Jakarta, the Big Durian : le city sans curfew

01.12.16 04:24 PM By Putri

If New York has its cute fruity nickname; the Big Apple, so does my beloved hometown Jakarta, which is known as the Big Durian. No one really sure how Jakarta got its fruity nickname. Is it because of the strongly-odoured fruit native to the region? or is it because not everyone can appreciate the smell of Durian, just like not everyone can enjoy Jakarta?

Jakarta is the melting point of the thousands of islands in Indonesia, it is packed with diversity. I love Jakarta to the core, no matter what rotten truths have been said about the city. Jakarta has surpassed its status as a cosmopolitan long time ago and it grew rapidly into a megapolitan city. It’s an ever changing place with insatiable hunger for developments. One thing I have learned is that megapolitan is not for everybody, it’s either you love it or you hate it. I have met more people who share the later emotion about the city, and to be honest, I can understand them.

It has been about 2 years since the last time I visit my stinky hometown so I was so pumped to take 2 short weeks to go back and re-experience the city sans curfew. There has been a lot of significant changes in 2 years, its incredible and exciting at the same time! 

I have never personally advised anyone to take Jakarta as a travel destination, however, for those of you who for odd reasons happen to be visiting Jakarta for a short while, here I share you few things I did during my short visit last month that might give you some ideas of what to do in Jakarta.

Get yourself connected.
If you want to have a relaxing trip, secluded, and get disconnected from the world, you are definitely in the wrong place. In Jakarta you want need to be connected. There are too much instagramable places/events to share, plus there are plethora of apps that can make your stay in the city much easier and cheaper such as Gojek, the motorcycle version of Uber, Uber itself (we all know what Uber is, don't we?), and Grab, the leading ride-hailing service in South East Asia. 

Plus, having access to online entertainment (or any kind of entertainment, really) is crucial while enduring the legendary traffic in Jakarta. Seriously, if you want to keep your sanity, don't drive here. Take a taxi and sit back relax while trying to keep calm during the 2 hours drive on 30 km/h. 

Reckless daredevils who cross the street wherever they want are one of the million reasons known as the culprit of Jakarta's legendary traffic
Compare to Europe and North America, internet connection is dirt cheap here so if your phone is jailbroken, go get yourself a 10$ local sim card that gives you 10G of 3G data and plenty minutes for calling at any mall.

PS: 4G package is a trap since 4G coverage in Jakarta or any other region in Indonesia is too low (or even inexistent) to function properly. Stay with the 3G package. I bought a 30 Gigabyte package of 4G for 20$ thinking that I could stream movies while trapped in traffic, but I was a fool. The 4G doesn't even work! The package almost felt like a scam. So stay with 3G, it works very well. 

Pamper yourself like a royal.
It takes me more than 26 hours of flight plus transit time to get my butt here, so it is only logical that the first thing I do on the next day after I landed is always getting traditional massage and spa. Spas and traditional massages are one of the city’s fortés. The local loves to pamper themselves from time to time (minimum once a month, especially after payday). One hour of full body massage can range between 3$ to 150$, depends on where you get it. A good body massage and a session of relaxing at a spa definitely help you to get rid of that annoying jet-shagged syndrome.

Eat street food.
The next forté of the city is definitely its wide range of street food. If you are concern about hygiene, you don't have to worry, there are plenty of food court at the malls that specifically made to offer you a street food-like atmosphere complete with the carts or however the real street vendor normally look like, but with a better sense of hygiene. My favorite (and happens to be one of the biggest too) street food eatery concept venues are run by Eat & Eat. Okay, at this point you might say eating street food at a mall is kind of cheating, but then again if you ever experienced the travelers' diarrhea, you'd understand and appreciate the option I gave you. Plus, Eat & Eat was awarded by the World Streetfood Congress as the best street food eatery concept in 2013, so it is a must-visit venue when you are in Jakarta (and some other big cities). 

PS: still, keep a bottle of Tums or Pepto in your bag, just in case. 

Crunchy deep fried fish with rice, greens, sambal (chili salsa), and a glass of fresh coconut water. Finggahlickin' gewd!

Eat at upscale eateries.
Jakarta has a huge range of upscale eateries that will cater not only your appetite but also your comfort (and most of the time your pride, if you are an avid socialité). Book a table at one of rooftop restaurants in Jakarta and enjoy the city skyline from above at night. Jakarta at night has its own mesmerizing charms. I must say, the city is most lovable at night, especially if you are nocturnal like I am.

At the Edge Sky bar, Kemang

Experience the night life.
If you like nightlife, you are downright at the right place! There are a plethora of places that you can go, from reggae style to tobacco lounge, from homey Irish pub to trance discotheques, you name it, we have it here in the Big Durian. Waterhole for locals and expats are open till late and often it closes only when the sun is about to rise. There are some infamous nightlife places that open 24 hours, you can come in on Friday evening and only got out on Saturday morning of the following week without even knowing!

I recommend the SCBD area in central Jakarta for night time hotspots and Kemang area for a more relaxing day or a night out.  
Rooftop view from Skye Bar, Menara BCA. The highest bistro by day, lounge by night in Jakarta. 

Check out Jakarta old town (Old Batavia).
Visiting museum is an effective way to know and understand a culture. The fun part of visiting museums at the Old town is the museums located one after another. You can do museums hop by taking the Transjakarta bus. My favorite museum is the Puppet museum. It shows not only the classic and cultural puppet (Wayang) but also the characters ofSi Unyil, Indonesian version of Sesame Street (sort of). 

Classic characters of Indonesian traditional puppets. 

Have a lunch or simply take a break from the scorching sun at Cafe Batavia is a must when you are the Old Town. This cafe is located in one of the oldest building in the Old Town, a walk away from the museums. 

It probably looks modest but it is the best satay dish in town!
The cafe resides inside a dutch-colonial building with high ceiling and huge windows. The interior is well decorated with vintage-looking furniture and tons of memorabilia. It almost feels like a time machine that allows you to step into the colonial era in Jakarta. If you get to seat next to a window, you can see right at the busy cobblestone square of the Old Town.

Take a day trip to Bogor, the city with the highest precipitation in the world.
The city lies about 60Km south of Jakarta or about 2 hours by car. There are plenty of interesting stuff to do in Bogor. For me, a classic (and must do) thing in Bogor is to visit its famous Kebun Raya Bogor, a botanical garden with mega diversity of plants and collections. Most of the plants in this garden are very very old, you can see by the size of its roots, it is huge. It almost feels like in the Avatar movie where all the plants are twice your size, or maybe more.

Adjacent to the botanical garden you can find one of six presidential palaces in Indonesia; Istana Bogor. The palace was built during the Dutch colonial era in 1700 and it is surrounded by 28 hectares of garden, you kind find herds of deer roaming free in it. Unfortunately, the palace is not easily accessible to the public. There are procedure and forms to fill and submit before you are accepted to visit the palace.

When I said the trees are huge, they are huge!.. 

Take a 2 days trip to Bandung 
Bandung is another easy escape from the hectic Jakarta. Bandung city itself has a lot to offer, especially for those fashionistas and food lovers, the city is overloaded with chic factory outlets and trendy restaurants, but the best part of Bandung lays on the countryside; the city is surrounded by active volcanic mountain Tangkuban Perahu, bubbly sulfuric craters, strawberry fields, and tea plantations. 

I visited Kawah Putih in Ciwidey area; a bubbly crater with turquoise clear water, located about 50 km south of Bandung. I stayed in the city center, so it took me about 3 hours to get there by private driver. The crater itself is part of Mount Patuha, a nonactive volcanic mountain and it is situated more than 2000 meters above the sea level, covered by thick sulfuric stench that gave me a wee breathing problem. There are not much animals and birds found around this place due to the sulfuric gasses but don't worry, the sulfuric gas level in this area is not dangerous for human, it just not very comfortable to breathe in. Wearing a mask helps tho. 

Kawah Putih crater, the pristine clear blue water that reeks like a thousand rotten eggs.
Other than taking selfies and seightseeing, there is not much to do in this site, really. You can't even dip your toes in the water without getting serious skin problem. However, the scenery is darn pretty, it is worth it to see. 

The joy of going to Kawah Putih crater is actually on the ride (it is if you don't need to drive), you can enjoy the calming few of the greenery around you and breath in the fresh air of the mountain. If it doesn't remove the stress you got from Jakarta, I don't know what does. 

It's green every effin where! 
Left and right, back and front, all you see is greenery made of tea leaves. 

You can visit these tea plantations (if you can find the entrance) for 5$ per person and get a free sample of the plantation's tea product. The plantation I visited called Rancabali, a big tea estate that also offers activities for families. It has a mini zoo, well, zoo is a big word, let say they have few enclosures displaying deers and birds. You can also find restaurants and bungalows to rent within the plantation. 

If you enjoy this kind of greenery and you need to take a nap, I suggest you to take a quick stop at Situ Patenggang (Lake Patenggang). This lake is very serene, surrounded by mountains and tea plantation. The area is very well maintaned and it has wooden gazebos for you to have a rest (in my case, to take a nap) and have a picnic. I went here during weekdays so there wasn't many people around, it was very peaceful. My ears truly appreciated it, it felt really good to hear nothing but the birds chirping. 

Day trip to Kepulauan Seribu.
Enough of the greenery and feel like lazying around on a beach? then Kepulauan Seribu is the place to go. Kepulauan Seribu means a thousand islands, although in reality there are only about 150 islands that make up this island chain and it is only 45 of them that are meant for tourism destinations with only 6 of them has the infrastructure and facilities for propper tourism accomodation (resorts). 

Have fun with the abandoned animals. 
I am not talking about zoos here although yes we do have a zoo in Jakarta, and the animals in the zoo are not abandoned, they are actually rotten spoiled. I am talking about visiting animal shelters. There are not much animal shelters in Jakarta but over the year there has been a great development on awareness to take care animal welfare in Jakarta. Hooray!! Faith in humanity is slowly restored!

There is one shelter I used to volunteer at every week when I was living in Jakarta. It is called Pondok Pengayom Satwa, located in Ragunan, South Jakarta. The place is actually a vet clinic, but now has grown to be a shelter that takes care  abandoned cats and dogs. The cats and dogs who ended up here mostly was house pets so they are mostly well behaved and longing for human interaction. 

What? You don't like cats and or dogs? What are you? Somekind of psychopath? 

One of the things I miss the most from Jakarta is actually this shelter and its funky four-legged troops. I used to go here every weekend, volunteering my Saturday morning washing, playing, feeding, and walking the dogs. My fav dog was Tripod, a sweet three legged dog. He was the legendary shelter welcomer, butt sniffer, treats thief, bench stealer, casual loud barker, awful ball catcher, and heart breaker of the place. 

So if you are run out of ideas of what to do in Jakarta (if it is even possible), please visit the shelter, or any shelters, really. Your present will be greatly appreciated, both by the staff and the animals. Don't forget to bring some treats :) 

Tripod, my (late) baby at the shelter.

Enjoy Jakarta