When I told friends that I am visiting Jakarta, the general reaction I got was “Why? Nothing much to see and do except shopping. Also traffic is insane!” To be honest, Jakarta is not a popular holiday destination for most people. Still this bustling city has an interesting mix of things to see and do.
I was lucky to have a friend driving me around and acting as my tour guide while exploring this city where 10 million people call home. I travelled to parts of the city that only the locals go to and witnessed the glaring dichotomy of the living conditions between the rich and the poor.
My day of sightseeing started with a hearty breakfast in a local market where I sampled a variety of local food. With tummies filled, we headed to our first stop, Sunda Kelapa Harbour. Dating to the 12th century, it used to be a thriving trading port and the largest fish market in Jakarta. Today it remains a busy trading port for smaller wooden fishing boats and transport ships.
This is also the area where the Dutch domination of Jakarta and Indonesia started. Today, visitors can still see remnants of Kasteel Batavia, an old fort and trading post of the Dutch East Indies Company here.
A short drive from Sunda Kelapa is Old Batavia, also known as the Old Town. Kota Tua or originally known as Oud Batavia was the first walled settlement of the Dutch in Jakarta area. Hence it’s not surprising to see Dutch influence here especially in the architecture of the colonial buildings.
The place to head to is Fatahillah Square where one can visit several museums such as The Jakarta History Museum (Fatahillah Museum), Puppet Museum and Wayang Museum. There are families enjoying a day out at the square with a few cyclists riding colourful rented bicycles in the square.
Also checked out the famous and historic Café Batavia but didn’t dine here due to a very full breakfast. There are also many vendors selling food and a variety of goods along the road near the square.
From Old Town, we headed to Jakarta’s Chinatown. It’s located in the district of Glodok which is next to Old Town. At a glance, the area looks the same as the rest of the city. As you look closer, you’ll notice that there are Chinese words on the shops’ signboards. Here one can shop for items such as traditional Chinese medicines, snacks, Chinese books and prayer paraphernalia.
Various Chinese dishes are offered by the many eateries and street vendors found in this area. A must visit is Kopi Es Tak Kie (德記茶室). This family run traditional coffee shop has been in operation since 1927. It is legendary for its coffee – either black or with milk.
Next stop was the Istiqlal Mosque, it is the largest mosque in Jakarta and Southeast Asia. It was built to commemorate Indonesia’s independence. It has a central dome in the main praying hall and a beautiful white minaret.
Just across the road is the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral or simply known as Jakarta Cathedral. Built in neo gothic style, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The location for the church was purposely chosen by President Soekarno to symbolise unity in diversity and that all religions can co-exist in tolerance and harmony.
As the City Hall is open to public on Saturdays, we made a quick visit to see Indonesia’s newest tourist attraction – thousands of elaborate flower boards. These floral arrangements are sent by local Indonesians as well as overseas supporters to pay tribute to Jakarta’s defeated governor “Ahok”. The flowers were also sent as a show of support for his blasphemy trial for which he was sentenced to two years in prison. I was witnessing history in the making!
Last stop for the day is the famous landmark of Jakarta, Monas or The National Monument. The 132m obelisk shaped tower is situated in the centre of Merdeka Square. The monument houses a museum showcasing Indonesia’s fight for independence. Visitors can also take the lift to the viewing platform for a panoramic view of the city but be prepared for the long queue though.
After spending a day in Jakarta, I can now tell all my friends that there is more to this vibrant metropolis than the many mega and modern shopping malls.