Welcome to the most populous province in all of Southeast Asia. Indonesia is also the fourth most populous country in the world, just behind the United States. Prepare yourself for quite the crowded adventure in the capital of this cultural melting pot of a country. Jakarta holds the sixth largest metropolitan area in the entire world, with a population density of nearly 40,000 people per square mile. Nicknamed The Big Durian after the uniquely fragrant fruit, the city is ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. Surgical masks, like in many other Southeast Asian countries, are seen as a commonality here. Another noticeable aspect of this city is the heat. It is more than likely to strike you of the required energy needed to walk the streets, all in just a short amount of time. I say ‘streets’ because sidewalks are indeed a rarity. Outside of the developed areas containing glitzy shopping centers and various government offices, sidewalks are hard to find. The heat waves stem from Jakarta being only four hundred miles from the Equator. Today, the city is a bustling metropolis with fantastic scents, sights, and sounds forming an enticing amalgam for nearly anyone to enjoy!
Landing at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, named after the country’s first president, I made my way to baggage claim and proceeded onwards to the taxi stands. The airport is located approximately twenty miles from central Jakarta. Be warned, this transit can take up to two hours depending on traffic conditions! You haven’t seen traffic congestion until you have witnessed the traffic gridlock here; it is a nightmare at times to traverse through the city during peak transit periods. The best advisable taxi option is either the Blue Bird Group or Express Group, while keeping aware of the plethora of impostor taxi’s that are ill intentioned. Commuter trains run various routes through the city as well. As always, be sure to have smaller Indonesian Rupiah notes to be adequately prepared in all scenarios that may present themselves. I give this advice for any country you visit that holds a different currency than your country of origin. The current exchange rate of the local currency positions itself around 13,000 Rupiah to 1 USD.
We finally made our way through the hectic maze that is the inner-city sprawl of traffic, everyone with their own destination in need of reaching. After checking into the locale where we had previously made reservations to stay, we were anxious to see what cultural gems Jakarta was concealing. The first spectacle on our itinerary was the National Monument of Indonesia, symbolizing the previously hard fought struggle for independence from the colonial Dutch. Otherwise known as the ‘Monas’, the monument stands approximately 433 feet above Merdeka Square where it is located. This vast area holds many governmental buildings, museums, and other cultural facilities worth visiting. The Museum Nasional which was built in 1868, is a stone’s throw away from the Monas. Tickets to this museum cost 10,000 Rupiah ($0.82 USD) for foreigners. It houses various collections of artifacts and histories that cover many subjects. In the Indonesian Bahasa and Malay languages, merdeka is defined as freedom or otherwise, independence. The word is derived from an earlier sanskrit word, maharddhika, meaning one is ‘of powerf, prosperity, and holds a status of wealth.’ Merdeka has been used as the public battle cry against unfettered capitalism, globalizing forces, and neo-imperialism throughout the region.
President Sukarno was contemplating the addition of a monument similar to that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and sought to have it constructed in all diligent time. Having taken construction efforts nearly fourteen years to reach completion, the Monas finally opened to the public on July 12, 1975. Tickets can be purchased to access the observation deck for around 5,000 Rupiah ($0.38 USD). Open from 8AM to 3PM, I advise you to arrive early due to the near possibility of long waiting times. It can be quite unenjoyable and exhausting, having to wait in the sun and all. The view from the observation platform (pictured below) is pretty astounding and worth the wait, as it offers a complete three hundred and sixty degree panorama of the Jakarta skyline. The National History Museum is also located within the structure of the building, displaying a very large diorama of Indonesian history. The purchase of your Monas ticket will include admittance into this museum as well.
Playing on the former name of the city during its colonial period, Cafe Batavia (pictured below) is a must-visit while in Jakarta. The building it resides in is over two hundred years old, allowing the restaurant to lay its claim to history. As it is the second oldest building within Central Jakarta, one can literally feel the history encompassed by it. Be sure to visit the second floor, as it offers an excellent view of Fatahillah Square. The interior of the cafe is vibrant with none other than a rich colonial feel, decorated with lush portraits, photographs, and imagery of many famous artists, musicians, and celebrities. It is rather expensive in regards to other Indonesian restaurants, albeit it is considered a normal meal price tag by Western standards. If needing a dish recommendation, I would highly suggest the seafood fettuccine that is served in a palatable cognac cream sauce. It is succulent and extremely tasty. While tipping isn’t exactly customary in most Southeast Asian countries, I would do so in the more posh establishments, such as Cafe Batavia.
Fatahillah Square (pictured below) offers an atmosphere that one would say is quite carnivalistic at first sight. Historically, the square was at the heart of the Dutch colonial settlement. It was primarily used for public executions and to hang criminals, along the likes of other people that the Dutch colonizers deemed as seditious (which could be literally anyone). Today however, food carts are set up and are cooking a variety of foods, street performers attempt to display their skillful talents, and hawkers roam around trying to sell this and that. The Jakarta History Museum (building pictured below) is located across from Cafe Batavia, having been originally constructed in 1710. Originally serving as a city hall, it now displays antiquities and other objects from Indonesian history. From maps possessed by the Dutch East Indies Company, to various Betawi possessions, the museum holds many highly interesting pieces of Indonesian history.
Before ever traveling to this Southeast Asian archipelago, I was not very knowledgable of the country’s long-lived history. Indonesia is currently home to the largest Muslim population in the world. Tracing back to the fourth century, the city served as a trading port due to its location within the Kingdom of Sunda. Sunda consisted of various monarchies reigning throughout the region, prior to its claime of independence. Being established around the fourteenth century, Sunda Kelapa (pictured below) was the primary port of trade for the Sundanese Kingdom. Don’t worry, as I will have a future article dedicated entirely to the harbor itself. Through an alliance with Portugal in 1522, the port was further developed to provide defense against the rising power of the Sultanate of Demak. Demak was a Muslim Kingdom located just to the north. Shortly thereafter, a Javanese general from Demak conquered the city and renamed it as Jayakarta. During this time, it would serve as a fiefdom for the Sultanate of Banten. This brought forth relations with English and Dutch merchants, allowing both to establish a trading center here. The prince at the time was said to have favorited English traders over the Dutch, which began to create a rift in relations. As this rift grew larger, Prince Jayawikarta and his English counterparts attacked the Dutch with failing efforts. Using this as an opportunity to completely repel the English, the Dutch fortified their power in the region. The city was also then renamed Batavia. Quite a long period of Dutch colonization followed thereafter, leading to the Indonesian National Revolution. This was quite a bloody conflict and created much societal strife throughout the country.
Following an occupation during World War II by the Japanese, Indonesia has been faced with many political, economical, and societal issues during the past century. The failed coup d’etat occurring on October 1, 1965 led to the assassination of six military generals, and the deposition of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. This in turn, brought forth a massive amount of killings in a purge intending to rid the country of alleged communists among others who were specifically targeted. A 2012 documentary titled, The Act of Killing, follows several of the men that led this mass genocide throughout the Northern Sumatra region of Indonesia. One of which, is Anwar Congo, who leads film viewers through the ease in which the process of systematic murder can readily occur. While the events are omitted in the vast majority of Indonesian historical texts, some estimates place the total loss of life from one to three million in just under a year. The distraught emotions that are felt by Congo upon reenactment of his previous actions are very sobering. I highly recommend this film be given a watch as it propels the issue of human rights to your living room. If feeling generous, I have included a link here that will allow donations to be made in support of the Human Rights Watch organization.