Whether you love it or hate it, there is no escaping Jakarta, Indonesia’s overweight capital. This ‘Big Durian’ is filled with all the good and bad of Indonesian life.
At first glance, this hot, smoggy city, which sprawls for miles over a featureless plain, feels like nothing more than a waiting lounge for the millions queuing up to make their fortune.
Jakarta’s infamous macet (stuck) chokes its freeways, town planning is anathema and all attempts to forge a central focal point for the city have stuttered and ultimately failed. The first – or only – thought on most travellers’ minds is how quickly the city and its polluted streets can be left behind.
Beneath the veneer of glass fascias, concrete slabs and shabby slums, however, this is a city of surprises and a city of many faces. From the steamy, richly scented streets of Chinatown to the city’s thumping, decadent nightlife, Jakarta is a Pandora’s box, filled with unexpected gems. Here it’s possible to rub shoulders with Indonesia’s future leaders, artists, thinkers, movers and shakers, and to see first hand the deep-seated desire so many Indonesians have to rise above the poverty they were born into.
Jakarta certainly isn’t a primary tourist destination, but parts of the old city (Kota) offer an interesting insight into the capital’s long history, and there are a handful of good museums scattered about. But if you want to get under the skin of Indonesia, a visit to this mammoth city is an absolute must.