By Kathleen Pokrud
My first visit to Jakarta was 20 years ago. For a period of two years, I travelled there every other month for business. My vivid remembrance of the city was the traffic. As a vast country, Indonesia has so much to offer to travellers, early morning volcano trekking in Bali and Minangkabau traditional heritage in West Sumatra are some exotic experiences around the country. I recently had the opportunity to visit Jakarta and was impressed with how the city has changed over the years.
Usually, when people think of visiting Indonesia, Bali comes to mind. However, the commercial city of Indonesia, Jakarta, is alternatively a good choice, especially if you are already in Java province. Before the Covid pandemic, the city was receiving 2.5 million visitors annually, but only 500,000 in 2022. Jakarta strives to increase the number to 1 million in the coming year.
Jakarta was built 400 years ago as a small Dutch colonial port. It was called “Batavia” in the old days under the Dutch colonial occupation. In 1945, the city was named the nation’s capital and the biggest city in Indonesia; then, in 2019 the President of Indonesia planned to move capital city to central part of Indonesia called Nusantara in Kalimantan Island. However the movement of the capital city is still in the process until now. Jakarta is home to 11 million people. The city administration launched the “Jakarta City of Collaboration” slogan last year to invite all parties to join in urban development.
As in many cities around the world, there are interesting places where visitors can explore “Urban Tourism”. Local transportation in Jakarta has significantly improved over the past few years. The Mass Transit Railway MRT system was built seven years ago, and now links the central part of the city to the south and the route from central city to the north part of Jakarta is still under construction but will be available soon. The bus system in Jakarta has radically improved and integrated into the overall transportation system such as the efficient and clean Transjakarta buses. The city has ambitions to support the usage of more electric cars and buses.
When exploring the city, some cultural spots not to be missed are the National Monument and the National Museum. The National Monument is a 132 m obelisk in the centre of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta; built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian independence. The National Museum provides visitors an insight into Indonesia’s long history in cultural heritage. Officially opened in 1868, the Museum came to be popularly known as Gedung Gajah (The House of Elephant), named after the bronze elephant statue in the front yard, which was a donation from King Chulalongkorn The Great (Rama V) of Thailand in 1871.
Another popular tourist spot is a stroll around the Old Town “Kota Tua”, where the courtyard square with some Dutch colonial buildings still stand. Many Dutch colonial-style structures are now transformed into art galleries, cafes and museums. The Town Hall in the Dutch era is centrally displayed in the main square, with some colourful vintage bicycles available for visitors to tour around the distinguished landmarks
As Jakarta is a historical trading port, a visit to the Maritime Museum offers visitors a glimpse of Indonesia’s maritime history. The museum was inaugurated inside the former Dutch East India Company warehouses where spices were stored. The Maritime Museum was officially opened in 1997.
Although the majority of the population in Indonesia are Muslims, the country strongly promotes religious tolerance. One prime example is the Jakarta Cathedral which is located opposite The Istiqlal Mosque. To promote living harmony, the two impressive buildings are linked by an underground tunnel called message tunnel. Artwork will be added to promote tolerance, national identity and culture to the public.
One of the latest most “Instagrammable” spots in Jakarta is the Phinisi Pedestrian Bridge, Karet, Central Jakarta. This iconic bridge is a modern pedestrian walkway with a traditional Phinisi boat design and has bike-friendly lanes. The combination of green, blue, red and orange lights from the pedestrian bridge adorns the area at night.
Jakarta boasts of having the highest number of shopping malls concentrated in one city around the world, with a total number of 385. One of the more popular ones is Neo Soho which houses an aquarium. Jakarta Aquarium & Safari is the largest indoor living planet in Indonesia. In about a hectare conservation area, there are aquatic and non-aquatic animals with more than 3,500 species. Visitors can touch and feed them. Sarinah is the oldest shopping mall in Jakarta. With its new renovation and slogan as “window of Indonesia” visitors can find Indonesian souvenirs from different parts of Indonesia.
Batik is the pride of Indonesia and visitors should pick up some batik clothing as souvenirs to remind them of Indonesia. One of popular Batik Shops to be visited while visiting Jakarta is Batik Gobang, a shop that dedicated to sell souvenirs from Betawi (an oldest tribe in Jakarta). For real hand-made batik, it takes at least one month to learn the patterns and basic skills, and more than one to two years to become proficient.
With its long history, Indonesian cuisine is worth exploring for foodies. As Indonesian restaurants are not so popular in many Asian cities, the best place to explore authentic Indonesian cuisine will be Jakarta. Some authentic restaurants are located in colonial buildings with beautiful art displays.
As the world is recovering from the Covid pandemic and “Revenge Tourism” is on the rise, for anyone looking for a city adventure, Jakarta is a good choice as a tourist destination for all ages. As in many Asian cities, visitors will feel the warm Indonesian hospitality.