Editor’s Note: Wow, what a week! Thank to everyone for all the nice comments and for resharing our “Here is how you can take a weekend trip to Taipei from San Francisco and still make it back to your Monday morning team meeting” post. Admittedly, we do feel the pressure to make sure this next one doesn’t completely suck.
In my time traveling around the world, I have never heard anyone talk about the “awesomeness” of Jakarta. Bali, yes. But never Jakarta.
To me, Bali represents a far fetched, but utterly inaccurate version of Indonesia, sort of like if everyone thought Hawaii was indicative of the rest of the US and spam musubi was the national dish.(butterflies and unicorns not included) Typically not a huge tourist destination, Jakarta is a city that most people don’t stop off unless they have or are passing through as part of a layover. Equal parts gritty and glamorous, Jakarta is a smoky, dirty and intriguing hot mess of a city. It is a place where you realize how fortunate you really are and that you should stop bitching about your kale not being organic.
The poorest of the poor sleep on unpaved, dirt sidewalks that are adjacent to the some of the most beautiful shopping centers and glistening Lamborghini cars pulling up to posh clubs.
So why visit this city? Because this city is badass. The locals, food and the heat are unapologetic and will easily smack you across the mouth if you are unprepared. This isn’t a weekend at the Hamptons, this is an edge-of-your seat adventure and you better strap in. It has one of the most unique and deeply influential food culture that spreads its influences all across Asia. It is safe to say, you will remember this place.
Our goal for visiting Jakarta was to see if we could experience as much of the city as possible within 48 hours(or less). The reason being is that most international layovers are 48 hours or less, so why not see if we can have a great time while we are here rather than eat at a Sbarro for the 5th time. While this post is not meant to be an extensive, do-all-you-can guide, it is meant to inspire you to find your own path across this interesting city, with food being the main focus.
One side note, don’t bother taking public transportation, its just too much of a mess. The taxi system is cheap enough and honest enough that you are very unlikely going to get ripped off, plus they take credit card! Plus with only 48 hours in this city, do you really have time to wait around for the bus?
Suggested Accommodation: Keraton at the Plaza
As a Starwood Property, Keraton(pronounced Kur – Rot – Ton) is one of the newest and most badass hotels in all of Jakarta. Every room comes with its own personal butler. He will not only pack and unpack your stuff for you, but also, iron your clothes for you! Seeing how this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, I asked him to iron my underwear. Cause, why not? The Keraton is close to everything and close to nothing at the same time. Traffic in Jakarta can be challenging and attractions can be hard to get to using public transportation. However, the staff is super helpful and all of them can speak English, so you’ll never have to worry about not being able to get to where you need to be.
Stuff to See
Every big city I’ve been to there is always some sort of plaza and/or square that’s built to commemorate something or another. Kind of like Tiananmen Square in Beijing, squares end up being a huge flea market, with hawkers lining the plaza selling nicknacks that you’ll never use. Yup, MONAS is no exception. I like MONAS not for the monument itself, but its the perfect spot for people watching. Coming here on a Sunday afternoon, the crowds were massive and it seems like everyone in Jakarta was out in full force – taking pictures, hanging out on the lawn and buying food from the vendors. I won’t lie, it can get pretty dirty and gritty, but if you wanted to be comfortable and boring, you might as well have stayed home in your PJs.
MONAS National Monument
Jalan Pelataran Merdeka (Silang Monas), Jakarta Pusat, DKI Jakarta 10110, Indonesia
Regardless of where you are in Jakarta, its going to be hot. Blazing, f’en hot. My recommendation is that if you are going to make your way to Kota Tua(otherwise known as Old Jakarta) get yourself some sunscreen, water and at least 5 ice cream bars to keep you cool. While the old Dutch influenced architecture is pretty cool and the old crumbling buildings have that retro-chic “valencia” look on Instagram. The truth is Kota Tua could totally use a face lift. Having said that, this is Jakarta at its very raw core. A place where tourists, locals(both rich and poor) and guys like us, come and mingle. I recommend it as the place to see where the heart of Jakarta actually resides.
Jalan Kali Besar Timur (Jl. Kunir), Jakarta Barat, DKI Jakarta 11230, Indonesia
Do you want to be in Bali, but not be in Bali? Me neither. But, if that urge ever strikes you and you need to fake your Foursquare location, then Taman Mini Indonesia Indah(TMII) has got you covered. TMII is a sprawling park with the main attractions being an entire park made up of replicas of different cultural locations around Indonesia. So, if you want to go to Bali, just head over to the section of the park labeled… Bali. Truth be told, the park is kind of a pain to get to since it resides about 45 minutes south of Jakarta. Just grab a cab, enjoy the A/C and head out. Saves you time and keeps your t-shirt from getting sweaty.
Partying in Jakarta is no different than partying in any other parts of Asia. It’s either get a table or walk around aimlessly since there is no semblance of a dance floor. Table and bottle prices aren’t that unreasonable by Western standards, in fact, a bottle of Jack will run you close to $100(no tax or tip). If you are trying to chat up some girls, good luck cause English is no where to be found here. The action really heats up in the parking lot. Yes, you read that right, the parking lot.
Rich locals snap up all the tables The rich locals come to these spots to be seen. That means, buying table service while chilling with your homeboys the entire night. There is less dancing here than a retirement home, so if you are a group of girls, be prepared to be disappointed. On the flipside, you will have ample opportunities to take them #selfies for your Instagram account. If anything, the parking lot is where the action heats up. I counted at least 7 Lamborghini’s with 3 more pulling up into the parking lot. The decor is pretty cool and there are always side shows that occur every hour.
One of the hottest restaurants in all of Jakarta, JJ Royal Brasserie serves local Indonesian favorites in a Japanese/Anime-chic restaurant. Clean, authentic and damn good. Read our review here.
Masakan Padang is a unique eating/serving style that emerged from West Sumatra region of Indonesia. The concept here is that the restaurant will have prepared all the food in advance. The server will bring all of their wares to your table and stack them up like they are tetris blocks. You pick and choose what you want to eat and whatever you don’t want they take it back. It works on a “you break it, you buy it” policy. Sederhana Masakan Padang has multiple locations around Jakarta, so I’m pretty sure you can find one near you. Just don’t be an ass and start picking at each dish on the table. Cause you’ll end up paying for it… with your wallet.
Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang
Jl. Haji Agus Salim, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
Located right next door to the town hall of Batavia in Kota Tua, Bangi Kopitiam is a great spot to grab a beer, get some grub and enjoy the respite from the chaos that is outside. Trust me when I say, there’s nothing more refreshing than a bottle of Bintang Beer when its 95 degrees outside with 100% humidity. Worth a visit to try their reasonably priced(by Western standards) Indonesian fares.
Legit Indonesian food in a restaurant… located in a mall. Before you thumb your nose up at that last sentence, you have to realize, Jakarta has a huge mall culture. Meaning, all aspects of people’s lives, including dating, eating, shopping and entertainment are based around whatever is located within the confines of an air conditioned mall. If you do go to Jakarta, you’ll understand that when its a constant 98 degrees outside, you’ll want to stay in a mall too.
If there is one thing that is evident is that people here like their fast food. Fast food pretty much looks the same here everywhere and its no exception here in Jakarta. McDonald’s does cater to local taste with the introduction of Nasi Goreng(fried rice), but otherwise, everything else should be very familiar to anyone whose ever here. The same goes for KFC and its chicken menu. Honestly, I thought they would have some mind blowing chicken spices that they would sprinkle on my chicken leg. Nope… sadface.
For more depth, check out our previous review on why Indonesian fast food breakfast is better than ours(United States).
For more insight, check out our review on Indonesian chicken rice that we bought from 7-Eleven. But like with any 7-Elevens in Asia, the Indonesian ones are better than the US.
Everywhere in Jakarta