Jakarta notes

by on August 21, 2013 at 3:53 am in Travels | Permalink

The National Museum is a scatter shot but revelatory assemblage of Javanese gold, gamelan sets, jeweled swords, Papuan wooden sculpture, puppets, Sumatran textiles, and much, much more.  It could be the world’s best museum you’ve never heard of.  The museums here have yet to figure out price discrimination, namely that they can charge tourists more than fifty cents for admission.

There is an excellent modernist mosque (more photos here).  The shopping malls are surprisingly attractive and advanced, images here.  There is one under construction called “St. Moritz,” without irony or need of irony.

No plan can be executed in a timely manner without running into the detour of street food, unless of course you are stuck in one of the shopping malls.  In those malls there are extensive food courts but Japanese food is more popular than Indonesian dishes.

Taxi drivers don’t seem to know how to get anywhere.  It is possible that Indonesians drive on the left because the Dutch once did.

A fork and spoon is more useful than a fork and knife for (almost) anything worth eating.

Although Jakarta is hardly a backwater, on plenty of streets outside the center I found people staring at me and once they even asked if they could take my photo.  Few people speak English.

Overall this is an underrated tourist destination.  It is the world’s most populous Muslim country, a Muslim democracy, and Southeast Asia’s largest city.  There are many reasons to go, and few reasons not to go, distance aside.

1 Alexei Sadeski August 21, 2013 at 4:22 am

How safe would (do?) you feel walking around alone there during daylight hours?

Not intending to be inflammatory, am genuinely curious. 🙂

2 Tyler Cowen August 21, 2013 at 4:26 am

Totally safe, absolutely.

3 Alexei Sadeski August 21, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Excellent to hear. May have to make a visit one day…

4 david August 21, 2013 at 5:37 am

How did you plan your time outside the city center? Jakarta is staggeringly enormous.

5 James August 21, 2013 at 6:01 am


All of Asia (and Australasia) drives on the left.Colonial links probably explain this.

6 dan1111 August 21, 2013 at 6:25 am

This is nowhere near true:


7 James August 21, 2013 at 6:06 am

I would also add that I never got sick eating at warungs (stalls) in a year of living in Indonesia !

8 Vanya August 21, 2013 at 6:23 am

As underrated a destination as Jakarta may be, it still faces the problem that it is possibly the least interesting place to visit (or eat) on Java. Bandung, Solo, Yogyakarta, etc. are all great destinations. If you have limited time, one or two days in Jakarta is probably enough, then go see the rest of the Island.

9 ThomasH August 21, 2013 at 6:52 am

I second the lack of knowledge of taxi drivers. It’s best if you actually know how to get there yourself to avoid delays or even the driver getting lost and having to stop and ask people who don’t know either. [Yes I have made allowance for drivers who want to run up the fare.]

10 bartman August 21, 2013 at 8:55 am

As I (a pale, tall northern European caucasian) was wandering around the grounds outside the Monumen Nasional, I was spotted by a busload of middle aged ladies, likely visiting the capital from a provincial city, and they all insisted on having their photo taken with me, two at a time. Then, when I went up to the top of the monument (Sukarno’s last erection, they call it), a fellow insisted in taking a photo of me standing between his wife and daughter. I imagine there are pictures of me in the photo albums of 40 or 50 families in Indonesia, tagged as a souvenir of the exotic sights to be seen in the big city.

Also, the hotel concierge refused to let me walk a couple of blocks after dark to an ATM down the street, he insisted on getting me a cab, and the cab driver would not let me use the first 3 or 4 we saw, because of crowds of shady-looking people milling around the ATM booths.

I’ve never been somewhere with as many feral dogs and cats.

11 johnleemk August 21, 2013 at 11:08 am

“It is possible that Indonesians drive on the left because the Dutch once did.”

Also note that the British previously colonised Sumatra, and that parts of Indonesian territory border Malaysia, a former British colony which drives on the left.

“A fork and spoon is more useful than a fork and knife for (almost) anything worth eating.”

Isn’t this true in most of Southeast Asia?

12 edeast August 21, 2013 at 11:39 am

I had people approach me all the time because of my hairy arms. Even for being Muslim they have a good sense of evolution, chimpanzee and human are close to the same words in bahasa, at taman safari they put on a good show competing the two species.

Also pictures, all the time, can see why being a celebrity sucks. They much preferred my blonde sister. It was very safe everywhere, on the island, mainly because I’m big? But we also walked through a Muslim political? convention at the base of monas with my sister unveiled, kind of got heckled by angry kids. No idea what they were saying though.

13 Careless August 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm

chimpanzee and human are close to the same words in bahasa

A) no,they’re not
B) don’t call it Bahasa, that just means “language”
C) you might be thinking of orangutans. orang=man, hutan=forest

14 john August 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm

lived in asia for years and must admit that jakarta along with manila were the two scariest cities. I believe corbusier was heavily involved or strongly influenced jakarta under sokaerno’s rule.

15 Ed August 21, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Nice to hear that the museum does not practice price discrimination against foreigners. I get peeved in places that do that – they seem to value foreigners only as walking dollar signs.

I understand that in poor countries foreign tourists can afford to pay more. A few places do this with aplomb, for example, providing an English speaking guide and special tour in exchange for the higher price. But if they’re going to raise the price just because I’m me, then I’m going to go somewhere else.

16 lydia August 22, 2013 at 2:45 am

they do practice price discrimination, and the reason locals are paying less is that we already paid with our tax money. amongst other reasons.

17 Ed August 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Nice to hear that the museum does not practice price discrimination against foreigners. I’m annoyed at places that treat tourists as little more than walking dollar signs. I understand that foreign tourists might subsidize poor locals to attend a museum or other attraction. A few places actually do this with aplomb, for example, charging foreigners more but offering an English speaking guide and special tour in exchange. But generally speaking, if they want more money just because I’m me — then I go elsewhere.

18 Crocodile Chuck August 21, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Having lived and worked in > 10 Asian countries, I can emphatically state that Jakarta is the least salubrious and interesting capital city in the region. The food is much better in Surabaya, the culture more interesting in places like Solo and Yogyakarta, and Bali trumps it laughably in terms of aesthetics (and culture, and food). Jakarta is filthy, with non-existent infrastructure, impossible to navigate on foot and impassable by taxi, too.

I would never eat on the street in Jakarta.

19 Careless August 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I was leery of eating street food there after the formaldehyde noodle issue was revealed.

20 CND August 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Interestingly, that modernist mosque was designed by a Christian architect.

21 lydia August 22, 2013 at 2:49 am

indonesia has the largest population if any country, but it is as much a muslim country as turkey.

22 Careless August 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm

The museums here have yet to figure out price discrimination

The zoo certainly has

23 bill reeves August 23, 2013 at 1:07 am


Used to live there (early 70s)

Up until late sixties Indonesia was left hand drive, like the US. They decided to shift to right hand drive and did so on one (I assume) incredibly dangerous day. I assume that their shift to RHD was driven by automobile economics: the major suppliers and potential investors for autos at that time were Japan, Singapore, and Australia – all RHD.

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