The Indonesian capital city of Jakarta is a truly fascinating place. It is all at once the combination of emerging southeast Asian democracy with its associated political upheaval, of rapid modern growth and change mixed with deeply rooted traditions, and of widespread peace and religious tolerance amidst a country known for its scattered religious turmoil. While Jakarta has certainly received a lot of press in the past couple years due to its symbolic place as the capital of the world's largest Muslim country, Jakarta is colored far more by its laid-back, tolerant, and friendly Javanese culture than anything else. Indeed, it was one of the friendliest cities I've ever visited.
On the surface, it looks like a typical American city, indeed I have heard some of my fellow Americans describe it as such. On the good side, Jakarta is loaded with tall skyscrapers, modern shopping malls, beautiful office buildings, and dozens of prominent monuments and museums. The restaurants offer just about every cuisine available, and strive to make European and American foods close to authentic. Customer service is friendly and helpful while not overbearing. The prices for most things are inexpensive (but not dirt cheap), and Jakarta benefits from having direct economic ties to both European and Asian product lines (particularly electronics).
Below the surface, one might jokingly refer to Jakarta as a city planner's nightmare. The Javanese would prefer to say that no square meter of land was being wasted. Highway dividers were being used as rice paddies. Shanty houses were shoved in between residential compounds and businesses. The main road leading to and from the airport has sunk below sea level, so it is bounded on both sides by levees, thereby not disturbing the city's crucial lifelines -- its rivers.
Jakarta is not the sort of place that would normally fall on one's short list of vacation spots, but it is a great central location if one is interested in sightseeing Java. Jakarta has a number of attractions of its own, such as the Golden Triangle and Taman Mini Indonesian Indah, which I devote chapters to in this travelogue. It is near the Indonesian Thousand Islands, the resort area of Puncak, and the popular ruin-filled cities of Bogor and Bandung. It is only a few hours drive to Java's most popular destination, the multi-religious temple city of Yogyakarta in Central Java.
The below map shows the current subchapters in this travelogue. Click on the colored regions or photos to access a subchapter -- three are on specific subregions of Jakarta, while the other is a general piece about my encounters with the Javanese locals (I think you will really enjoy that one!). Thanks for reading, and Selamat Jalan! (Bon voyage!)
Trip taken 29 December 2002 through 03 January 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin