Travel Black Book: Singaporeans Living Abroad

Travel Black Book: Jakarta, city of contrasts

Indonesia’s capital offers a wide array of food choices in varied settings and shopping options that range from cheap to posh

WHO: Mrs Vishaya Tolani, 30, a pre-school teacher, is married to Indonesian Mr Jay Tolani, 35, who works in his family's textile business. They have two children aged five and two. Mrs Tolani moved to Jakarta in July 2012 after she got married.

Destination: Jakarta, Indonesia. Jakarta is a city in which everything and nothing works – depending on how you view the situation.

People in Jakarta tend to adopt a more relaxed attitude towards life, which might be frustrating for someone coming from a city such as Singapore, where most things run like clockwork and rules are often set in stone.

Still, if you look past the traffic congestion for which the Indonesian capital is notorious, you will find a city that is buzzing and full of contrasts.

You can find delicious street food at almost every corner and there is no dearth of epicurean feasts on a par with the best fine-dining restaurants in the world.

Though the city seems to be bursting at the seams with people who pour in from all corners of the country in search of a better life, it offers charm amid the heady mix of cultures, beliefs and religions thriving alongside one another.

SEE

The art and history scene is not very developed in Jakarta.​

  • WHO: Mrs Vishaya Tolani, 30, a pre-school teacher, is married to Indonesian Jay Tolani, 35, who works in his family's textile business. They have two children aged five and two. Mrs Tolani moved to Jakarta in July 2012 after she got married. PHOTO: COURTESY OF VISHAYA TOLANI

    GETTING THERE

  • There are more than 36 daily flights to Jakarta from Singapore. The flight time is about one hour and 50 minutes.

    Besides full-service airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Garuda Indonesia, you can also fly on budget carriers such as Scoot, Jetstar and AirAsia.

  • TIPS

    • Five days are more than enough to enjoy all that Jakarta has to offer, making it a great place to visit over a long weekend. Though the traffic is manic all year round, you should avoid visiting during the two weeks of Lebaran (Hari Raya Puasa holidays), during which many businesses are shut and most people leave the city to go back to their home towns.

    • Keep in mind that you need to go with the flow - expect traffic jams and your plans to get delayed as a result. It is best to find ways to keep yourself occupied while you are in a car.

    • For the most part, the city is very safe and laid-back, so you do not have to be overly concerned about safety.

    • A handy app to download before you visit Jakarta is Gojek, which you can use to get anything such as food, a car, a masseuse, movie tickets, or even a make-up artist.

My husband, who is born and bred in the city, has never visited an art museum here.

Still, as an educator, I have taken time to look into monuments of historic significance and one of the most prominent ones is Monas, which is the national monument located in the centre of Merdeka Square.

Depicting the history of Indonesia, the 132m-tall tower features an obelisk, topped with a golden-leaf “flame” to celebrate the country’s independence from the Netherlands in 1949.

A lift on the southern side takes visitors up to the viewing platform, which, at 115m above ground level, offers a good view of the city.

Overall, Jakarta is quite divided – there is a lot of income disparity, which impacts what you might consider as local culture, but there are definitely a lot of great neighbourhoods to explore.

One of my favourites is Pantai Indah Kapuk, a relatively newly developed area. It has rows of cafes and upcoming eateries, making it a good place to hang out and peoplewatch.

Besides the many rooftop bars in the city, a more unconventional place to unwind and watch the sunset is Ancol Beach, one of the rare places in Jakarta which offer a beachside vibe. There are lots of restaurants in the area. Alternatively, you can set up a picnic here.

EAT

One can get everything from street fare to top-notch fine dining.

One of my favourite restaurants is Akira Back in the MD Building (http://akirabackindonesia.com). It serves Japanese cuisine that has been tweaked to suit local taste buds.

I recommend the Tuna Pizza, Popcorn Tofu and Perfect Storm sushi roll. A meal here costs about $100 a person, but that should include everything from starters to dessert to a glass of wine.

Given that Jakarta is a city of contrasts, when it comes to breakfast or brunch, you will find half of the crowd going to trendy restaurants such as Social House (www.ismaya.com/socialhouse) for eggs and the other half heading to a warung (a small, often familyowned restaurant) for a traditional breakfast such as nasi putih and tempeh goreng.

For a truly local experience, I recommend Padang food, which is the cuisine of the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra.

When you visit a restaurant serving Padang food, such as Rumah Makan Garuda, you do not actually order anything. Instead, the waiters will bring you plates of everything that the restaurant serves – you eat what you want and leave the rest untouched.

At the end of the meal, the server will calculate the bill based on what you have consumed. Meals such as these usually cost about $25 a head.

For those with a sweet tooth, make sure you try roti bakar and martabak manis, which are variations of a sweet and savoury dessert and can be found everywhere in Jakarta.

Traditionally, the dish comprises toasted bread that is served with chocolate sprinkles and grated cheese before being drowned in condensed milk. These days, however, there are numerous variations, with toppings such as matcha and taro.

PLAY

The Java Jazz Festival usually takes place in March and often features a great line-up of international music artists.

The event this year had acts such as English singer-songwriter JP Cooper and American music legend Dionne Warwick.

Another fun thing to do is to catch a movie at Premiere Cinema. The seats are wide and comfortable, the sound system is unbelievable, the food menu is great and the quality of service is top-notch. Tickets cost between $10 and $20.

If you have more time, drive to a hillside resort such as Puncak, which is about two hours from Jakarta. Another option about four hours by road is Bandung, a city set amid volcanoes and tea plantations.

These make for nice getaways because they offer a host of natural wonders and fresh air and are a good change from the hustle and bustle of the city.

SHOP

Many people come to Jakarta to shop and the Mangga Dua shopping district and the ITC mall are great places for bargain-hunting.

You will find a lot of cheap clothing, shoes and accessories, with plenty of stores selling knock-offs.

There are also posh malls such as Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, which feature big international brands, but these are very similar to the shopping centres in Singapore.

The many delicious and unique food items which Jakarta is known for make great souvenirs to take home, such as tempeh chips. In Indonesia, tempeh (fermented soya bean) is a staple for most locals and is part of most meals. The chip variety is a fried version which keeps much better and makes for a crunchy snack.

STAY

There are lots of hotels to choose from, but I love the Shangri-La in Jakarta.

The hotel is classic in design, strategically located in the city centre and has some good restaurants such as Rosso, which serves delectable Italian fare.

And even though you are in a city hotel, the property has sprawling grounds, which means sitting by the pool gives one the feeling of being in a relaxing, open space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 22, 2018, with the headline 'Jakarta, city of contrasts'. Print Edition | Subscribe