Sunday, 18 October 2009

Jakarta, Indonesia : A Guide

I've been reading travel-logs of random backpackers who found themselves stranded and confused in Jakarta. Aaaaand I can't help but think they were idiots. I'm trying not to generalize and label every one of them as 'idiots who didn't do proper research', but the truth is.. they are. And it's making my beloved city look bad.

Top things they complain about:
1. Sanitation
2. Price of things
3. "Friendliness" of the people
4. Public transport
5. Places to visit/see (or lack of)

Here's a little info about Jakarta which should explain things a bit.

1. Sanitation
Yes, rats and cockroaches roam freely and rather brutally. The rats are so huge, sometimes they're bigger than the cats. And roaches have a tendency to fly *towards* you rather than the other way around.

This is why it's better to spend a bit more rather than a little less. $5 can make a difference between you shivering in disgust as you step into a bathroom with no running hot water, and you showering peacefully without bugs around you. And the area which you pick is also important. Try to get in touch with people who have either visited Jakarta for a long period of time, or have actually lived there. They're not exactly hard to find.

Food poisoning also is a big issue with foreigners.. You guys have really weak stomachs. (You don't eat half the trash I shovel down my mouth. Seriously.) Wash your hands before and after you eat, bring wet wipes - they're your best friend. If you run out - buy more. This might not help much when you're faces with questionable cubes of ice served to you as you order a cold drink, but they at least give you control over something.

If it's not at a big restaurant - wipe the spoons and forks you've been provided with, with a tissue. Wipe thoroughly. It's not rude - we do it too. If you still find yourself bent over a toilet puking your insides, or scrunching up your face tightly, howling rude words as you're sitting on the toilet - well this thing called Norit really works. If it gets worse -just go see a doctor.

2. Price of things
Again, you need to do your research.

Housing - Certain areas of Jakarta have a reputation of being "cheap" which is not necessarily good. If you want cheap places to stay and (relatively) cheap places to eat with (relatively) clean sanitation - flock towards the areas where universities are located in. Students = reasonably priced housing and food. In fact that probably applies to more places rather than just Jakarta.

Shopping for clothes - If you shop in malls, you will have to pay the expected price. ITCs are different, they're like a second grade mall, where you can still bargain with certain shop keepers. I forgot what they stand for, but the big blue letters usually stand out and can be easily seen. But again - you get what you pay for, unless you have an eye for a bargain.

Food prices between supermarkets usually only differ slightly.

3. "Friendliness" of the people
Look around with a dumb expression on you face and you will get taken advantage of. It's common sense. Be confident even while you're asking questions but be careful not to get confrontational.

But Indonesians are friendly by nature, and if you look like a foreigner, most will be fascinated and will ask questions. And chances are, you will receive the help you need in finding your way around the city. But for God's sake, use your common sense - if they look like thugs, it's safer to avoid them rather than keeping your fingers crossed that they're nice on the inside.

Ladies, if you walk alone at night and you obviously look like a tourist - people *will* harass you. Keep your exploring hours reasonable. If you find yourself out late and you're uncomfortable at the stares you're attracting, grab a taxi. If you can't find one - call for one. The numbers are easy to google, write it down and keep it in a convenient place.

4. Public transport
Buses are horrendous creations that should be abolished. Seriously. Avoid the orange death traps like the plague. If you're a tourist and you're not sure how these work here's a little explanation : Jump in when you need to, jump out when it's time. Yes. Jump.

Fine, maybe I'm exaggerating a little because I hate those ugly and hateful contraptions with a passion. But seriously - I don't recommend them. Ojeks are motorcycles - you ride shotgun. You can bargain the price with the drivers. I hate them too. (motorcycles in general - they weave in and out of the traffics like rodents.)

Busways are what the civilized buses are called. These will get you to lots of places, and they're cheap.

If in doubt - a taxi is always a safe bet. Bluebird is supposed to be the trusted brand which will deliver you safely to your destination. Gamya I know is pretty good. But there's a lot of alternatives. "Tarif bawah" means "cheap", but I've been told not to take the risk.

5. Places to visit/see (or lack of)
Jakarta is *huge*. Seriously. I live in the east of Jakarta and if you tell me I should go over to.. say the west to visit something - I'll probably go "Meh. No thanks." and go back to sleep. The traffic is horrific at rush hour, and there are roads that are specifically designed to piss you off.

Having said that - there's a lot of things to see. You just need to do your research.

What are you into? Museums? Which ones? Write them down, write the addresses down and plot it out on google map to see how far away they are from each other. Visit in clusters.

Arts and crafts? This new place has just opened up called SMESCO. It basically showcases Indonesian arts and crafts. You can buy stuff as it's really a huge shop, but you can also just visit to ooh and aah at the huge selection of things in there. Batiks, wood carvings, jewellery, furniture, tenun, whatever- if it's handmade, it's probably in there somewhere. And since it's airconditioned - you don't have to worry about the heat.

I highly recommend you just going around Jakarta to just eat. There's a good food guide you can purchase at any local book store that's worth reading. Again - visit in clusters. If you find something worth visiting on the other side of town - leave it to tomorrow.

Driving around Jakarta at night is actually pretty pleasant, but yeah.. It gets confusing to people who aren't used to it. Hell I've lived here for a little over 10 years and I still grab my phone in panic as I loose my way.

Bottom line?
If you want to visit Indonesia - why the f*ck are you in Jakarta? It's a good place to live in and fantastic to visit when there are art festivals or music festivals - but really. Jakarta? As a holiday destination? There's hundreds of cities (and towns and villages..) to visit in Jawa, so why Jakarta?

But if you have to be here? Grab a local.

Or you know - do the sensible thing. Research. And don't be such a dumbass.. Use your common sense.


johnorford said...

Jkt is a difficult prospect for newcomers. If it was mad a lil moretourist friendly it would go a long way

colson said...

After this account by a hardcore lover of the city, I hardly can wait for the next visit. Cockroaches like crocodiles, rats like Rhinos and Diarrhoea like the Niagara Falls - who is able to resist the temptation?

As a matter of fact I visited the city twice and loved it (knowing that after about a week I could leave again of course).

Of course I also took the measures you recommend. In pretty drastic way even: I waited till I left the backpacking times behind me and I ordered my sons to do extensive explorations on the spot first and to make sure to marry Indonesian women who were qualified as guides.

Motto: do it right or don't do it at all.

Anonymous said...

Find a local. Check.

mousharilla said...

Ahahaha thanks for all your comments :P

I just get annoyed at people who don't do proper research before going off someplace they know nothing about - it's just a recipe for disaster. It's like they have no commonsense. It just doesn't make sense!

Hehehe.. Anyways..

John: Yes I suppose, but then again, why visit Jakarta when there are nicer places to visit for a holiday?

Colson: Ah Colson, you're a master of the art! Are you planning on taking over the world anytime soon?

A: All you need to do is to get your ass over here :D