Fuelled by caffeine and the buzz of industry, this steamy metropolis has culture in spades and is the ideal staging post for exploring Asia, says Blossom Green.
Why go? Think of Indonesia and you’ll likely conjure up an image of tropical beaches, jungles and rice paddies punctuated by mildly hungover gap year travellers. Jakarta, the country’s capital, sits in stark contrast. Nicknamed ‘The Big Durian’, it certainly has its challenging side (namely the hair-raising traffic) but delve in and you’ll find it addictive. This dizzyingly modern hub on the north of Java has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a sprawling metropolis of more than ten million people. The recent arrival of direct flights from London make it the ideal launchpad for discovering the country’s natural wonders and the thrills of Asia.
What to do Jakarta is a cluster of mini cities spawned from villages that have been swallowed up by progressive industry over the years. Start your day like the locals have for centuries and fuel up on a cup of Javanese Joe. Indonesia is one of the largest producers of coffee and café culture is thriving here. Try cool One Fifteenth Coffee 1-15coffee.com or cosy Giyanti Coffee Roastery giyanticoffeeroastery.com and look out for kopi luwak (civet coffee). In West Jakarta, an air of faded glamour wafts between the 16th-centrury architecture and cobblestone streets in the old town, Kota. Follow the trail of historic buildings to Museum Fatahillah 00 62 21 692 9101 (closed Mondays) which displays artefacts from the founding of Jakarta in 1527 and the Dutch colonisation. The city’s melting pot of cultural influences is most visible in its mosques and temples. In Glodok you’ll find Vihara Dharma Bhakti, the oldest of 140 Chinese temples, swathed in a smog of incense. The National Monument towers 137m over busy Merdeka Square as a marker of Indonesian Independence. Take the lift to the lookout for the incredible views. For those who like to haggle, nearby Jalan Surabaya is known for its antiques market and enthusiastic vendors. End the day watching a folklore tale by human puppet troupe Wayang Orang Bharata (every Saturday from 8pm) or traditional wayang kulit puppet plays and dances set to the hypnotic sounds of the ‘liquid moonlight’ that is gamelan.
Where to stay A peaceful place to rest your head is Kemang Icon by Alila 00 62 21 719 7989, alilahotels.com an arty boutique hotel found in leafy South Jakarta. Likewise, The Dharmawangsa 00 62 21 725 8181, the-dharmawangsa.com has incorporated regional antiques and Javanese styling in its design for a true sense of place. Enveloped by trees, the outdoor pool is one of our favourite spots. Fairmont Jakarta 00 62 21 2970 3333, fairmont.com towers above Senayan Square in a location that offers remarkably easy transport links, while in the city centre, Keraton at the Plaza 00 62 21 5068 0000, keratonattheplazajakarta.com provides a polished, modern take on traditional Indonesian interiors.
Where to eat and drink You don’t have to look far to find good food here. Like any city in Asia, there’s an endless array of temptingly spiced street food. Keep your eyes peeled for the likes of satay, bakso (meatballs), gudeg (fragrant jackfruit with hard-boiled eggs), soto betawi (a beef soup that originates in the city) and nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice). For something for more formal, Bunga Rampai Jalan Tjik Ditiro, pakisculinary.com serves traditional Indonesian dishes – order up the perfectly seasoned bihun goreng jawa (rice noodles with shredded chicken, egg and shallots). Skye 00 62 21 2358 6996, ismayausserver.com is our pick for trendy vibes and banging views. Whizz up to the 56th floor of the BCA Tower in an ear-popping ten seconds to experience the Asia-meets-Latin American decor and food.
Time running out? Head to East Jakarta to visit Taman Mini Indonesia Indah for an overview of the country. The 100ha site has tropical gardens and full-scale traditional houses filled with cultural relics that represent each of the provinces. tamanmini.com
Trip tip Finding your way round can take some getting used to. Opt for a taxi – pre book or flag one down from the easily recognisable and affordable Blue Bird bluebirdgroup.com or get your head around the TransJakarta bus network. Dedicated lanes avoid the traffic jams and a single e-ticket costs around 25c.
Currency is the Indonesian rupiah. Time is seven hours ahead of GMT. Flight time is around 8 hours from Dubai. The cost to carbon-offset is $16.99. For more details, visit climatecare.org
Emirates Airlines flies direct to Soekarno-Hatta International from Dubai twice daily emirates.com
Wonderful Indonesia is a superb source for information on Jakarta and Java as well as nearby islands. indonesia.travel
This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (Penguin, $9.95) explores the injustice of Dutch rule through Minke, a young Javanese of royal descent who rejects hierarchical society.
Photos by Angela Dukes; Mark Parren Taylor; Shutterstock; Indonesian Ministry of Tourism