On an eye-squinting and humid morning in old Jakarta’s Fatahillah Square (or Batavia Square) giggling school children in uniforms run around playing or sit on steps immersed in their books, but apart from our group of four, there’s only a few locals standing around drinking coffee and no other tourists. And no beggars with pleading eyes, no-one hawking postcards or souvenirs. Unlike other Asian capitals, Jakarta has that problem sorted.
What grabs my attention are the candy-colored bicycles for rent, some with sunhats accessories and sorbet-tinted helmets. They look more like a modern art installation and they’re just one of the surprises in this South-East Asian capital which has mostly domestic visitors. Jakarta isn’t a mecca for foreign tourists. If you want explore somewhere completely different, come here.
The bikes are the best way to explore the old part of Jakarta, with yummy street food stalls down the side streets. They cost about 20,000 rupiah ($A2) an hour. Bargain! The square is surrounded on all sides with Dutch colonial architecture. On our first day in the Indonesian capital, my fellow travellers and I have come to visit the Maritime Museum, the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, and the Jakarta History Museum but we realise too late they’re closed on Mondays.
But Cafe Batavia is open 24/7. It’s ranked #9 of 82 things to do in Jakarta by Lonely Planet travellers. The two-storey cafe first opened its doors in 1805, and largely retains its colonial atmosphere. A favourite hangout for tourists and expats, it serves a combo of Dutch colonial dishes, Asian and Australian fare. It’s not cheap – you’re paying for ambiance. A beer is about $A15.
Fatahillah Square is a 1.8 acre paved open space that used to be the social and political centre of the Dutch empire in the East Indies. At night, it comes alive with food stalls and is popular with young people.
Like all capitals in the developing world, Jakarta is an eye-popping juxtaposition of old and new. Its residents are the most social media connected people in the world on Facebook and Twitter. The skyline is crowded with towering skyscrapers. Beyond them are teeming slums. Down at the old port, Sunda Kelapa, workers continue the back-breaking work of loading bags of cement onto pinsi, double-masted traditional boats, much the way they have for decades.
- If you want to buy cameras and gadgets, Jakarta’s Chinatown in Glodok (Jakarta’s old town) is one of the best places to visit. The tiny shops at the port sell all sorts of curios
- Museums are closed on Mondays
- Jakarta’s population is close to 11 million, making it the largest city in South-East Asia
- It covers 661 square kilometres
- Established in the 4th Century, it became the capital of the Dutch West Indies, known as Batavia, from the 1600s until 1942 when the Indonesians kicked the Dutch out and renamed it Jakarta
- Jakarta has a hot and humid climate
- Unlike other Asian cities you won’t be bothered by beggars and hawkers. In 2007 the government outlawed all that and bans squatter settlements on river banks and highways, and prohibits smoking and spitting on public transport
- Most tourism to Jakarta is domestic, so exploring this city is a fascinating new frontier.
I flew to Jakarta as a guest of Qantas, which flies daily to the Indonesian capital. www.qantas.com.au