Where is everybody?

My trip to Indonesia didn’t get off to the best of starts, as a huge storm kicked up on our approach to Jakarta, meaning we had to divert to Singapore. By that time, we were running low on fuel, and the pilots had already worked over their maximum hours, so we had to sit around on the plane for three hours while we waited for refuelling and new pilots to be found. By the time we finally made it to Jakarta, we’d been delayed by more than five hours, and what’s worse, I was arriving in a huge city, on my own, in a new continent, with no hotel booked, at half past eleven at night, which was a slightly scary prospect.

I relayed my fears to one of the ground staff – who just laughed at me: ‘Jakarta is a 24 hour city. You’ll be fine’. That perked me up a little, and on the bright side at least it meant my taxi journey into town only took an hour at that time of night (it can easily be double that in the rush hour). I soon found a (rather basic) hotel in the cheap area of town, and headed out for some food round the corner, where I met three equally tired travellers who’s just arrived late as well for similar reasons: Stu from England, and Mike & Joachim from Sweden. A couple of beers later, I hit the sack, knackered after such a long journey and excited to see the big city the next day, despite the warnings from my Lonely Planet that there really wasn’t much to see.

Bugis schooners in Jakarta

They weren’t wrong. The old, colonial bit of the city is distinctly unimpressive (the Dutch must really not have been all that bothered with the place – after all, Holland is full of beautiful cities, but the architecture in Jakarta was pretty functional at best). The biggest surprise was the lack of tourists – this is the capital city of the biggest country in South East Asia (and the fourth biggest in the world) – and we must have seen about twenty foreigners the whole time we were there. At the time I presumed it must just be that everyone else had read that the city was a bit dull and headed straight to Yogyakarta. So we decided to do the same.

Making Batik in Yogya

With the bus terminals being way out of town (and the travel agents in town only selling tickets for expensive minibus journeys) we decided to take the night train down to Yogyakarta. Big mistake. The train stopped regularly throughout the night, and at every station a whole load of vendors jumped on, waking everyone up in their attempts to sell coffee, newspapers and nasi goreng. By the time we arrived (at 4.30am) we’d barely slept, and so ended up spending our first morning in the city asleep in the hostel.

Undergound Mosque in Yogya

Yogyakarta is a pleasant enough city, with some nice (but not stunning) historical sites, such as the Sultan’s palace and the ruined underground, circular mosque, but it certainly didn’t blow me away like many had in Latin America. Yet again though, there were barely any tourists in the city. With some of Indonesia’s most impressive sights nearby, I was beginning to realise that for some reason the country must have somehow slipped off most travellers’ map.

When there aren't many tourists around, there's plenty of time for sleeping

10 responses to “Where is everybody?

  1. Yogyakarta is not a common destination for international tourists. When you visit Indonesia, the best places to visit are outside the Java island i.e: Bali, Lombok, Sumatera, Sulawesi, Papua.

  2. I’ve read all the articles about jakarta on this site. but to be honest, jakarta is way more beyond that.

    Unlike other main cities in the world, you should guided by the true ‘orang jakarta’ or you may say jakarta people. With the true ‘orang jakarta’ or if you have any relatives here, i’m sure your point of view about Jakarta is the other way around.

    As, the true “orang jakarta” I can say Jakarta is like other cities in the world with thousands things to offer. I’ts like the other metropolitan city once you’ve experience it ‘right’. Luxurious hotels, malls, clubs, lounges, etc are easily can be found in the main golden triangle in jakarta along with other traditional stuffs.

    Although it’s true about the security here is not 100% safe, but some tourists may have disagree that.

    Overall, even jakarta may not as ‘kind’ as Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or any major cities in south Asia, Jakarta still have thousands unique things that you’ll never find in any other city in the world.

    I hope the next time you visit Jakarta will be different. Greetings from Jakarta.. God bless..

    • I’m really not interested in luxurious hotels, malls, clubs and lounges – I can do that sort of thing in any city of the world (including at home). I travel to experience different things. You say that there are thousands of unique things that Jakarta has to offer – but you haven’t said what any of them are!

      I spent two months in Indonesia and absolutely loved it. The only place I disliked in the whole country was Jakarta, and every other traveller I met had the same opinion. If there are loads of unique things to see and do, then the city does a very poor job of promoting it to tourists – all I was able to find were some disappointing museums and lots of malls and fast food places.

  3. Hmmm… Firstly I would say that if I were a tourist (I came from Jakarta :D), I woudn’t even bother to go to Jakarta and head directly to Bali, or somewhere in Sulawesi or Lombok where they have nice beaches, or Sumatera (esp. Nias), Kalimantan and Papua for some raw culture. You see, Jakarta is very metropolis and westernised, the “fun stuff” you should be doing there are going to the malls, bar hopping, watching movies or theaters, shopping, lounging, etc. There are a lot of nice places to eat, shop, chill and drink, but if you want to get some “touristy adventure”, Jakarta is just not the place. And I agree with Agustino up there that Jakarta is not as “kind” as KL or Singapore, and you might need an “orang Jakarta” to go around. It’s crowded, not friendly for a streetwalker (well, they have improved now, but still…) and sometimes the heat and the smell (of the pollution) are unbearable. Moreover, most of the foreigners in Jakarta are expats, not tourists, so they probably wouldn’t look for touristy stuff. You could find them chilling in Kemang on weekends, dining, having drinks and shisha, or just driving around. Kemang is both the expat place as well as the home of a lot creative young Indonesian minds (there are a lot of unique clothes, furnitures, cafe, etc). I know that there are no amazing historical buildings (like Borobudur and such) in Jakarta, as it has been replaced by tall buildings and malls (such a shame, yes), but I wouldn’t say that the city is so boring that it would repel tourists. I’d say you went to the wrong places in jakarta. I dont know what kind of attraction you’re trying to find, but assuming from your “attempt” in Jakarta, I’d say you’re looking for a culture and history, Jakarta’s uniqueness.

    The best place to go in Jakarta, if you’re looking for culture and such, is TMII or the Indonesian miniature park. There, you could see different kinds of culture that Indonesia has, from Sumatera to Papua. There are also parks and museums (like, loads of them), skylift where you could see the miniature of Indonesia and such, theaters, IMAX theaters called “Keong Mas” (it’s shaped like a golden shell. Keong means shell and mas, or emas means gold) art and craft stuff, and if you’re lucky you’ll find some dances and exhibitions there.

    There’s also a pasar seni near the beach in Northern Jakarta, I used to go there on weekends just to look around. There are stuff to do as well in northern jakarta, one of them is the unimpressive colonial town you saw. There’s actually a museum there called Museum Fatahillah. The rest is stuff like a big amusement park (My favourite!! :D), seaworld, and Marina Ancol, where you can do water sports or just look around. Northern Jakarta is close to a chinatown, and you can definitely shop there if you’re interested. In other part of Jkt, we have this zoo called Ragunan as well. I’m sure they have zoo or amusement park or seaworld anywhere, so I wont bother explaining further.

    There’s also a place called Setu Babakan. It’s a lake, really, but there you could see a lot of cultural stuff of Betawi (native Jakarta), from dances, or the Lenong, houses, food, and a lot more. In June or July they usually have a lot of events going on since it’s Jakarta’s birthday. Jalan Jaksa is also famous among the traveler, backpackers usually flock over there. There are some cultural exhibitions as well there sometimes, you just need to to know the right times. But anyways, in Jalan Jaksa, you’ll find that a lot of them speak English so you don’t have to worry.

    You could also go to Monas, if you want. I’d say Monas is pretty from afar (remembering that part of it is actually pure gold), especially at night with all the lights, but inside it’s full of school bunkers who have nowhere to go, and annoying little kids. You could see the real proclamation script there, as well as some carvings about different times of Indonesia, from the Hindu kingdoms, Dutch colonialism, and the present situation. But I’d say it’s not much of a treat.

    Oh, if you like islands, you can go island hopping in thousand island (Pulau Seribu) in Northern Jakarta. Honestly, I go there whenever I want to tan or in desperate need of a secluded place.

    One spot that doesn’t have anything to do with all those old traditional culture and such is Bundaran HI. It’s a roundabout, and there’s a fountain in the middle. not a tourist stuff, I know, but you could go to the top of any building around there (and it would be okay coz all of them are malls and hotels) and just look at the lights and the fountains. It’s not spectacular or anything, but it’s certainly the important part of the new, modern, and westernised (and superficial… lol) Jakarta. It’s a weird suggestion, I know :P

    There are some events that people like to go to, like the annual JavaJazz. there are a lot of friends of mine who actually come to Jakarta for this event. Exhibitions are held in Jakarta Convention Center, from the odd ones (like last time there’s toiletries and paper exhibition…) to cultural ones (where they invite artists from all over Indonesia). There are also TIM (Taman Ismail Marzuki) and GKJ (Gedung Kesenian Jakarta) where they would have a lot of theaters and dances and such. I actually went there only to watch ballet performances, but anyhoo, there are tons of Indonesian dances and theaters, as well as wayang (puppet made from calf skin) show as well. Also, if you come around Chinese New Year and Cap Go Meh (like, the first full moon of the new year), or during jakarta’s birthday in June-July, you’ll see that the city is full of cultural parades. Those are my favourite times of the year, even though the traffic is unbearable :p

    Alright, those are some of the places I used to go to when I was still in Jakarta. Looking back, I’d say that the life in the city itself is harsh, but the people are nice, and the city is pretty (at least for me), even with all those dust and traffic. I hope they would fix the infrastructure and the tourist attraction places, so that people could appreciate it more.

    • Wow – thank you so much for this, Kanya – I wish I’d had that kind of information before I arrived in Jakarta, I hope that’s at least helpful for any future readers

      • Well, most “orang Jakarta” have forgotten these places and would rather go to malls, bars and clubs. I myself wouldn’t have remembered about these places if I had never step my foot outside Indonesia and found myself missing everything about Jakarta so dearly… I guess it’s already normal even for someone from Jakarta to not know much about these places :( I love your blog, btw. I love traveling as well, and next month I’m going to retrace your steps in Philippines (and of course visiting some other places that my Philippino friends suggested) :D

  4. Hi Geoff,
    which places did you get to visit while in Indonesia? (other than Jakarta and Yogyakarta)

    Kanya has pretty much summed up all about Jakarta. Here’s our way of showing how much fun and beauty you can enjoy while in Jakarta http://tinyurl.com/odj7jz and http://tinyurl.com/y7lj8sb

    Here’s a celebration of Chinese New Year in the north part of the city http://tinyurl.com/y268oj3 and http://tinyurl.com/y48qdya

    And the whole website actually talks about our experiences traveling in our own beloved (and challenging!) country.
    Hope it’s useful to you and to anyone who has enough guts to explore it :D
    It’s http://www.indohoy.com , by the way

  5. Dude… if you’re looking for experience, I consider you should get lost in Jakarta. Take the bus anywhere and take the non AC, don’t take a taxi. Eat at a random ‘warung nasi’ and not in a restaurant, or gamble out and eat what ever is sold in the streets. Walk in the small alleys that just seem to be to smelly and filled with water puddles.
    Jakarta is quite extreme considering living miserable, although it’s nothing probably compared to Indoa. But the highlight of it all, you can see that people always smile and accepted they’re situation somehow. I don’t think Jakarta offers that much cultural, traditional, and raw touristy stuff on the surface, but it offers such an understanding under the sheets.

    But I have to agree with Kanya about the thousand islands or ‘kepulauan seribu’. A great snorkle trip and a peek at the local island people life is it’s best offer (they even have to buy drinking water from Jakarta). I miss this part of town already.

  6. Yogyakarta isn’t quiet popular, but most interesting with archeological sites. So, there many things more than other places in Indonesia. Just different

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