Nicknamed the Big Durian, after the famously foul-smelling but sweet-tasting fruit, Jakarta means ‘conquering act’ and is considered the Indonesian equivalent of the Big Apple. Renamed Batavia under Dutch colonial rule, the city regained its former name after the Europeans were expelled in 1942.
Today the capital and largest city of Indonesia, Jakarta is home to more than 10 million people although almost three times that number live in its province. The ideal time to visit is from June to October, avoiding the long monsoon season during the rest of the year. In terms of accommodation, there is a large range of options from budget hostels for five star hotels in Jakarta.
Founded by the Dutch as the Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences in 1778, the National Museum of Indonesia is located in what is known locally as the Elephant Building after the large bronze pachyderm in the front yard. With over 60,000 prehistoric and anthropological artifacts and 5,000 archaeological artifacts including some of the oldest human fossils in the world, the museum deserves its position as one of the finest in Southeast Asia.
Known in the 16th Century as ‘The Jewel of Asia’ or ‘The Queen of the East’, Old Jakarta is the area known by Dutch sources as Batavia. Covering only 1.3 square kilometers it is known locally today as Kota, or ‘city’ which means the area within the old walls. Centered around Fatahillah Square, the area is home to many colonial era buildings, a sad number of which are in a state of disrepair but on weekends in particular Old Jakarta comes alive as it fills with -tourists, artists and street vendors.
Near the old town is the historic port of Sunda Kelapa which takes its name, meaning ‘Coconut of Sunda’ from the 13th Century kingdom of Sunda, of which it was the main port. The port was developed during the spice trade as pepper was the main crop of the Sunda and was later the base for Dutch East India activity in the area until it was built the larger port Tanjung Priok in the 19th century.
Today the area includes picturesque boardwalks and the dockside is lined with traditional two-masted wooden sailing vessels known as Pinisi, which continue to carry goods between the islands of the archipelago. As a working port, Sunda Kelapa is not a polished tourist attraction but is still worth a visit. The local Maritime Museum, located in a former warehouse tells the story of the spic trade and the importance of sea trade to Indonesia.
Wayang is the term for traditional Javanese theater and the art has been given UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity status, requiring the Indonesian government to preserve and promote it. Probably brought to Indonesia from either China or India in the first century, the best known form, Wayang Kulit, uses puppets made of buffalo skin and attached to sticks that are held between a light source and a white cloth screen to create a shadow theater. The museum has displays of these puppets as well as examples of
Jakarta is celebrated as one of the best places to shop in Southeast Asia but if you want to get away from the mega-malls and get your hands on some charming quirks from Indonesia’s past – real or fake – whether Dutch, Javanese, Balinese, Muslim, Christian or Hindu, Jalan Surabaya, a combination of flea and antique market is a place to find it. Located in the upscale Menteng district – where Barack Obama lived as a child – the stalls are an eclectic mix but whatever is for sale, the sellers enjoy a good haggle so hard bargain.
Often visited simply as a stopover destination, Jakarta has plenty to see and do to make it a fun place to visit in its own right.
Recently traveling in Indonesia, Sam picked up a lot of great tips and tricks to do in the nation, including some great attractions for you to visit.