Jakarta

The last country I visited in southeast Asia was Indonesia. By this point in my travels I wasn’t tired of travelling per se, but I was certainly tired of sightseeing, and the brutal heat didn’t help matters.  As such, you’ll notice from my last posts that they are a lot shorter and sparse in terms of major cultural sights.

Jakarta was my first stop in Indonesia, and I stayed at the Capsule Hotel Old Batavia in the Menteng area which is super central.  As the name suggests, they offer capsule-style hostel beds, but I was staying in a private room which was a lot nicer than typical private rooms in hostels.  The only thing that was slightly off-putting was that Bali was in the midst of a dengue fever outbreak and a few of the guests were recovering from dengue.  To make matters worse, I would consistently have a few mosquitos in the room no matter how many I killed.  I met a traveller who got dengue and it would have been a complete disaster dealing with that as a solo traveller as it drains you of energy to the point that I’d probably have to be hospitalized for a week.  I essentially doused myself in insect repellant for all of my time in Indonesia.

I had frankly heard nothing but bad things about Jakarta before arriving, but I was actually pleasantly surprised about my experience in the city.  Everyone told me that the city was filthy, but with the exception of the northern portion of the Kali Krukut river that runs through the city, Jakarta was totally fine.  The second complaint is traffic which is a reality, and certainly some of the worst that I’ve ever seen, which is then compounded by the fact that Jakarta is a very large city so the distances you need to cover to get between neighbourhoods would be significant enough even without traffic.  That being said, the traffic problem really only applies to taking private cars, and unfortunately westerners who work in Jakarta and frankly most upper and middle class folk rely entirely on cars and maybe even having a driver.  In my time in Jakarta I spent time with two middle-class locals, two western residents, and some business travellers and not one of them had ever taken the sky train or buses in the city.  Alas, the key to efficiently navigating through Jakarta is taking public transportation.  Sky trains don’t run particularly frequently, typically 20 minutes between trains, but 9 times out of 10, you’ll still save time if you take the sky train as opposed to a car.  The buses are fantastic as well because, although they can get very crowded, they have dedicated lanes so they can barrel down the streets.  Another solution is to take motorbike taxis (all of which provide helmets and can be hailed with aps) as they are able to weave in and out of traffic.  In the end, I think Jakarta gets a bum rap, while it isn’t one of my favourite cities in the world, it’s totally fine and has excellent food.

Some of my photos in this post are more mundane that usual, but I selected the shots on purpose so that you get a real sense of this unfairly maligned city.  A sky train stop:

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In a further testament to the smallness of the world, Sameer, a friend from high school coincided with me in Jakarta.  Admittedly, the meeting wasn’t just happenstance, he did shift his business meetings to cross paths with me.  We met up for dinner with two local friends (the ones who have never taken public transport in the city) at a fantastic restaurant called Dapur Babah Elite.  The drinks that you see in the photos below are more like desserts than they are drinks, very similar to the Vietnamese Che, and they were fantastic.  The hot dishes were amazing as well:

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After dinner, Sameer took me off to a hotel bar that specializes in pastries to meet two of his friends.  Not a cheap place, but definitely worth the visit.  A shot in their patio:

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Our night ended on a strange note.  We happened to meet up on a school night during Ramadan, so as you would imagine the night scene was dead.  Sameer asked his friends which places would actually be lively and he received a recommendation of a live music venue on the ground floor of a five star hotel.  We arrive to the place and the hotel is as fancy as you’d expect, with metal detectors and crazy security to get inside. We get to the music venue, and when we got to the door they gave us menus and would not let us inside until we selected and purchased at least one round of drinks at outrageous prices.  Three of us went in on a pitcher and ended up shelling out $20 a piece.  Once inside, the venue did have excellent live music, but it was drowned out by the 6:1 obvious prostitute to patron ratio at the place.  It was horrendously awkward because if you accidentally made eye contact, you’d get bombarded with prostitutes.  To this day I’m utterly confused as to why a five star hotel would operate a brothel out of their main hotel bar.

For dinner the following night, I decided to try out a place near my hotel called Lara Djonggrang.  Alas, despite having pretty good reviews, the food did not meet my expectations:

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A shot from a nearby street after dinner:

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I did my main sightseeing of Jakarta on the following day, taking the sky train up to Taman Fatahillah square at the northern end of the city.  As I’m sure that you can predict by now, I took the sky train up there:

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The square itself was nice, and they rent out these colourful bikes for kids to ride around the square:

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The only part of Jakarta that was exceptionally dirty was the Kali Krujut river at this point in the city.  It was the most disgusting river smell that I’ve encountered in my life, it honestly smells like a filthy toilet anywhere within half a block of the river.  Unfortunately, some of the nicer buildings in the city are right next to the river; fortunately the same river smells ok (and I even saw kids swimming in it) by the time you get downtown.

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The awesome colonial architecture right next to the river:

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I took a bus down to meet up with Sameer’s friend for dinner.  I won’t lie, the bus system gets really crowded, but I got a seat within 10 minutes and the ride down was far more efficient than literally paying 100 x more money to take a private car down.

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I’ll leave you with shots from my last dinner in Jakarta:

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