16 June 2017

My Jakarta Experience: The Good & the Bad | Travel Diary


Visiting Jakarta was a very different experience for me. While I initially regretting going at first, and almost bought an early plane ticket out of there, I decided to give it a shot and in the end, I'm glad I did.
I wanted to visit Jakarta as it was my third time to Indonesia, and I thought it would be rude not to visit the capital city of a country I liked so much.
Going to a city with a metropolitan area that exceeds 30 million people - the largest city in Southeast Asia, I was rather excited by that fact rather than hindered. (I'm crazy).
It was also the first predominantly Muslim place I had ever been to, a whole new experience for me, and because I am apparently very ignorant - I had no idea that I was coming right at the beginning of Ramadan.

The day before I was due to fly there from Bali, I woke to the news that there had been twin suicide bombing attacks in Jakarta. This, to be honest, freaked me out as I am travelling alone and I just didn't know if it was a safe place for me to go to.
I messaged my Airbnb host and he quickly reassured me that it was fine, there were still tourists walking around and that we shouldn't let the terrorists win, which I agreed with.

A bad start. Day One. 26.05.17.

As I was staying for a full week at my Airbnb, an airport transfer was included which I was very grateful for. Without traffic, it should have taken around thirty minutes, but it took an hour and a half as it was around 2 pm, and as I had been warned - the traffic in Jakarta is terrible! But Reza, my host was wonderful to talk to. He had even studied in New Zealand at an Auckland high school and university and also owned a property in Bali. 
He gave me some frank advice, which I highly appreciated: "It is the beginning of Ramadan here, so it is better that you keep your head down. The women, they demand respect, so cover your shoulders and knees and don't look them in the eye." 
He also warned me not to walk alone by myself at night, as it is not even safe for Muslim women. Their public buses here have even had to employ security guards on every single one, and there are also separate women's only buses, to try to stop sexual abuse.

Passing the National Monument on the way
Reza's place, my apartment for the week was located in Thamrin, a local area. And I mean local, as in I was definitely the only European in the near vicinity and everywhere I went I had eyes on me.
The apartment was on the 39th level so it had great city views and the room had everything I could need - including a washing machine (which I'm sure every traveller would be grateful for!).

The view from my balcony
I zoomed right in to see the famous monument and mosque behind it
After taking me to the apartment, Reza kindly offered to show me to the supermarket which was located on the ground level, where there was an enormous local mall called Thamrin City. We zigzagged left, right, straight, up an escalator, left, right, through rows and rows of stalls. We eventually came to the supermarket - and he left me there. So I went about and did a little shop, stocking up on supplies, and then... I couldn't find my way back. What a surprise! I was stuck in this nightmare of going round and round and I just could not find my way. There were no signs in English (not that I knew what I was looking for) and I asked several shopkeepers (who ignored me) and a total of three security guards if they spoke English, and they did not. 
I am normally a tough person, but after an hour and a half, I was on the verge of tears. I asked one more guard desperately if they spoke English and he actually got up and found me someone who did, who was my saviour. I was on the wrong level and he pointed me in the right direction... 

I eventually made it back to my room feeling f***ing relieved, only to then try to connect to the wifi - which did not work! Reza said he would message me the password through the Airbnb email, which he did - however, I needed the internet to access it... the text that I got on my phone only showed the first two lines of the message and not the password. 
I was so upset I literally screamed! I had to go back into that god damn mall (sorry, just venting my feelings here), and I had to try to find an Indonesian sim card to buy data. Two unsuccessful attempts and another hour later, I had a sim card and data on my phone. 

It was now around 7 pm and I managed to capture a glimpse of the burning red sun going down, before tucking into my 20 cent pot of instant noodles for dinner, as I sure as hell was not going out again. The way everyone stared at me, the lack of help and being thrown wildly out of my comfort zone (which I normally embrace) really shook me. 
The final damning point in my day was that after all of that stress, all I wanted was a beer, which as I very sadly found out, is not sold in supermarkets and local stores. (Cue violin strings). I settled with an alcohol-free Bintang radler, which okay, wasn't that bad, and went to bed wondering what I was doing in Jakarta.

Lit up at night

Day Two. 27.05.17.

I was woken up at 4:45 am to the loud cries/prayers of a nearby mosque. The sound certainly rose high and that was my first introduction to Ramadan. As I later found out, Muslims have to pray at scheduled times five times a day, the first before the beginning of the fast.
Today was a Saturday and to be honest I was not interested in going out and exploring. 
I skyped with my husband Gareth and used the time to catch up on the pile of work I had accumulated in Bali. I did pop out around lunch time as I had heard there were cafes and food available in the mall but after a lof of searching I discovered they were of course all closed during the day for Ramadan.
There was a 7/11 type convenience store on the ground level so I stocked up on more noodles, packets of chips, chocolate cereal, milk and bananas. 
That was literally my day. The way the men stared at me wherever I walked, even with my skin covered and my head down made me feel very uncomfortable and to be honest I did not feel safe. I seriously considered buying an early ticket to Thailand, but I knew I had not even given this place a chance and that's what stopped me.

The view from the opposite side of the building I was staying in
Afternoon snacking...

Day Three. 28.05.17.

Being a Sunday, Reza had told me that it was a car-free morning along the main streets from 6 - 11 am. At 9:30 I thought I should pop out to see what the city was like. It was a 40-minute walk to the main icon of the city, the National Monument, or Monas, as the locals call it. It was actually a very pleasant walk and there were many locals out and about for a jog or cycle along the empty roads.
I only passed one other European, and we both side-eyed each other as we walked past with the expression of "what is this person doing in Jakarta?" It was a funny moment.

Down my street a bit
Jakartan Tuk Tuks

I took my time, so as I approached Monas I took a few snaps and had to basically turn around to make it back in time before the cars came. I made a very quick stop at a Starbucks first, where I ordered a refreshing coffee frappuccino (it was very hot walking around in jeans at 35° C) and a ham and egg quiche which I wolfed down, my first proper meal in a while.

I was glad to have gone out and I walked passed and discovered Grand Indonesia, a big Western shopping mall, which was only a 15-minute walk from where I was staying. I noted to visit there the next day.

Day Four. 29.05.17.

Today, as predicted, I walked back to Grand Indonesia. This became a haven I frequented often. The shops didn't so much appeal to me, as I wasn't interested in buying anything, but there were many local food courts (that were open!) and it was a safe place, you even had to put your bags through a scanner to enter inside. I explored the mall and found an excellent Japanese sushi restaurant, which you ordered on an iPad, and it came flying out on train-like rails.
And they sold beer! Glorious beer. I was very happy and over-ordered, but extremely pleased with my discovery.

A very eerie morning (it started pouring soon after)
Inside the mall
I ordered another 4 pieces after this...

Day Five. 30.05.17.

After spending the best part of the day working I ventured back to Grand Indonesia in the afternoon with the plans of visiting the Skye Bar for sunset. I had read it was one of the top things to do in Jakarta and conveniently it happened to be attached to that exact mall.
I browsed a few shops before locating the only bar in the mall called Paulaner Brauhaus. Now if anyone here knows me, you'll know I love my German beer, and I was ecstatic to find there was not only a bar (uncommon), but a German bar here. It took me a while to find, but eventually I settled with a delicious half pint of freshly poured Hefeweizen, my favourite. I laughed when I looked around wondering why everyone was staring at me - I was the only female in the bar, and also alone, which I suppose might be strange to some people.

Afterwards, I rocked up to the 56th floor to the Skye Bar and wowed at the incredible skyline. I had two cocktails, a mango vodka and a dragonfruit margarita, both around $15 AUD each, but you pay for the view. I enjoyed watching the sky darken, but as it was super cloudy/smoggy on the western side I couldn't actually see the sun set.

The Skye Bar is at the very top!

Once it was dark, I popped down to the busy local food court and ordered a delicious Indonesian chicken curry. I was the only European amongst a sea of people breaking their fast, but I was not unwelcome.
As I was out late after dark, I decided to try my hand at my first Uber motorbike. I already had the app downloaded on my phone from Australia and I didn't need to change anything to use it. It automatically came up with the extra option to choose a motorbike.
It arrived quickly, the guy didn't speak English, but he didn't need to. I hopped on and at first, held on for dear life - but it was a breeze! I had a huge dopey grin on my face, weaving in and out of the traffic, and it didn't take long at all. Guess how much that cost me? A grand total of 50 cents AUD. I was flabbergasted.

Day Six. 31.05.17.

I researched quite a bit and although there weren't many tours I found for Jakarta, I happened to find a free walking tour on Trip Advisor that had good reviews, among the central city highlights. They do several tours including a street food tour I was interested in, but as it was Ramadhan, it was temporarily canceled.
I booked my new favourite way to get around - Uber motorbike and it was about a fifteen-minute ride to the meeting point at the National Museum.

I was the only person on the tour (I wasn't surprised) so I basically got my own personal tour! We started with Monas before heading to the famous Istiqlal Mosque - the largest in Southeast Asia, passing some interesting streets and buildings along the way.

This was my first time in a mosque so it was a very new experience for me. Even though I was fully clothed I still had to don a robe (which was stifling hot) and you had to take your shoes off to enter. I cursed myself for not bringing socks, but ignored that and got shown around the enormous place. I was taken to a viewing platform where I was allowed to take photos (I didn't want to be rude but I did snap a quick couple). The praying sections are segregated and the right side is for men only and the left for women. The set times for that day's praying were all illuminated on large clocks on the walls.
I was shown the ground floors where the big beating drum is that calls the prayers and the large area where a capacity of 200,000 people can meet at one time during big celebrations. There were young boys playing around the drum and they all came over and stood around me while my guide talked about the significance of the drum. They couldn't even say hello but they were very interested in me, this blonde girl that was in their mosque (there were no other tourists about that I saw).

Afterwards, we walked across the road to the Saint Mary's Cathedral. They were built opposite each other as a symbol of tolerance among all religions. Even their national slogan translates to "Unity in diversity."
The top spires were destroyed in earthquakes twice before they decided to rebuild in stone, which is why they are white.

We had a peek inside and then the three-hour tour was up, which sure went by quickly.
I really enjoyed my day and I learned so much from my guide, even where his top favourite spots in Indonesia were to travel to (which I hastily wrote down). I gave him a decent tip and Uber motorbiked back to Grand Indonesia. By my third ride, I was cruising around on the back of the bike like a pro, not even holding on. Totally fitting in (not really, I stuck out like a sore thumb). That ride was rather interesting, I was proposed to by a guy on the side of the road while stuck in traffic. That sure doesn't happen every day.
I had one last Paulaner Hefeweizen (and the bartender impressively remembered my order) before heading back to the food court for a cheap and delicious local dish.

The national symbol and slogan
Beef Rendang

Day Seven. 1.06.17.

For my final day in Jakarta I was up bright and early for a day trip I had also found through Trip Advisor. I had my own personal driver and guide for the day to see more of the city.
I had shaken off my initial apprehension and wished to make the most out of my time there.
As I had already seen the central highlights, I was first taken to the Old Town Square which has the first ever building, built in 1707 which served as the Town Hall.

We then drove to East Jakarta to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, meaning 'Beautiful Indonesian Miniature Park.' This was a large cultural park full of miniature traditional Indonesian houses, museums, a water and fun park, even a reptile park. I started on a gondola ride around the entire 250 acres, which had excellent views (although it was a rather bumpy and nerve-racking ride!).

I then got to go inside one of the traditional West Sumatran houses I saw from above.
One part was dressed for a typical ceremonial wedding and there were traditional bridal and groom outfits on display.

I was super excited to visit the reptile park as they had a Komodo dragon and I had never seen one before. It was just a small one, but I heard all about how dangerous they are - basically, they are mini dinosaurs. There were also many different types of Indonesian lizards, crocodiles and humongous snakes, the biggest I had ever seen!

Our final stop there was Museum Indonesia, of which the outside was a Hindu style temple. It reminded me so much of Bali and I loved it! Inside were three levels of historical Indonesian artifacts, displays, sculptures, custom clothing and mini traditional rooms of homes.

I remember learning about Indonesian puppets from Play School! (Kids TV show)

Lastly, I was taken to a famous Gado Gado restaurant where I tried the traditional Indonesian dish. Gado Gado is rice, vegetables, potato crackers and an egg served with a peanut sauce.

It was an excellent tour and the last couple of days ended my time in Jakarta on a good note. The next morning I packed up and was dropped back to the airport for my next adventure to Thailand. I won't lie, I was very excited to get to Thailand.

Final Thoughts

I was told to skip Jakarta as there are much nicer places to visit in Indonesia. I definitely believed them but I still wanted to go. I try not to regret anything that I do, as it is all life lessons that you can learn from, and I learned a lot in Jakarta. It was a new cultural experience and opened my eyes to a different part of the world I hadn't seen before.
I was impressed by their symbols of religious tolerance, but whether it is actually peacefully tolerated, I cannot be sure. I think if I had of stayed in a comfortable Western hotel and received great service, went about my tours and stuck to Starbucks and the mall, then yes my experience would have been significantly different, but my eyes would have been shielded. Staying in a local area showed me the real side of things, the streets and the real people and I did feel very exposed and uncomfortable at times, being alone and a female.
However, all was well, I kept to myself and walked about during the day fine enough and it was an interesting place to visit. Would I return again? Once was enough for me, but I did as always, appreciate my time there.

If you would like to see the highlights video I made from my time in Jakarta for Youtube, here is the link here:

One of my guides told me the locals call Jakarta the 'Big Durian'. This made me laugh, and he said "Smelly on the outside, but sweet on the inside." That, just like the fruit, might just be a matter of opinion!
Coming next will be my travels in Bangkok and Krabi, hope to see you there!

Happy Travels,
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  1. That was very interesting Krysti. You are definitely braver than I am. I'm looking forward to reading about your Thailand trip.

  2. You are brave. I would have run off on the first day, crying like a little girl if I was thar lost. I'm glad you enjoyed your time there. Amazing experience.

  3. Hannah Landers17 June 2017 at 16:56

    Such an enjoyable read. Looking forward to more adventurous stories from you!

  4. Well written and very interesting :) I have Indonesian ancestors, so it was nice to learn a little more about the nation. Thank you!

  5. I'm hardly brave enough to go to the grocery at night by myself let alone travel to a foreign country! I'm glad there are people like you to share these experience with us whimps though :)

  6. This was so fun to read. You are so brave for doing this alone and I envy you! You must be able to experience so much with that mentality. Keep it up!

  7. What an amazing trip. There is rarely a vacation without incident. But it sounds like you handle everything with grace. I don't know if I could have done it myself, Kudos. It looks absolutely beautiful

  8. I love travel bloggers that are honest about the good and bad of travel. I mean, I love it, it is my favorite hobby, but it is not always easy and sometimes it is extremely difficult. That being said, the good most often out weighs the bad, and I think the absolutely beautiful pictures that you captured illustrate this.

  9. I am so inspired you are brave!! I enjoyed reading this I felt as if I was right there with you, this is an experience you will never forget. Wish I had the guts to travel by myself.

  10. lol, I am Indonesian and have lived in Jakarta for my whole life. Indeed Jakarta is a hectic city. It is the type of place that will only be REALLY fun when you have friends in Jakarta. Because everything is centered around that (as you probably noticed by the abundance of malls). Also, the x-ray scanners at the malls are commonplace here, it's so that there will be no bombs (malls are targets here not temples and historical sites). But don't worry, that kind of thing scarcely happens. Bandung might be a good experience for you, but you need to do heavy research on the Sundanese nature and culture there first

  11. Hi, as an Indonesian i really enjoyed reading your experience in Jakarta. I lived in Jakarta for 1 year and decided to move to my hometown in Bandung. So i understand your feeling when i read your journey.

    Just in case you want to visit Indonesia again, do not forget to visit West Java. Especially Bandung :)

  12. Going to Visit Jakarta next week as I don’t know much about it so I was looking for a blog to know the best things to do there thanks for this information. As Know I know What to do there.


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