You’ve landed in the Big Durian! Tons of things that you wanna do but not sure if you can fit it all in? Fear not! Here’s a handy 3-day guide for your big city needs so you can travel in style.
Day 1: Sight-see
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Start your day in Old Town or Kota Tua and be transported into pre-colonial Jakarta where the Dutch and British ruled Indonesia for 450 years. With a border canal and old refurbished buildings, the grand Jakarta History Museum sits where the former City Hall of Batavia used to be. There are a number of museums scattered around it displaying a collection of puppets, fine art and ceramic as well as maritime treasures from their national bank. A big tourist pull, the main square is always vibrant with fire eaters, colourful bikes, souvenir stalls, buskers, living statues and more.
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Once the dust has settled and you’re looking to absorb some culture, I recommend taking a break from the sweltering heat at the iconic Café Batavia for traditional drinks and desserts. The building that houses Cafe Batavia is considered to be of great historical significance as it was used as an office by the Dutch government during the colonial period. While the restaurant has assured us that they use halal meat and separate the utensils from non-halal food products, do note that they serve pork and alcohol. As such, readers are advised to dine at their own discretion.
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If you’re looking for an alternative eatery that is more budget-friendly, you might want to head over to this hidden gem at Kota Tua – Historia Food and Bar. This cafe is halal-certified.
A specialist café in traditional Indonesian fare, you’ll find a range of local treats on their starter menu including lumpia (spring rolls), empek (fish cakes), tauhu (tofu) and tempe (fermented bean cake) giving you a taste of what Indonesians eat at home every day. For mains, you’ll find more Indonesian favourites with at least three types of Nasi Goreng, the evergreen steamed vegetable salad gado-gado with flavorful and rich peanut sauce and Soto Betawi – a Betawi-style beef soup made with coconut milk.
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They also present a pretty impressive drinks menu. Partnering with local coffee joint Tanamera coffee, you’ll get a taste of the local fare. And if you like mocktails, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Think mango, passion fruit and lemon; a lychee and apple mix with a slice of lime; and root beer with aloe vera. For something stronger, try the Wedang Jahe – a warm ginger drink with black sesame seeds and black pepper.
Address: Jl Pintu Besar Utara No. 11, Kota Tua, Jakarta, Indonesia 1110
Ask the taxi to take you to Kota Tua. Then find Historia on the map below:
Opening Hours: 11.00am – 9pm (Daily)
Price: ($) Rp 100-150k/person for a three-course meal
After lunch, hop into a taxi (or take a tuk-tuk if you’re braver) and head towards Bundaran HI – be sure to pronounce it ‘Ha-Ey’ – a part of the city known as the heart of Jakarta. Ask the driver to take the scenic route and drive by Monas, the short form for Monumen Nasional, for a quick selfie.
#HHWT Fun Fact: You’ll see a number of statues and monuments scattered across the city. Ever wondered where the Sukarno and Hatta statues were pointing towards when you drove out of the airport? A number of Indonesian national heroes are commemorated in monuments and apparently, they all face or point to Bundaran, where legend says was the meeting point of hundreds and thousands of Indonesian revolutionists before they marched to Kota Tua to drive out the Dutch towards their Independence!
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Do a lap around the Bundaran and then head on to Plaza Thamrin for some souvenir shopping! Here’s where you find clothes being sold at wholesale prices so be ready for a good hunt. They’ve got a great collection of affordable abayas and hand-crafted kebaya nyonyas but you should also be able to pick up some of those ‘My kids went to Jakarta and all I got was this lousy’ t-shirts for your parents.
It should be evening by the time you’re done, so take a 15-minute walk to the upscale shopping centre Plaza Indonesia for dinner. Nasi Padang is a must-have while you’re in town and if you have the luxury of time, the best is definitely Nasi Padang Pagi Sore. However, the closest branch is a distance away so head down to Sari Ratu, another Nasi Padang store which is much nearer and equally good for dinner if you’re short of time.
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Food is served hidang style which means that plates are laid out in front of you to allow a wide sample of their scrumptious selection. So don’t be shocked if you find a few dozen plates served on your table with waiters coming by to bring you more kitchen specials. Take note of what you eat and only pick out what you like because you’ll be charged according to the plates you eat from, even if it’s a small piece to taste.
My favourites are the telor gulai (boiled egg in gravy), paru goreng (fried beef lung) and ayam pop (steamed chicken) with white rice but you can generally never go wrong with one gravy dish paired with any sambal (chilli paste).
Address: Plaza Indonesia Lt. B No. 14-15, Jl Mh Thamrin Kav 28-30, Menteng, Jl. M.H. Thamrin No 28-30, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10350, Indonesia
If you’re coming from Thamrin City, exit at the main entrance, turn right and walk for 15-minute.
Opening Hours: 10.00am – 10.00pm every day
Price: ($$) Expect to pay between Rp 15-30k per dish
The affluent Indonesians really know how to live well. So if shopping malls are your thing, Plaza Indonesia itself will be a little slice of terrible indulgence. As a luxury shopping mall, you’ll find a huge Dior store with its timepiece collection attached; a Zara home with a wide range of custom door handles; a Diane von Furstenburg and her gorgeous wrap dresses and Giuseppe Zanotti’s brave and bold luxury footwear.
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For mid-scale high street, Grand Indonesia is just across the Plaza and you can get lost for hours in one of South East Asia’s largest shopping centres.
UPDATE: A reader has reached out to us and notified us that SKYE Bar and Restaurant at Menara BCA serves pork.
After all that window-shopping, end your day at Jakarta’s SKYE Bar and Restaurant at Menara BCA attached to Grand Indonesia for a stunning view of the Jakarta skyline. The highest sky dining point in Jakarta, the Skye deck features an infinity pool on its terrace but the restaurant itself offers equally breath-taking views with a decent desserts menu. The restaurant is halal-friendly (meaning they don’t serve pork and alcohol) but if you’re coming for the view, then a spot of tea at the terrace on a windy night really does the trick to wind down after a long day.
Day 2: Shop
Jakarta is famous for its textile trade so if you’re looking to tailor dresses for your family’s next big occasion, buy fabric for your bridesmaids or in need of a good suit, this part of the trip will be a highlight. Lots of people recommend Tanabang, which is the largest textile market in Southeast Asia. But skip the multi-complex madness for the more organized and trendier Mayestik.
Start bright and early and begin with the outer fringes of the actual market where most of the textile traders have multi-story independent shops. You can easily spend a couple of hours in a single shop so best to pick one you like the most and settle in for a parade of fabric.
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If you’re planning to be a big spender, the shop owners are always happy to offer you a drink – bottled water or the popular Teh Botol. Here’s another tip: if you purchase in bulk, you can negotiate with the store to get the goods delivered to your doorstep so you don’t have to lug things around.
Along the street, you get a proper market experience with a number of sellers along the street selling fruit, China, local delicacies and magazines. At the centre of the square, you’ll find a store called Toko Maju which is a crafts shop selling all sorts of hooks, buttons, zips, ribbons, lace borders, pendants, decorative feathers, loose earrings and much more.
All that haggling will have built up an appetite so stop for some food at this amazing Turkish kebab store in the Mayestik complex that has succulent and tender beef strips and veg wrapped in flatbread then pan-griddled to make it crisp and crunchy on the outside.
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The refurbished complex has smaller independent vendors selling cheap ladies’ praying attire, hand-drawn batik and bedding so it’s a good spot for some exploring and souvenir shopping. There’s a wet market on the ground floor and some shops selling nuts in bulk. They’re cheaper than the usual price in supermarkets so it would be a good idea to stock up if you enjoy snacking on nuts! A bag of sunflower seeds would typically go for Rp 200-300k per kilo.
Address: Jl Kyai Maja, Kebayoran Baru, Kota Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12120
Take a taxi to Pasar Mayestik in Kebayoran Baru
Go from common market to upscale dining in Senopati, a neighbourhood that is fast growing in popularity as one of the top culinary spots in town. A 15-minute taxi ride from Mayestik, you’ll pass by loads of restaurants on Jl Gunawarman and Jl Senopati Raya that will have you making mental notes of coming again. If you’re still full from the late morning munch, then opt for a light high tea at the French-styled tea room Cacaoté.
As you enter through the gorgeous French style doors, you’ll be thoroughly impressed by the elegant interior. From the white wicker sofas and the grand chandeliers to the gold-gilded mirrors and laid out silverware, the waiting room entrance opens up to an elegant patisserie bar with an assortment of delicate pastries, cakes and macarons.
Start with selecting your cakes before settling into your seats for the drinks menu. With such an extensive menu to choose from, you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice. If you’re really bad at making decisions, I’d recommend my absolute favourite – the Intense Dark. It is a layered cake with layers of vanilla sablé, dark chocolate cremeux, chocolate glaze, dark chocolate chantilly and chocolate velvet. Otherwise, the salted caramel éclair, the hazelnut mille-fuille or the dark chocolate and hazelnut are equally good (and sinful).
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Depending on your mood, go for the French vanilla tea if you fancy something hot but for something chilled, the Sunny Breeze is a cool blend of orange, pineapple juice, passion fruit, blended peach and passion fruit syrup. The high tea is served in the classic collection of Royal Albert china which is simply grand.
Address: Jl Senopati Raya No. 80, Kebayoran Baru, Kota Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12110, Indonesia
Get in a cab and ask the driver to head to Senopati. From there, look out the window on your right and spot the striking pink building along the street.
Opening Hours: 11.00am – 10.00pm Sunday to Thursday; 11.00am – 12am on Friday and Saturday
Price: ($$$) Each cake is priced at Rp 30-50k and the drinks go for Rp 40-50k each
After filling up your bellies, flag another taxi and head out for more shopping – this time in trendy Kemang. Hip and vibrant, you’ll feel like you’re in Seminyak, Bali, an upscale shopping district in everyone’s favourite Indonesian island.
Kemang is home to some top Indonesian designers, be it clothes or furniture, you’ll get to see some of the country’s top talents on display, with goodies you wish you could take home.
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A popular area for expats, Jl Kemang Raya is a nice street to walk down. With nooks and crannies to explore, one is able to soak in the local atmosphere. From indie brands to high-end barbers, it’s a neighbourhood where you get the feeling that this is where artists meet to have coffee or where the yuppies come to hang out after work.
You’ll find loads of fancy places where you’ll want to stop by to eat at like the Huize van Wely in the gorgeous glass Papilion building, or Gourmet Kemang in the large warehouse-looking building. But for a meal and a little something extra, look out for KOI Kemang which offers dining and art gallery within its premises.
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It’s more popular as a brunch place but dinner here is great too. Always look out for the monthly special. I’ve had a memorable Angus Roast Beef with Truffled Pudding with the latter being absolutely superb. Otherwise, the house special is the Rotisserie Chicken which is really more European than Indonesian.
When you’re done with your meal, take the stairs up to the KOI Gallery and take a look at some of the art, furniture, fabric and jewellery on display. Most of the products are locally sourced and manufactured but marketed abroad.
And finally, if you have space for a pick-me-up, then Anomali Coffee a few shops next door will be a real treat. As you enter, you’ll notice a huge roaster in the front of the shop. That’s right! They roast their own beans right there! That’s not the only thing that makes this café special, all their beans are sourced from different parts of the Indonesian archipelago and there’s a map on the wall that tells you where it’s from and the acidity level of the coffee.
Address: Jl Kemang Raya No 72, Kemang, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12730, Indonesia
The cab driver should know where Kemang is but ask to be dropped at Jalan Kemang Raya if you’re starting your walk from one end to arrive at Koi which is somewhere nearer to the upper part of the street.
Opening Hours: 8.00am – 11.00pm (Sunday to Thursday), 8.00am – 12.00am (Friday and Saturday)
Price: ($$) Expect to pay between Rp 150k-300k per person for a two-course meal plus drinks
Day 3: Rest and Relax
After two full days, you are absolutely ready to just take it slow on your last day in the city. Start your day by taking a stroll down Jalan Surabaya, the city’s antique market. With over 180 shops selling batik, old coins and copperware, it’s a great place for having a look-see if there might be anything to add to your growing collection of knickknacks you’ve picked up while on the road.
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From gramophones, ancient Chinese ceramic plates, old diving helmets, tribal masks and creepy golek puppets, there’s plenty to see at this particular flea market. Chat with the store owner and you might find an interesting fact or two that could bring an interesting-looking item to life.
Address: Jl Surabaya, Menteng, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibokota Jakarta 10310, Indonesia
For lunch, you simply must try Dapur Sunda, which is a Sundanese restaurant with a few locations to choose from. The closer one is along the Embassy Row on Jalan Rasuna Said in the Setiabudi complex. But the one in Pancoran on the busier Gatot Subroto highway is in its own wooden building which feels more styled and authentic.
The Gurame goreng is fried to such perfection that you could finish the whole fish and still crave for more. The garam asam, which is a mixture of lemon, brown sugar and herb, is the best sauce available.
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There are at least 7 different types of sambal (chilli paste) on the menu which varies greatly in flavour so do try them out, at least 2 at a time. Be sure to order the lalap, which is steamed vegetables to balance out all the protein. And do not miss out on jus alpukat which is avocado juice but it’s usually served with an external coat of chocolate, truly an Indonesian special.
Address: Kawasan Hanggar Teras MBAU, Jalan Jendral Gatot Subroto Kav 72, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12780, Indonesia
The traffic in Jakarta is a little crazy and it’s likely you’ll be coming from Rasuna Said. If you can brave the traffic, ask the taxi driver to head to Pancoran or Hotel Bidakara and as you approach Tugu Pancoran (you won’t miss the statue of the fellow in a loincloth), do a U-turn on the right and immediately keep left. Enter into the first left and take another left into the parking compound where the restaurant is. To beat the traffic, sometimes it would be easier to hop off on the other side of the highway and take the overhead bridge and walk to the restaurant. Find it here on the map.
Opening Hours: 10.00am – 10.00pm every day
Price: ($) Great value for money. You would pay Rp 300k for two people and be absolutely stuffed.
You cannot come to Jakarta and not get a massage. It isn’t very cheap but unlike any other spa places you’re used to, you can get an amazing head to toe pampering all in one place. Sure there are the posh chains like Martha Tilaar Salon Day Spa or bare-bones massage parlours like Bersih Sehat. But if you’re already on Gatot Subroto, there’s a secret spa nearby called K-Link House of Beauty which I absolutely love.
It’s clean and bright, they put on wonderful classical music and the staff are super nice. Don’t expect any fancy chemical treatments like peels or dyes but you can get massages, facials, hair spa (another only-in-Indonesia special where your hair is put up in a mask and you get a head, neck, upper back and arms massage) and mani-pedis all in one place.
They also do a blow-out for ladies who like big, bouncy curls. And as for our head-scarfed sisters, Tuesdays and Thursday are only for ladies and if you call ahead and tell them you’re coming, they can keep the men out during that period. Here’s another tip: start with a basic facial and then to speed things up, ask to get a hair spa and mani-pedi at the same time and finish with a blowout. This would total to about 3 hours at least.
Address: K-Link Tower. Lantai 7, Jl. Gatot Subroto Kav 59 A, Jakarta Selatan 12950, Indonesia
From Dapur Sunda, cross the highway at the nearest flyover along the flow of traffic, then walk against the traffic for about 15 minutes to arrive at K-Link Tower.
Opening Hours: 9.00am – 6.00pm Monday to Friday and 9.00am – 2.00pm on Saturday (Note that they are closed on Sundays)
Contact: 021 290 27 000 (call ahead to book an appointment especially if going in larger groups)
Price: ($) Very affordable. Rp 300k would get you a 3-hour pampering session with the works
Now that you’re all gussied up, spend your last night blowing the rest of your cash on a nice dinner to enjoy some of Jakarta’s upscale fine dining. From Harum Manis, Bunga Rampai or Dapur Babah Elite, each of these fine establishments provides that gastronomic delight that will make you feel like there are so much more culinary secrets in this city that you still have yet to discover.
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But one of the more impressive restaurants will easily be Tugu Kunstring Paleis You can order from an elaborate set menu that’s carefully created to allow patrons to enjoy a balance of both textures and flavours in your meal. A waiter is always at hand to answer your queries and tend to your needs. If you are still undecided on what to get, you can pick and choose from the a la carte menu!
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And when the food is ready, it’s brought out in the Betawi yoke or pikul-pikulan which translates as baskets strung on two ends of a long stick carried over the shoulders and then laid out Grandrijsttafel style – a Dutch word that means rice table.
Address: Kunstring Art Gallery. Jl Teuku Umar No. 1, Menteng, Central Jakarta City 10350 Indonesia
Find it here on the map:
Opening Hours: 11.00am – 12.00am everyday
Contact: 021 390 0899 (always call ahead for reservations as they sometimes close the restaurant for events and weddings)
Price: ($$$$) Expect to pay Rp 500k for 2 people
Finally, end the night in style by watching a movie at Jakarta’s premiere cinema nearest to your location. Both Cinema XXI and Blitzmegaplex have their own premiere theatres but XXI has more branches and are better furnished than the latter.
Premiere movies have a separate ticket counter as well as premium services. The tickets are sealed in envelopes, there is a special access to its lounge and the best part: the seats. The seats are plush leather sofas with soft and comfy seats that are completely reclinable. It comes with a little drawer in between the two seats with vacuum-packed blankets and a place to put your things. You also get a butler service which means you can order food before you enter and have them delivered to you at whichever point of the movie you choose. Services like this could easily cost 10 or 20 times more anywhere else in the world.
Price: $$ Prices are as low as Rp 50k Mondays to Thursdays and Rp 100k on weekends. Prices vary depending on the cinema.
- The public transport is unreliable. Only take the Bluebird taxi as they’re always metered, well-governed and rarely cheat. If you accidentally left something in a cab, you can call the hotline and tell them where you were at the time and they should be able to track your cab for you.
- Get a SIM card when you land at the airport and get a data pack. Always use waze on your phone so you know where your driver is going. Indonesia has a culture of not wanting to disappoint you so cabbies will sometimes agree to take you even if they don’t know the way.
- The water in Indonesia is untreated. Only drink bottled water with a sealed cap.
- Be wary of street food. See above.
- Stock up on meds just in case because it’s very easy to fall sick in Indonesia and the healthcare is generally poor. Bring something for fever, nausea, food poisoning and oral rehydration salts (ORS)
- Skip big attractions like the zoo, aquarium, amusement parks and taman mini. They tend to attract large crowds no matter the day or time. Between the congested, poorly-maintained infrastructures, inadequate facilities and availability of better attractions elsewhere, they’re rarely worth the hassle.
- There’s a tipping culture. Don’t feel pressured to accept help but if you do, tip appropriately.
- Always research prices beforehand, especially if you’re planning to haggle.
- Be ready to sit in a lot of traffic. Like a lot. Of traffic.
- Have fun! 😁