Jakarta is one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia. With over 10 million people inhabiting it, Jakarta is a major hub for business, travel, and all sorts of other industries. Many people who visit the island of Java choose to skip over the capital entirely. I for one feel like you aren’t paying your dues by visiting Indonesia without visiting Jakarta. The capital is a great way to experience the modern Indonesian culture and the everyday life of the Javan people who call Jakarta home. The locals will be the first to tell you that there really isn’t much to do in the way of tourist activities though. The city is very modern, with some slums mixed in, giving it a very unique feeling. Most people who live there have eked out a pretty standard routine of work and home life. We spent 5 days in Jakarta and we were perfectly content to take our time just wandering around, finding coffee shops, and eating street food. The following activities are the main attractions we found while visiting Jakarta.
This mosque is the largest in Southeast Asia. It is located just outside of Merdeka Square where the National Monument is. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the second floor and look out over the main hall. I’ve heard of tours, but I’m not sure what more they can offer as far as where you are allowed to go in the mosque. You should take note of what time daily prayers are because non-Muslims are not allowed in the mosque during these times. You should already know how to dress when entering a mosque if you are travelling in Indonesia. A local told me that the donation that they request on the way out should be around 10,000 Rp, but the guy who asked us was definitely not thrilled with that amount. The Istiqlal Mosque welcomes all visitors and is an interesting place to visit.
National Monument (MONAS) in Merdeka Square
Merdeka Square is basically the heart of Jakarta. It is a large gated park and plaza with lots of open space to hang out. The National Monument of Jakarta (MONAS) is located at it’s center. You can enter the monument from underneath and visit the museum in the bottom, which includes many elaborate dioramas detailing the unique history of Indonesia. You can also take the elevator up to the very top of the monument to an observation deck that probably has the best view of Jakarta. It is pretty smoggy some days, as is the norm for Jakarta, but you can still see the skyline. If you go to the square at night, the monument itself is lit up by colored lights and there is a market with local food and souvenirs just outside the square. The entrance to the national monument is less than $1 usd.
*Note: Merdeka Square is closed on Mondays for grounds maintenance.
National Museum of Jakarta
The National Museum of Jakarta is located just outside of Merdeka Square and MONAS. The museum documents the many important archaeological discoveries found in Indonesia as well as other important pieces of Java’s past. The museum was free on the day we went in because it was Indonesian independence month, but I can only assume it was as cheap as all of the other museums in town, in which case it was less than 20,000 Rp/person. The museum has three floors and is very nicely maintained. All of the artifacts and exhibits have signs in both English and Indonesian.
Pasar Baru Market
Pasar Baru is the largest and oldest market in Jakarta. It is not the sprawling outdoor market it probably once was, as many newer shops and stores have moved in and opened up. There are lots of stores selling traditional Indonesian Batik clothing as well as fruit stands, juice bars, and other food carts. Aside from this, you will find a lot of made in China junk like cheap souvenirs, watches, and sunglasses. If you are running out of activities in Jakarta, you should definitely make a trip over to Pasar Baru. It is entertaining just to walk around and it also has some of the best bargains on Batik clothing.
Kota Tua Jakarta
Kota Tua is the old town area of Jakarta. It is not a far ride from Merdeka Square and is where you can learn a lot about the history of the city of Jakarta in the many museums around the area. Kota Tua is probably the most touristy area in Jakarta and its really not even that bad. Most of the people hanging out there are locals and students visiting the museums and interviewing foreigners for homework. Here are the museums we visited in Kota Tua, all located in the main plaza and about 5,000 Rp. each to enter.
The Jakarta History Museum is the central building in the plaza. The building itself is a major part of the exhibition as it was built during the Dutch occupation and used for centuries as a central government building before independence.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics is home to both new and old works of art. There are many great paintings from Indonesian artists as well as many intriguing and intricate works of pottery. The museum has plenty of English descriptions and an easy to follow pathway that shows you the order of progression through the exhibits.
The Wayang Museum is an entire museum dedicated to the art of puppet making in Java. The museum is surprisingly large to have such a niche exhibition. It might as well be free to enter, but I think it cost something like 5,000 Rp. Some of the puppets are pretty creepy. It is definitely worth checking out.
Last, but not least, there are many authentic Indonesian coffee shops scattered around Jakarta. Indonesian coffee is famous around the world, o much so that in the west the word “Java” is synonymous with the word “coffee.” The coffee shops in Jakarta are a great way to sample some of the many different roasts and regions of coffee produced in Indonesia. They may brew it a little weaker than you are used to at home, but the caffeine may just sneak up on you!