Jakarta's history began as a flourishing port north of the city and developed southward over the centuries. Five autonomous municipalities emerged, together offering a veritable city of contrasts. As overwhelming as the crowds and congestion may be, the metropolis contains pockets of attractions that make a gratifying stay for those who plan their trip well.
Central Jakarta: The Moneybag
Embassies and businesses tend to gravitate towards Central Jakarta, the capital's nucleus. Indonesians from all over the archipelago flock to the city for a share of commerce. Most companies choose to establish their base along Jalan M.H. Thamrin. This district, with its close proximity to the concentration of government offices at
For the leisure traveler, Central Jakarta showcases some of the best museums in town and plenty of photo-taking opportunities. The
Several monuments grace Central Jakarta's busy traffic circles. In the middle of the
The avid shopper hunting for designer labels will find absolute delight in the luxurious
South Jakarta: Glitz and Glamor
South Jakarta covers an extensive area, stretching from the Golden Triangle financial district to Pondok Indah far south. It is synonymous with glitz and glamor, a description partly supported by the classy shopping complexes dotting the district—Blok M Mall, Blok M Plaza, Pasaraya,
The prime residential districts of Pondok Indah, Kebayoran Baru and Kemang are also situated in South Jakarta. Plush restaurants, cafés and bars abound, catering to the discriminating residents in the neighborhood.
East of the municipality lies the modest
North Jakarta: Timeless
North Jakarta is also the historical district, where visitors can uncover the origins of the capital. An archaeological excavation near the
Many locals also equate North Jakarta with recreation.
West Jakarta: Glodok
In 1740, Dutch antipathy towards the Chinese community led to the massacre of at least 5,000 Chinese.
East Jakarta: The Hodgepodge
Of all the five municipalities, East Jakarta is the most difficult to epitomize, as it contains a bit of everything. Some of its popular spots include the Bird Market and
Jakarta is home to more than 10 million people, mostly migrants from the archipelago seeking opportunities in the country's nerve center. Although the thought of finding somewhere to stay in this teeming city might sound like a daunting prospect, many good choices in all price ranges exist.
Accommodations in Indonesia are officially rated by the hospitality sector in two ways. The melati (jasmine) system applies to modest lodgings, whereas the bintang (star) system ranks establishments with business class facilities. Many of the star-graded accomodations offer apartments in addition to conventional rooms and penthouses. However, if you are staying long term on a shoestring budget, then jasmine-rated hotels are probably your best bet.
Most visitors choose to stay in and around the city's main commercial center, also known as the Golden Triangle. Certainly this is to be expected, with the markets, museums, cultural centers, upscale shopping arcades and monuments dotting the district. Hotels here mostly lie on Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said, Jalan M.H. Thamrin and Jalan Jenderal Sudirman. International chain properties within the area include the Regent, Gran Mélia, Le Meridien, Sari Pan Pacific, President Nikko and Jakarta Hilton.
Just a stone's throw away from the Welcome Monument, two luxury hotels stand prominent. The Grand Hyatt ranks as one of the country's best business hotels, affording panoramas of the city and some of the largest rooms in Jakarta, while the Mandarin Oriental is touted as being popular with press agents.
Hotel Indonesia, the country's premier star-rated property, enjoys the same prime location across the road from the Grand Hyatt. Perfect for those on a more moderate budget, it promises a nostalgic trip into the past. Prominent figures who have passed through its doors include the late President Soekarno.
In a League of Its Own
North of the Golden Triangle, next to the Department of Foreign Affairs and near other government offices, the Borobudur Inter-Continental is the preferred choice of diplomats and guests of the government. Nicknamed the “presidential hotel”, it rates as one of the city's most luxurious accommodations, offering world-class service and facilities.
Affordability in the South
Hotels in Jakarta's downtown area offer unbeatable deals for those in search of less expensive rooms. Getting to the Golden Triangle is as easy as calling for a cab. Although public buses are available, travelers unfamiliar with the city are not advised to use them as they are mostly crowded, uncomfortable and prone to pickpockets.
The terra cotta Ambhara and the European-style Gran Mahakam make excellent options for those who prefer to stay downtown in a stylish hotel. Situated in the vicinity of Blok M shopping district, most amenities lie within easy access.
Kristal Hotel, formerly known as Le Cristal, has won many plaudits. Sited just a few minute's drive from the exclusive Pondok Indah residential zone, it distinguishes itself as Jakarta's best family hotel. Rooms are equipped like serviced apartments and cater to long-term guests, such as the families of students who attend the four international schools nearby.
Coastal options abound. Just hop in a cab and head for Taman Impian Jaya Ancol, a recreational resort providing all sorts of entertainment, from Fantasy World and an oceanarium to a host of water sports. Once there, you can choose to che ck into a hotel or, if you prefer, rent a cottage or a bungalow.
Pondok Putri Duyung Cottage, featuring a traditional Indonesian-style interior, boasts quality beachfront cottages and bungalows designed to stay cool despite the tropical climate. For newlyweds, the ultimate retreat is Horison, alternatively called the “honeymooners hotel”. Its rooms are said to be delightfully romantic, most of them facing the splendid ocean. Take a stroll on its private beach or indulge in some exciting water sports.
Families with children tend to stay at the Ancol Travelodge. Despite its name, however, it looks far from a typical motel, with an extravagant ship-like design.
Stay in the old Dutch quarters of the city to experie nce times gone by. The Omni Batavia evokes the Dutch era perfectly with its magnificent colonial-style décor. If you decide to check in here, remember to drop by the quaint 19th-century Café Batavia just a short ride away.
Imperial Century within the ambitious Lippo Karawaci residential complex in Tangerang (some 20 minutes west of Jakarta's Central Business District along the Jakarta-Tangerang growth corridor) pampers guests with a range of outstanding facilities, including an international-standard country club and a golf range.
The backpacker haven of Jalan Jaksa provides many comfortable no-frills accommodations priced at well below USD50 per day. The New Karya is an outstanding property in its class, offering reasonably clean rooms and scenic views over the surrounding kampong (village) for units on higher floors. A recommended alternative, Tator International Hostel, is immaculately clean. However, since it has only 20 rooms, you can expect it to be perpetually booked.
If these two are fully occupied, there is no reason to fret. Le Margot, the Sabang Metropolitan and Cemara Hotel form only part of a long list of budget lodgings in Jalan Jaksa. Also in this district lie the slightly more expensive and more reputable Ibis Tamarin and Ibis Arcadia.
Archaeological findings trace the history of modern-day Jakarta back to the fifth century. The ancient monument at Tanjung Priok Port (close to Cilincing Coastline) disclosed that by the 16th century, it became a thriving port city known as Sunda Kelapa Harbor. At that time, the Hindu kingdom of Pajajaran ruled the area from a place now known as Bogor, in the hills outside Jakarta.
By the time Columbus headed to the East in search of spices, Sunda Kelapa had already developed into a major trading port. Among the first foreigners to set foot here were the Portuguese. In 1522, they made a mutually beneficial agree ment with the Pajajaran Kingdom; in return for access to valuable spices, the Portuguese defended the Hindus from the Islamic sultanate of Demak.
Nevertheless, on June 22, 1527, the Javanese Prince Fatahillah of the Demak Sultanate successfully defeated the Portuguese armed forces at the site of the Sunda Kelapa Harbor. The city was then renamed Jayakarta, meaning "a glorious victory." This eventful day came to be acknowledged as Jakarta's Founding Anniversary, and Fatahillah Park was named after the heroic prince.
The Dutch Years
The end of the 16th century recorded another milestone: The Dutch landed at Sunda Kelapa port in 1596 and established the United East India Comp any (Vereinigde Oost Indies Compagnie or V.O.C.) in 1602 to join the lucrative spice trade.
Years passed, and the V.O.C. grew stronger. At the pinnacle of its strength, in 1635, the Dutch transformed Jayakarta, or Batavia as they called it, into a walled canal city covering some 700 hectares of land. A ride down the Ciliwung River evokes the nostalgic aura that once divided the city in two parts: east and west. The Dutch-style Jembatan Pasar Ayam, originally engineered to bridge both sides, remains preserved today as a historical landmark.
During the 18th century, Batavia grew into an overpopulated city and the quality of life deteriorated. Of particular concern to the Dutch was the rapid growth of the Chinese community, which threatened to tip the ethnic and economic balance of power. Attempts by the Du tch to suppress the number of Chinese resulted in a bloodbath in 1740. At least 5,000 Chinese were killed, 500 in Batavia City Hall, now the Jakarta History Museum. The Chinese were then confined to ghettos, the site of today's Glodok.
In the early 19th century Governor-General Herman Willem Daendels developed a new residential area called Weltevreden, the center of which is now the Lapangan Merdeka.
The British Years
In 1811, the British arrived and took over the land previously controlled by the Dutch. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who governed from 1811 to 1816, resided in Bogor Palace, where his first wife Olivia died. She was buried at Taman Prasasti. As a memorial, Raffles erected a special monument in Bogor Botanical Garden .
After only five years in Batavia, the British handed the land back to the Dutch, who ruled until Japanese occupation during World War II.
The New Beginning
By the early 1900s, young Indonesian scholars began to question Dutch dominion. Historians refer to 1908 as the "Year of Awakening," when a group of medical students founded the first independence organization for the people's political aspirations, Budi Utomo. These students held meetings in the medical school which is now STOVIA Museum of the History of National Awakening.
During Japane se occupation, the fight for independence intensified. Paramilitary Indonesian youth groups held regular meetings in a house in Menteng, now converted into the Museum of the 1945 Struggle for Independence.
When the Japanese finally surrendered on August 14, 1945, Admiral Tadashi Maeda brought Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta—the founding fathers of modern Jakarta—to his house on Jalan Imam Bonjol. Here, they drafted the Declaration of Independence. On the morning of August 17, 1945, the manuscript was read aloud at Jalan Proklamasi, a spot marked by the Soekarno-Hatta Monument. The next day, Soekarno became the first president of the Republic of Indonesia and Mohammad Hatta the first vice-president.
A number of ambitious development projects were undertaken during Soekarno's presidency, inclu ding Hotel Indonesia, Senayan Sports Complex and Sarinah department store. Towards the end of his tenure an attempted coup resulted in the murder of a number of army generals, allegedly by communists. In memory of the massacred generals, the Lubang Buaya Memorial Park and Museum was established.
After Soekarno's administration ended in 1966, General Haji Mohammad Soeharto brought economic and political stability to the country after years of chaos. Under his unilateral leadership, Indonesia developed a self-sufficient rice crop. His power came to an unfortunate end, however, as a result of a prolonged financial and economic crisis triggered by the Asian economic meltdown in 1997. In a subsequent wave of public protests and riots, he was left with little choice but to terminate his 32 years in power. On May 21, 1998, he ha nded over presidential control to his vice-president, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie.
For the first time in history, a democratically elected government led by President Abdurrahman Wahid now rules the republic. In a more open society, Indonesians hope that the country will once again return to the path toward prosperity.
Jakarta is a world-class culinary hybrid where ethnic Indonesian and global influences come together to produce diversity and a spectrum of intercontinental fusion foods with a local twist. As the capital of a developing, predominantly Muslim country, it possesses an abundance of modestly-priced halal fare. That said, however, this is a city where you can eat anything from curried pork to grilled kangaroo and order drinks from a lychee mocktail to a glass of Chateaux Lafitte. On the same block, you can spend IDR8,000 on a hearty plate of fried noodles and IDR800,000 on an artful tableau of cold-water raw fish.
Food Stalls set the Scene
Most eating in Jakarta takes place in the street. Even the most casual observer cannot miss the mo bile army of warungs (food stalls) and snack vendors in perpetual search of customers, weaving their way among jalopies, juggernauts and BMW sedans. These vendors sell nosh, quintessentially Indonesian satay or bakso tok-tok (Chinese soup) from as little as IDR500 a portion.
Visitors are more likely to encounter this breed of vendors in office blocks, shopping areas and popular entertainment districts. Miraculously, these peddlers also spring up around more itinerant crowds at building sites, queues, traffic jams and even demonstrations! They serve Indonesians on modest salaries, foreign visitors on tight budgets and long-term residents who take pride in their strong stomachs. As a rule, these stalls have no access to running water, and vendors either bring along non-refrigerated cooked food or cook in the open, dusty, humid, traffic-clogged street, where patrons also eat. Consequently, as quaint or exotic as t his experience may seem, it is only recommended for the intestinally courageous. If you decide to sample anyways, following some basic rules may keep you healthy, such as eating only food you watch being cooked, abstaining from chutneys and sauces that have been sitting out and avoiding raw and cut up fruits and vegetables.
Fast Food and Global Grazing
The city is home to the usual Third World assortment of First World fast-food franchises, plus a flood of inexpensive local clones and other modest eateries. They proliferate around busy shopping areas like Blok M and at food courts in fancier air-conditioned malls such as Plaza Senayan, Taman Anggrek Mall and Plaza Indonesia. There you can graze your way around t he world for less than the price of a sandwich on Madison Avenue or a gin and tonic in a London pub. Choose from a huge selection of foods such as pizza, quiche, tacos, kebabs, curry, sushi or hamburgers. Follow this with low-fat yogurt, ice cream, tropical fruit salad or chocolate-chip cookies. To accompany your meal you can order from a vast array of fresh fruit juices, soft drinks or a limited choice of alcoholic beverages, such as the local Bintang beer, and end with a cafe latte or a bowl of green tea.
Eating across the Isles
Alternatively, you can sample modest cuisines from across the country's 3,200-mile-wide archipelago, including safer versions of all the items offered by the warungs described above. Classics include bubur ayam, a chicken-and-rice porridge; the West Sumatran, Padang dish rendang, consisting of beef cooked in a dry, spicy coconut sauce; gado-gado, an assortment of blanched vegetables and fried tofu in peanut sauce; and the very spicy pork or chicken dish from Manado, rica-rica. Satay House Senayan, Mirasari Restaurant, Dapur Sunda, Dapoer Tempo Doeloe offer a wide range, while spots such as Restoran Pulau Dua and Raja Laut Restaurant specialize in Indonesia's diversity of seafood dishes.
Gastronomic Ghettos and Swank Selections
Smarter eateries can be found dotting the city and in major hotels. Again, they offer a local and international kaleido scope of choice. Those located in and around the business district of Jalan Jenderal Sudirman, Jalan Jenderal Gatot Sobroto, Jalan H.R. Rasuna Said and Jalan M.H. Thamrin cater to the lunch crowd and affluent after-work diners and drinkers. Dip into Cinnabar for chic fusion, Lan Na Thai for Thai, Le Soufflé for French, Hazara for Indian, Tien Chao for Chinese and Chianti Classico Bistro for Mediterranean. These establishments are a few examples of the stylish central eateries popular with the business crowd. You can also indulge in even fancier eating experiences at Riva, Margaux and Zigolini.
Many of the city's classier bars lie in this same city-center area, mostly in hotels. CJ's Bar and B.A.T.S. are some which attract well-heeled city workers. More modest drinking establishments sprawl in less plush surroundings around busy shopping districts like Blok M.
To some extent, the demographics and living arrangements of expatriates drive the restaurant and bar business. Therefore, Japanese and Korean food and drink are readily available throughout the city, in office blocks and near centrally-located apartment complexes that these communities tend to favor. Bushido Japanese Restaurant is a particularly popular spot. In the meantime, an abundance of upmarket restaurants, cafés and bars targeting Western tastes sp rout up in the residential expatriate enclave of Kemang, south of the city, especially along Jalan Kemang Raya. William's, Toscana and Anatolia are just four of the dozens you will find along this busy stretch.
Jakarta offers a few absolutely matchless dining and drinking experiences. Cafe Batavia, facing the splendid colonial Fatahillah Park northwest of the city, provides another memorable experience. Named after Jakarta's Dutch colonial antecedent, it captures the old city's elegance in its magnificent architecture and conveys a stylish, international assurance in its eclectic art collection and in the twin Hong Ko ng and Pacific Rim menus it presents. A visitor cannot fail to be charmed.