If you know someone who’s traveled to Jakarta, you’ve probably heard the word “shithole” come up when they talk about it. With corruption, unbelievable poverty and rage-inducing traffic, Jakarta seems like it couldn’t be further from a cushy Western lifestyle. And are there any pros to balance out the more notorious cons?
Cons to Know Of
Since I’m a pessimist, let’s run down a few of the cons first. Traffic is bad, worse than Bangkok, and slightly better than the 10-day-long traffic jam there was in China a few years ago. There’s really not a chance to just wander; you’ll have to settle for sitting in a taxi forever to get to specific destinations. The pollution is terrible, unsurprisingly, and yes, compared to other SE Asian cities, there isn’t much to do, unless you love walking through malls. And the city can smell pretty bad.
Pros to be Happy for!
But Bangkok smells too, and some of our fellow travelers may just be freaked out by the in-your-face poverty. Jakarta is very cheap and the people are unfailingly nice and friendly. Pickpockets are not uncommon, but violent crime is rare. And the food is good, too! I wouldn’t say Jakarta is worth a week of your time, especially with so many beaches nearby, but set aside a day or weekend to check out a couple of numerous must-see sights.
So what’s there to do? If you want to get pampered, do it here! Massages are just a few bucks, and they are dirt cheap if you don’t mind going to places where you’ll feel like a sardine in a can. If you’re more athletic, call up Jakarta Climbers to reserve a spot in a climbing class and you’ll make new friends willing to help you organize the rest of your trip in no time.
On Sundays, head over to tranquil Taman Suropati park to hear musicians of every age and level warm up and play traditional Indonesian songs. If you miss out on the music, head over to one of Jakarta’s many museums. Many of them are located in the old town of Kota, so you can enjoy the crumbling Dutch architecture as well as wander a bit.
Bank Indonesia Museum, and others dedicated to history, puppetry and fine arts are all well worth a look. Istiqlal Mosque is also worth your time – it’s the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia and was designed by a Christian architect. Don’t forget to dress appropriately and bring a headscarf. And to round out this list, check out Miniature Park, with 26 replicas of traditional chieftains’ houses from across the country, and the national monument, Monas.
One of the best things is that all these sights will have a few tourists, but not nearly as many in other cities with better reputations!
What’s on your Jakarta pros-and-cons list?