The heat, the smell of human waste, smog and a constant ringing of beeps and honks; that is Jakarta in a sentence. It is congestion epitomized. This city is a mixture of modernity and traditional, abundance and scarcity, rich and poor. For many Jakartans, they wallow in the struggle of trying to make ends meet. The low cost of labor coupled with the fast pace of globalization has widened the gap between those who can keep pace, those struggling to keep pace and those who just get left behind. In the pyramid of the scheme of life standards, the majority are at the last category. It is not uncommon to find a posh hotel and a towering modern shopping mall and with a 5 minute walk, a compact complex, dark and dirty under a bridge.
The constant honking and buzzing of beeps by cars, motorcycles and trucks was an earful. A local Jakartan told me that it is to let everyone else know that they are there. Cars and motorcycles criss-cross one another. With no right of way, the first come first serve law is in effect. Driving in Jakarta, be prepared for the next car or bike being no further than 12 inches away. You have street peddlers running into the streets at traffic lights, to peddle their wares and foods or beg at the cars stopped. I enjoyed my walk in Jakarta. It was overwhelming and the heat and traffic jams was enough to make me decide to stay in my hotel and enjoy the company of a very dear friend and her husband for an entire day before heading to the airport. Taxis are tremendously cheap in Jakarta and you should hop into one to go somewhere rather than walk; unless you have a camera, a sense of adventure and am on a mission. From Jakarta with love.
I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport from Singapore. Jakarta is an hour behind at +7GMT. I tuned my clock an hour back. Thru the years, I have noticed my love for this timezone. The day felt longer and I felt more could be achieved as the day goes by.
The Blue Bird cab ride was my first encounter with Jakarta Taxis. Everyone I know have told me to only take this. They are known for being courteous and honest. The 20 minute taxis ride to Intercontinental Midplaza Hotel was uneventful. Do prepare small change to pay the tolls. Some taxi drivers will pay for you first whilst some will expect you to pay the tolls. There is a surcharge of 10,000 IDR and with all that, the total cost from CGK to my hotel was 100,000 IDR. (SGD13)
I checked in at the hotel around 10am and was surprised to have a room available. I am used to check-ins starting at 1pm to 3pm at most. I went to my room and was greeted by luxury and silence. It was something I rarely get in my busy hectic life. A long shower was needed and after that, I grabbed a map from the concierge and I headed out to the streets of Jakarta.
A motocyclist passing by.
Selamat Datang Monument
I walked the busy streets in the sun. I started to regret my lack of sun protection (arm sleeves and sunglasses). I do not like sunglasses as it affects my photography reviews. The arm sleeves, I just left at home. The walk to Monas took an hour. I was greeted by the numerous fountains and statues that have become the landmark of Jakarta.
There are plenty of these street peddlers. Questionable food and drinks. I avoided them.
A man sits under the sign translated as Stone King’s road. He did have some stones.
Along the streets, you can see people loitering, sleeping, sitting, begging and peddling. The constant honks and traffic jams happening a mere few feet away from my sidewalk was a reminder that this was Jakarta : Every Hour is a Rush Hour.
Entering Medan Merdeka from South West gate.
Upon finally reaching Merdeka Square, the towering National Monument (Monas) stood reaching for the skies at 132 meters tall. It represented the fight for Indonesia. The park was huge and dry. Patches of grass can be seen and the lack of maintenance is evident. The grass was ruined and was mostly just sand. Imagine what a gush of wind would do. I refrained from lining up to go to the top. The queue was long and it was around 1pm. If you want to go up, especially on a weekend, do arrive at 8am the latest to avoid the lines.
In the harsh afternoon sun, I decided to continue walking to the white dome that is the Istiqlal Mosque.
Masjid Istiqlal and Jakarta Cathedral
Also known as the Independence Mosque, this mosque is the largest in South East Asia in terms of capacity of 120k though I have been told that it could swell up to 300k during the month of Ramadan. I arrived at this mosque when it was going thru a cleaning and maintenance project. It would take 5 months to clean the mosque thoroughly. Being the second largest mosque in the world, the cleaning crews painstakingly wipe and dust off the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of slots and openings of the internal structure.
I walked across the street to where the Jakarta Cathedral was located. Located besides a mosque, you can appreciate the unity of Indonesia that it symbolizes. Being the most Muslim populace nation in the world but NOT an Islamic state, the Indonesians pride themselves of the view of a mosque flanked by a cathedral. One just needs to cross the street to enter the cathedral.
Constructed by the Dutch, the fields have long gone. I walked by groups of children training for football in the dust pitch. Again, a reminder of how dust and sand have replaced grass and soil in Jakarta. They would kick up a small sandstorm wherever the ball went. I turned and faced the towering statue that is the icon of Lapangan Banteng.
Bicycles lined up
A cab ride to Kota took 30 minutes and costed me 30,000 IDR. The jam was terrible and non-moving at times. In the air-conditioned taxi, I can still feel the heat of the Jakartan afternoon. From 245pm till 320pm, I reached Kota ; bustling and gridlocked.
Streams of people in every direction cramped into the square that is the Jakarta Muzium. I was told of the lack of maintenance and preservation is probably a subtle message to rid any essence of Dutch colonization. A quick round and Kota was too much for me.
Otak – Otak is crispy like lekor but closer to fish crackers.
I was dehydrated by this time, having had little water and no food since my noodles at Changi airport 9 to 10 hours ago. I bought two can drinks both which were not cold and the hygiene of the cans were very questionable. A straw was needed.
The Jakartan Jam
At 4pm, after 20 minutes on foot at Kota, the mixture of dust and sweat had hardened my hair and I jumped into a cab to head back to my hotel. Another 30 minutes ride, a walk across the overhead bridge (which vibrated and swayed like a trampoline) and I was back in the comfort of my 5 star hotel. The five hour walk was enough. I decided that tomorrow would be a day I spend in the hotel and with my dear friend. I took the longest shower I have taken in my life after a 30 minute dip in the bathtub. Feeling relaxed, I slipped into bed and lazed there awaiting 730pm. (A Jakartan Wedding)
I woke up in my cosy room at 7am Jakartan time. As far as I am away from Singapore time (one hour ahead), I still wake up at the same time. Today was meant to be spent with Francisca and Austin. I have decided that a busy day trekking the streets in the hot congested city of Jakarta was just not doing justice to the day I want to have with them. I also did not want to feel tired and dirty for my flight back to Singapore.
I had breakfast at the hotel where Francisca’s mother offered to take me up as a project and match make me with someone. To my defense, Cisca told her I was already a property of someone special which in turn made her mum ask me if I was going to all these weddings to take notes. A light moment and I appreciated the concerns she (Cisca’s mother) had for me. After breakfast, I was brought to Johar Refleksi by Cisca’s father. I listened to him attentively as he gave me a brief explanation of the areas we passed by. We arrived at Johar Refleksi. Trust me, this is a massage worth flying all the way to Jakarta, get on a cab to this place, spend 3 hours and take a cab back to the airport for! You can do it in a day trip. After 90 minutes of hard massaging and an Indonesia version of cupping, I will say : Best massage ever!! @ JL. Johar No 6D, Menteng, Jakarta Pusat. +62 3920430. The best part is, the cost was an average 70,000 IDR. A very good deal. I have to thank Mr. Darmadi for this treat.
The rest of the day was spent in a mall buying the last few items and also tasting some Indonesian food. Thank you Austin. Thank you Cisca. I had a great day thanks to you two. We had a late lunch at Pacific Place. A huge towering modern mall adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton.
To savor Indonesian food, I asked Francisca to recommend. We all settled for ‘te sate’.
Ginger tea. Awesome.
Rice and crackers.
Mee Soto Ayam (Chicken)
The squid dish was awesome. A very nice flavor.
A piece of Buntut!
Tauhu Telor. Egg Bean curd in sweet soy sauce.
Indonesian foods are mainly on the sweet side as I experienced. It is a different flavor. Again, as a traveler, I put aside my comparisons to Malaysian food. I have grown to learn that if I wanted Malaysian food, I should eat in Malaysia. If in Indonesia, eat as an Indonesian.
At 4pm, I boarded a taxi to the airport. I had my second goodbyes to my dear friend. I hope we do not wait another 12 years to meet again. In a split second, I was in a cab, made the turn and on my way. My last two taxi drivers were awesome drivers. Fast yet safe and certain of where I wanted to go. The total cab ride to the airport, toll, parking and all was 120,000 IDR. I arrived at 5pm.
Checking in was easy. If you have already did your web-check-in with AirAsia and have a boarding pass, you do not need to line up. You head upstairs and can choose to do some last minute shopping. Once you pass Immigrations, you go to a special counter set up by AirAsia to pay your airport tax of 150,000 IDR. Then to Customs. Do all your shopping before Immigration as the other side of the terminal has no shops but a vending machine and a bathroom.
So after 12 years, I see my dear friend again on her happy day. I made this trip specially to see her and to meet her husband. It was a very special trip for me. Her family treated me like family and their hospitality was priceless.
The dust and noise that is Jakarta has made me remember how challenging life is; how harsh reality can be and how, even thru it all, the human race still triumphs. It is a city I shall remember quite dear to me. For in this city, a traveler found warmth and love among friends.
As my plane lifted off , I left Jakarta behind. I find myself questioning if I would ever return. I find that hard to answer. Tradition dictates that I will not, as I chase my A320’s to see other parts of the world. But maybe that massage may be too good to bid adieu to.
For more pictures : go here
- Taxis are very cheap. Use only Blue Bird Group.******
- Avoid making eye contact with people. And if approached, move away. Most Jakartans are friendly but you want to be alert.
- Be careful with your money. There is a difference between 1000 IDR and 10,000 IDR.
- Drink only bottled water and bring some stomach pills.
- Jakarta is a traffic jam city. Plan your airport rides in advance. 3 hours before take off time. If it rains, pray.
Costs of the trip.
- Taxi to City : 120,000 IDR
- Toll 12,500 IDR
- Taxi to Kota 30,000 IDR
- 2 can Drinks 9,500 IDR
- Taxi from Kota to Midpoint 38,000 IDR
- Otak Otak 5,000 IDR
- Massage Tips 10,000 IDR
- Coffee Luak 300,000 IDR
- Ginger chewies 117,500 IDR
- Cab to Airport 140,000 IDR