Nicknamed the Big Durian, after the famously foul-smelling but sweet-tasting fruit, Jakarta means ‘victorious deed’ and is seen as the Indonesian equivalent of the Big Apple. Renamed Batavia under Dutch colonial rule, the city regained its former name after the Europeans were kicked out in 1942.
Today the capital and largest city of Indonesia, Jakarta is home to more than 10 million people although nearly three times that number live within its province. The ideal time to visit is from June to October, avoiding the long monsoon season during the rest of the year. In terms of accommodation, there is a huge range of choices from budget hostels to five star hotels in Jakarta.
Founded by the Dutch as the Royal Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences in 1778, the National Museum of Indonesia is housed in what is known locally as the Elephant Building after the large bronze pachyderm in the front yard. With more than 60,000 prehistoric and anthropological artifacts and 5,000 archeological artifacts including some of the world’s oldest human fossils, the museum deserves its position as one of the finest in South East Asia.
Known in the 16th Century as ‘The Jewel of Asia’ or ‘The Queen of the East’, Old Jakarta is the area known to the Dutch settlers as Batavia. Covering just 1.3 square kilometres it is known locally today as Kota, or ‘city’ meaning the area within the old walls. Centred around Fatahillah Square, the area is home to many colonial era buildings, a sad number of which are in a state of disrepair but at the weekends in particular Old Jakarta comes alive as it fills with tourists, performers and street sellers.
Near the old city is the historic harbour of Sunda Kelapa which gets its name, meaning ‘Coconut of Sunda’ from the 13th century kingdom of Sunda, of which it was the main port. The harbour thrived during the spice trade as pepper was the major crop of Sunda and later was the basis for Dutch East India activity in the area until the larger port Tanjung Priok was built in the 19th century.
Today the area comprises picturesque boardwalks and the dockside is lined with traditional twin-masted wooden sailing ships known as Pinisi, which continue to carry freight between the islands of the archipelago. As a working harbour, Sunda Kelapa is not a polished tourist attraction but worth a visit nevertheless. The local Maritime Museum, housed in a former warehouse tells the story of the spic trade and the importance of sea trade to Indonesia.
Wayang is the term for traditional Javanese theatre and the art has been granted UNESCO Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity status, requiring the Indonesian government to preserve and promote it. Probably brought to Indonesia from either China or India in the first century, the best known form, Wayang Kulit, uses puppets fashioned from buffalo hide and attached to sticks which are held between a light source and white cloth screen to create a shadow theatre. The museum has displays of these puppets as well as examples of
Jakarta is celebrated as one of the best places to shop in South East Asia but if you want to get away from the mega-malls and get your hands on some charming oddities from Indonesia’s past – real or fake – whether Dutch, Javanese, Balinese, Muslim, Christian or Hindu, Jalan Surabaya, a combination flea and antique market is place to find it. Located in the upscale Menteng district – where Barack Obama lived as child – the stalls are an eclectic mix but whatever’s on sale, the vendors enjoy a good haggle so bargain hard.
Often visited merely as a stopover destination, Jakarta has plenty to see and do to make it an entertaining place to visit in its own right.
Recently travelling through Indonesia, Sam has picked up many great tips and tricks to do in the nation, including some great attractions for you to visit.