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Seeing Jakarta for the First Time

Posted by on 3 April 2008

flag of IndonesiaI’ve been flying to Jakarta for far more times than I can remember for the past 5 years, but always for work, never as a tourist. So, with Lola tagging along for this trip, I saw Jakarta with a whole new pair of eyes. And I saw more of Jakarta in 2 days and 2 nights than I ever have for the past 5 years. I even dare say that I saw — as in really saw — Jakarta for the very first time.

Sure, the trip was very short, considering that we spent a lot of time on the road, thanks to Jakarta’s infamous traffic. But we made the most of our trip, absorbing each and every detail of the bustling Indonesian capital: the high-rise buildings in the commercial area; gleaming shopping malls and hypermarkets; rickety houses under flyovers and sometimes, right next to high-class shopping malls; vendors at many street corners, peddling everything from newspapers to drinks to toys; beggars carrying babies that are not necessarily their own (the driver told us that it is possible to rent these babies for the said purpose!); small carts selling satay, noodles, bakso; countless advertisements for knalpot (exhaust pipes, a Dutch term that became assimilated in the Indonesian language), obat kuat (local versions of Viagra) and ketok magic (a ‘magical’ way of fixing car dents, said to be done without the use of any tools or instruments!).

Indon islands

A replica of the Indonesian islands (with its numerous volcanoes) at Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. Sorry for the less-than-perfect photomerge job…

We drove past the Patong Selamat Datang (literally: ‘welcome statue’) and fountain at the roundabout in front of Plaza Indonesia. I’ve seen this statue countless times in previous trips and was driven by the same driver everytime, but for the first time, I got to know that this statue actually has a name. This statue is said to have been erected as part of the preparation for the 4th Asian Games in 1962. More facts and figures of the statue can be found in this site (it’s in Bahasa Indonesia though) and another photo of the statue is at this site.

We stopped to take a photograph of Monas (Monumen Nasional, i.e. National Monument), a 450-foot (137-meter) tall tower from where tourists can get a bird’s eye view of the city for a minimal fee. But no, we didn’t go up because it was nighttime when we went there.

We also took a few shots of Istiqlal Mosque, the national mosque of Indonesia. It is also said to be the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, large enough to accommodate 120,000 worshippers at any one time! I can just imagine the gridlock in that part of town every Friday noon, when Muslims go there for congregational prayers.

Interestingly enough, just across the road from Istiqlal Mosque is the Gereja Katedral (Cathedral Church). The Catholic church, whose official name is Gereja Santa Maria Pelindung Diangkat Ke Surga (from Dutch: De Kerk van Onze Lieve Vrouwe ten Hemelopneming; in English: The Church of our Lady of Assumption), is more than a century old, having completed construction in 1901. The architecture is very interesting, done in the Neo-Gothic style which was common to that period.

We also managed to make a quick trip to Pasar Tanah Abang, whose textile market is said to be the biggest in Southeast Asia, both for wholesale and retail. However, we only had 2 hours there, which was just enough to explore only 2 floors and in Block A only. Shopaholics can easily spend a week there, as the prices are FANTASTIC (caps intended fully) and the choices are mind-boggling — men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, shoes, bags galore, among other things. Take note that most shops open at around 10 am and close at 4 pm, and it’s best to come early to avoid the snarling traffic. Block A is crowded but airconditioned, and if you are more adventurous, you can also visit the adjacent smaller shops (no airconditioning there!) dealing with different types of fabrics.

We spent an entire afternoon in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, locally known as Taman Mini or Tamini or TMII. It’s about an hour’s drive from central Jakarta, but worth the trip. That place alone needs a good 2 or 3 days (maybe a week?) to explore completely. They have a replica of the Indonesian islands. They showcase typical architecture from different provinces all over Indonesia, such as elaborate wood carvings on stairs from Kalimantan, stone buildings and statues from Bali, the distinctive sloping horns of the Minangkabau roofs from West Sumatra. Taman Mini also has a fresh-water aquarium, bird park, Science and Technology Centre, library for children, several museums, camping grounds, a hostel — all inside the same sprawling complex. Oh, and they even have a smaller version of Monas!

Minangkabau Mini Monas Kalimantan
Minangkabau Mini Monas carved stairs from Kalimantan Timur
Roofs reminiscent of buffalo horns. Mini Monas in Taman Mini. Carved stairs from East Kalimantan.

The most interesting part for me inside Taman Mini? They had what I thought were replicas of a Hindu temple, Buddhist temple, Protestant church, Catholic church and a mosque — all lined up side by side. They were quite small, but they were not just replicas — they were the real thing! The two churches hold regular Sunday service and the mosque’s loudspeakers call Muslim devotees to prayer 5 times daily.

Side note: By now, you’ve probably noticed the Indonesians’ penchant for acronyms. Cilandak Town Square becomes Citos. Plaza Semanggi is Plangi. ‘Balita‘ refers to kids below 5 years old (bawah lima tahun, literally meaning ‘below five years’) while senior citizens are referred to as ‘manula‘ (manusia usia lanjut, literally meaning ‘humans of advanced age’).

As for our accommodation, we stayed at Millenium Hotel for the first night. It’s clean, reasonably-priced and is within walking distance of Pasar Tanah Abang, which was the very reason why we booked it in the first place.

For our second night, we moved to Imperial Aryaduta Hotel and Country Club at Lippo Karawachi, outside Jakarta. The place was fully booked and they only had a cabana available, which was great. The cabana is like a small house located in the middle of a landscaped garden, just past the hotel’s swimming pool, and is a welcome change from a standard hotel room.


RoundBoy in front of a cabana in Imperial Aryaduta, taken during a trip in 2004

The hotel has full access to the country club’s facilities, which include a fitness centre, outdoor tennis courts, a rock-climbing wall, a huge swimming pool with a water slide, a football (soccer) field, a huge garden where they hold yoga sessions in the mornings, and several restaurants. It is very far from the city centre though, so I’d only recommend this hotel if you intend to be in Lippo Karawachi, Serpong and/or Tanggerang area. It’s 35 minutes from the airport kalau nggak macet (if there is no traffic jam).

It was a most tiring trip indeed, mostly due to the long hours spent cooped up in the car while braving Jakarta traffic, but I’m happy that I finally really got to see Jakarta.

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