Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jakarta...Monas, Kota, the Business District & Shopping Malls (Day 2)

Jakarta: A Society of Extreme Contrast and a City on the Rise

"Now where has it been?
I mean the good old wild days
...There something in the air..."

Pogo by Digitalism

For some reason, this song was stuck in my head throughout my entire stay in Indonesia.  The Big Durian, as Jakarta is fondly called, isn't a popular tourist destination, not even to the locals, but I was here to give it a shot and try to find reasons for you guys to visit.  A place I like to call the Muslim Manila, it is infamous for traffic, over-population, high pollution levels, corruption and making international headlines for all the wrong reasons.  But like Manila, the shopping malls are first rate and if you muster up enough courage to walk it's historic streets and seldom visited tourist sights, you just might enjoy your trip, like I did!

Despite the freezing aircon in the train, I managed to get a good sleep and woke up an hour before we reached Jakarta.  The train stopped at Gambir Station, Jakarta's main rail terminal located in the city center; an adequate fully functioning transportation hub connecting Jakarta to all of Indonesia's major provinces.  It has shops & restaurants as well as reliable transportation options to wherever you're going in Jakarta in the form of Blue Bird Taxis.  Taxi drivers in the city have a bad reputation but one company (Blue Bird) has been well recommended by locals and previous visitors as honest and reputable.  I've stuck to taking Blue Bird Taxis during my stay in Jakarta and I can tell from experience that their drivers use the meter, take you to anywhere you want to go without refusing and are courteous and professional despite difficulties in communication.

From Gambir station to your hotel, your best bet is to hail a Blue Bird cab depositing passengers in the station.  Don't worry there's a lot of them in Jakarta and trips to anywhere around the city won't take more than 30 minutes (normal traffic) and won't cost you more than IDR 50,000.  There's also a Damri bus from Gambir Station which goes directly to the airport for IDR 20,000, leaving every 15-30 minutes.

For travelers looking for a more comfortable option, you may pre-arrange a private car transfer with Jakarta Airport Transfer.

Business class on the sleeper train

For my stay in Jakarta, I chose MaxOne Hotel Sabang, a basic but trendy hotel, costing only IDR 420,000 per night.  The standard room is small but new, wifi is free, and the bathroom is clean.  As for ammenties, only soap and shampoo are provided.  Service is good although breakfast is not included.  There is a coffee shop and a convenience store inside the hotel.  The hotel is located in Sabang which is behind the main street (Thamrin) but is only a 3 minute walk to the BRT Line 1 Bank Indonesia Station, 10 minutes walk to the Monas and 10 minutes walk to the shopping malls in the opposite direction.  For the price, it's good value for money and I would recommend it to budget travelers who want to be in a convenient location.  If money isn't a problem for you, the Kempinski Hotel has the best location linked to the malls and the BRT.

I got to the hotel early and was told to return for check-in around 2 pm.  They kept my luggage while I started Day 1 in Jakarta.

Maxone Hotel Sabang

The trendy reception area

The first place I checked out was the National Monument, also called the Monas.  It is Jakarta's most famous landmark, housed right in the middle of Merdeka Square, a public park in the middle of the city.  The Monas symbolizes Indonesia's fight for independence, an obelisk supported by a square platform with a golden flame at the peak of the structure.  Inside the Monas is a museum about Indonesian history with admissions costing IDR 2,000.  You could also climb the top of the structure for a 360 view of the city as there's an observatory which costs IDR 7,500.

The Monas and Merdeka Square remind me of Luneta Park in Manila, and how it's a source of pride for it's people and a gathering place on weekends and special occasions.  During my visit, there was a huge Muslim religious event and people were out in numbers throughout the area.  Scattered around Merdeka Square are other sights that are snap worthy like the Presidential Palace (Outside only), Mesjid Istiqlal, Jakarta Cathedral and the National Museum.

I just walked from my hotel to the Monas, but to explore the city more conveniently, you should ride the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) which is also called Trans Jakarta.  Like the one in Jogja, it functions like an MRT, stopping only at elevated makeshift stations and running on special bus lanes.  It's your best option in exploring the city economically and also take part in a daily local activity.  I think it's a brilliant system, it's a cheap, safe, traffic proof and tourist friendly commuting solution which stops at the major sights in Jakarta.  I'm actually quite envious and would really like to have this in my country!

To get to the Monas, take the BRT Line 1 to Monas station.  Fares are at a flat rate of IDR 3,500.

Bank Indonesia Station of the BRT

Inside the Trans Jakarta bus

MONAS: Soekarno's last erection!

As Jakarta is steaming hot during the mornings, I decided to go inside the nearby National Museum of Indonesia.  It's a fairly standard museum of multiple floors and several new annexes.  Entrance for foreigners cost IDR 10,000.  It starts from prehistoric artifacts then tells the story of Indonesian civilization up to the present.  Other levels house ceramic collections, local treasures, and stone sculptures.

History buffs will surely spend hours in this place but casual people like me would probably lose attention in 30 minutes or less and only remember the really special stuff.  Then again, I'd still recommend a visit if only for a basic understanding of Indonesian history and it's just beside the Monas, so it's conveniently close.

To get here, go back to the BRT Monas Staion, it's just across the road from there.

The National Museum

Moving on, I now headed to the district of Kota, also known as Old Batavia.  The historic center of Jakarta is an unchanged colonial beauty with preserved Dutch buildings, a pedestrian only city square and old street signs and flags everywhere.  Among the sights to check out include: the Jakarta History Museum, Museum Wayang (Puppet), the Arts and Ceramics Museum, the Old Jakartakota Station, several Bank museums and the human activity at Fatahillah Sqaure.  I had planned to visit each of the museums during my visit, but to my luck, they were all closed as Indonesia was supposedly observing a holiday or something on this day.  It's a pity because I've heard great reviews about the puppet museum and I really wanted to see them all.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a place full of tradition and heritage existed in Jakarta.  Old Batavia is a living museum with classic buildings everywhere you look, where street side merchants sell amulets and string puppets and where food vendors entice you with local street food.  I finally got to see a side of Jakarta that not a lot of people know about, a place where kids playfully roam in bikes, where street performers dazzle a crowd, and where foreigners are rarely to be seen.

To get here, take the BRT Line 1 to Kota, the bus stop is just across the Mandiri Museum.  Most of the sights are found surrounding Fatahillah Square which is an easy two minute walk straight in a pedestrian only walkway from the BRT station.

The old railway station

Jakarta History Museum

The Puppet Museum, sayang talaga sarado :(

Cafe Batavia on the left and my ancestors' house on the right :wink:

For lunch, I decided to eat at Cafe Batavia, a historic landmark on its own.  Located in one of the oldest structures in Kota, this beautiful piece of Dutch architecture is one of the most famous and priciest places to eat in Jakarta.  The ground floor is darkly lit and atmospheric; here is where most of the coffee and alcohol drinkers hangout.  The interior design and furniture helps in transporting you back into Cafe Batavia's glory days and it's easy to imagine how the Dutch used to flock such an elegant place.  Moving up an old, wide staircase, I saw old portraits hanging on the walls which kinda made me feel nostalgic.  The second floor holds the perfect setting for dinning as you can sit in a balcony overlooking the busy square.  The  wooden floors, old chandeliers and high windows also add up to the experience.

The menu boasted of fine Indonesian and international cuisine; I chose the Nasi Goreng Special, one of their best-sellers.  It's the most expensive Nasi Goreng I had in the country but also the most delicious!  The fried rice was tasty, with choice ingredients and could stand as a meal on its own but was also complimented with satay and chicken.  A visit to Cafe Batavia is a must, even for just a sip of coffee if you don't wish to spend a lot of money dining.

Cafe Batavia is located across the Jakarta History Museum in Fatahillah Square, you won't miss it.

Ground level of Cafe Batavia

Old school is cool!

My best meal in Jakarta

San kaya lolo ng lolo ko dito?

After getting back to the hotel and taking a quick rest, I decided to spend the rest of the day checking out the financial district and the city's shopping malls.  Although I've seen areas in Jakarta mired in poverty, walking around the central business district along  the stretch of Jalan Thamrin shows a surprisingly developed and progressive side to the city.  I passed by modern buildings, opulent hotels and glitzy shopping malls in a wide, clean and safe-looking street.  It's an area which I wouldn't have expected Jakarta to have. Now, I understand how they're Southeast Asia's largest economy, this is the place where most of the wealth has gone.

Jalan Thamrin on a Sunday

The first mall I checked out was the high end shopping center, Plaza Indonesia.  A popular mall among the Indonesian elite, Plaza Indonesia has many notable tenants like Louis Vitton, Gucci, Cartier and Jimmy Choo.  A supermarket is available, as well as a food court and there are many restaurants to choose from.  It's a large complex with an office tower to boot and is connected to the Grand Hyatt Hotel.  There's also the EX Mall Annex, an extension of Plaza Indonesia which is also filled with upscale shops catered to teens and kids and doubles as a popular nightspot.

 Plaza Indonesia is a decent mall and there are lots of shops that will keep you occupied; it has everything you expect a mall to have.  It's a little uninspired and probably needing some reinvention but worth a look if you're ever ever going shopping.

To get here, take the BRT to Bundaran Hotel Indonesia.  The stop is right in front of the mall.

Plaza Indonesia's EX Mall

Plaza Indonesia: Will give a lot of malls a run for their money

From Plaza Indonesia, I crossed the street to one of the best malls in Asia, Grand Indonesia.  One of the largest shopping malls I have ever been to, this shopping town has two main  buildings of 8 floors occupied by the most well known international and Indonesian brands.  Along the complex stands a residence building, a 56-storey office tower and the Hotel Indonesia - Kempinski, the city's first 5 star hotel.  There are 11 cinemas, a Japanese department store, a huge local bookstore, an ice skating rink, a supermarket and several food courts.  The best restaurants in the city can also be found here serving a diverse range of cuisine from local to Asian, Middle Eastern and Western.  Although designated as a high-end luxury mall, a growing number of stores are catering to the middle class.  Some of the shops not to miss out include local cafes like Kafe Betawi and Coffee Luwak where you can have civet coffee, one of the most expensive coffees in the world.  For delicious pastries try Dynamic bakery and for cool Indonesian souvenirs go to Damn! I Love Indonesia.

I really like this mall, in fact, it's my favorite mall outside the Philippines.  I love how each floor has a different look, zoned into artistic themes.  The developers went through great lengths in committing to their concept.  I especially liked the Crossroads of the World District, where a beautiful fountain, Chinese lanterns and stone cobbled floors were some of the stuff used to highlight the Asian, American and European sections.  I also liked the zen designed Food Louver food court connecting the West and East Malls.  To sum it all up, you have a shopping mall which is a fashion haven, a gastronomic hotspot, an artistic delight, and houses everything else you can think of under one roof.  Grand Indonesia should definitely be in everyone's itinerary!

Grand Indonesia is centrally located near the Selamat Datang Statue roundabout and across Plaza Indonesia so naturally, you should also take the BRT to Bundaran Hotel Indonesia.  Also, there's a Blue Bird Taxi queue in both malls for added convenience.

Selamat Detang Statue

Grand Indonesia

I really find this pic humorous

Fully carpeted floor

The place to buy cool Indonesian T-shirts

For dinner, I went to the Food Louver food court located in the level 3 skybridge and had a very difficult time picking which place to eat as a lot of the stalls looked inviting.  Finally, I decided to go local and tried Sate Khas Senayan Express, Indonesia's famous satay specialists.  I had chicken and pork satay and nasi uduk.  Nasi uduk is similar to nasi lemak as it consists of rice with sambal and minced meat with some veggies although it had a distinct sweet and spicy taste which I wasn't used to.  My brain couldn't decide whether this new taste was good or bad.  What it did know however, was that it had tasted the best satay yet.  True to their reputation, Sate Khas serves top notch satay and what makes it special is the sauce.  I've never tasted it this rich and creamy perfectly complimenting the meat and making me want to get more.  Prices are cheap (as you'll expect in a food court) yet the food is delicious therefore I recommend you to try Sate Khas Senayan here or in one of it's restaurants scattered in the city.

Up to now, I'm still having dreams about this satay, yum yum!

The Day's Expenses (P): 

Transportation         200
Admission Fees         50
Hotel                    1,800
Food                    1,000  
Shopping                ?      
Total P 3,050


  1. had a great time in Jakarta. btw...I love Grand Indonesia, too. the only soothing place I find whenever I go to Jakarta: Grand Indonesia. I miss it^^ funny.

    1. Hi Surray, thanks for visiting, belated happy birthday :)
      I enjoyed my time in Indonesia and hope to see the rest of the country in the future
      I'm currently working on some new entries on Philippine destinations so do check soon!

  2. Hello! Finally I found an interesting review of Jakarta! We are scheduled to visit Jakarta this coming May.. I'm currently preparing our itinerary.. You did not visit Taman Mini Indonesia?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi there, thanks for dropping by. I was supposed to go to Taman Mini on my last day but I spent too much time shopping and ran out of time, haha.

      Have fun on your trip to Jakarta. :)

  3. I'm targeting to visit Jakarta in the future... Maxone Hotel seems to be an ideal accommodation for budget travelers like me... Is it really cheap. 'Liked the location of this hotel in exploring Jakarta.

    1. Hi Ian, nice to hear from you again. Maxone is ideal if you're planning to spend around P 1,500 to 2,000 a night. Think of it as a trendier Tune / Go Hotel. If you don't mind walking a lot, most of the sights are nearby and the few that are far enough can be easily reached by BRT.

      Also, check out the Ibis and Fave chain hotels you might get better deals.

      Do visit Jakarta, living expenses are about the same as in Manila.
      Hope to eventually read about it in your blog :)

    2. I'll do take note of those accommodations in Jakarta. We've been planning to see this city of Indonesia that's why I'm scouting for the places to see and near Jakarta. 'Hope you visit my travel blog too, you might find interesting travel stories too.

  4. Hi arman! thanks for sharing your reviews. just a few question, what are the must do and see in jakarta? we are staying there for 4 nights. we are staying at the grand mercure harmoni (central jakarta)

    1. hello, I wasn't able to see Grand Mercure Harmoni, but the location is good as Harmoni's a major transportation hub, enjoy your trip :)

      here's my Jakarta list:

      must see
      1. Kota (old town)
      2. MONAS (famous landmark)
      3. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (cultural park) (wasn't able to visit)

      must do
      1. Shop along Thamrin street (world class malls)
      2. Ride the Bus Rapid Transit (quite an experience)
      3. Eat Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice)

  5. Hi there. I think, many the places quite interesting in Jakarta. Beside Monas, Jakarta Old Town, and Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Jakarta also has Ancol Dreamland (I suppose better than Universal Studios in Singapore), the new shopping belt : Satrio-Casablanca corridor (Jakarta's Orchard Road), Ragunan (zoo park), and numerous traditional markets, eq : Tanah Abang, Pasar Baru, Blok M, and Mangga Dua. If you're lucky, you can watch for free Jakarta International Film Festival.

    In addition to BRT/Trans Jakarta, the city also has "Kereta Komuter" (city train) with a fairly cheap rate. It has 6 lines, connected the metropolitan areas. For reputable taxi companies, maybe you can take Taxiku or Express Taxi with lower rates than Blue Bird. Oke, have a nice trip.

  6. hi...
    i am so exciting read your blog, but i think you should go to many another place in Jakarta.. :)
    yes definitely agree with afandi adya. you should go to tanah abang, or amabassador mall.
    about your hotel, i didnt think that hotel is clean, i see the picture in your blog, the toilet lil bit dirty.
    i suggest you to choose a better hotel in jakarta or near the airport cause you know, sometimes traffic in jakarta can not predict.
    you can also choose FM7 Resort Hotel Jakarta near airport, the price range from 481.000 IDR but you get 5 stars faciities.
    or you can choose nother hotel near a department store or mall such as grand hyatt or pullman central park.

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  8. personally i think Kemang is the best place to stay. there are a few hotels there, which surrounded by A LOT of clubs, bars, restaurants, shops and boutiques. you can get anything there =) there's also a big mall, Pondok Indah Mall, like about 10 minutes from there. i think it's a great place to stay for foreigners..

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