Harmoni Sentral so it was pretty easy to walk around towards MONAS and its surrounding attractions. And then there’s a Carrefour near the station, which has a small food court inside, so not a bad area at all, IMO, for a quick getaway in Jakarta.

I love Port of Sunda Kelapa too, the port in that Kota Tua area. Been uploading some photos of the port on my Instagram, under “A Jaunt in Jakarta” series 🙂

Btw, that’s one cool shot of sunset you’ve got up there!

I found the port to be FASCINATING, primarily because back home in the U.S., you could never just wander right into a functional port to check out what’s going on. I almost paid no attention to those nifty looking colonial-era buildings in the Kota. I’ll have to check out your Instagram photos! And walk? In Jakarta? Did people think you were crazy too?

And thanks! I would have never experienced that sunset if Lion Air hadn’t delayed my flight, so, thanks Lion Air!

Hi Aaron, a nice report for a short time live in Jakarta 🙂

Please let me know if you would like to explore it again. I lived in Bekasi, a suburban city near Jakarta.

August is the best moment to explore Jakarta, mostly on Kampung-kampung (traditional villages) surrounding Jakarta because most of us host so many traditional game celebrating our independence day.

Thanks Vavai! I really loved Indonesia so I will definitely be back! I was there in August and had a really wonderful experience, though I spent Independence Day on a train between Surabaya and Yogyakarta! I’ll get in touch with you if I need tips next time I’m in Indonesia!

It probably helps that I’d heard so many negative things about Jakarta before I got there. I went in with relatively low expectations and the city exceeded those expectations!

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