Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rethinking Jakarta

It is a fairly common occurrence that when people are mapping their exciting campaign through Southeast Asia they’ll run their finger over Laos down to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, then just as they get into Indonesia, skip over Jakarta and dot the ‘i’ in Bali. Where it is true that Jakarta is a sweltering metropolis of government and business that has traditionally scared off tourists, a flourishing of modern amenities, attractions, mixed with inlaid charms make it an interesting destination choice for culture and history enthusiasts.
Nighttime Skyline in Jakarta
Old Batavia
Straight to the action then—Old Batavia is the tourist epicenter of Jakarta. Considered Asia’s answer to Holland, the streets and architecture of this small .50 square mile (1.3 square km) town is known as the historical and cultural hub of the city. Though in rough shape these days, the town is still in its own rite a fascinating landmark of Dutch colonialism, such as the cobblestone lain Taman Fatahillah (town square), complete with remnants of the original 17th century town, including Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Museum of Jakarta History), and to the east the famous art museum, Balai Seni Rupa.
The fabric of Jakarta
Though it may not seem so from its name, the Textile Museum, founded in the 19th-century, provides an interesting tidbit of insight and history on one of Indonesia’s most well-known and proficient trades. The museum provides collections of traditional clothes and patterns from all over Indonesia. You can also get a close look at the native tools and process of cloth-making. For the full experience, you can get hands-on by participating in actual batik weaving instruction. Here, you can learn how to use natural color to create a piece to bring home.
Sunset in Jakarta
Picturesque sunset in Jakarta
Jalan Surabaya
Speaking of bringing home souvenirs, if you have any interest in exploring antiques, consider this Mecca. The Jalan Surabaya or Surabaya Street Market, is known for years as a place where you will discover the one exotic treasure you never imagined yourself purchasing. With more than 500 meters of shopping room, the market is a living curiosity, full of interesting nuggets of history. From cultural masks, to statues, to imported porcelain, to carvings, paintings, and even unexpected memorabilia, you probably won’t be walking out of this marketplace empty handed. The added value of its location in a shady part of town makes the browsing experience all the better you are not sweltering in the heat. A word to the wise, like many market places in developing countries, prices are entirely negotiable, and require some amount of bargaining if you don’t want to see the bottom of your wallet.
Pulau Seribu National Park
With the closest islands just a few mere miles from the Jakarta mainland, the Thousand Islands (actually only around 300 or so), are the perfect way to let your hair down, and remind yourself you’re in Southeast Asia. Hop on a boat from Marina Ancol, in north-most Jakarta and go island hopping. There are a plethora of scuba sites around Tidung Island and Pulau Kelapa, golfing on Bira, as well as island resorts and specialty restaurants serving up some of the tastiest sea-fare around.
Sepa Island
Explore the beautiful beaches near Jakarta
Pramuka Bird Market
Wildlife conservationists may not like to hear it (and I personally don’t condone some aspects of it), but one of the more interesting trades in Indonesia is indeed, of its avian inhabitants. This particular market, located in central Jakarta, can sometimes have up to 300 different tropical species and time-to-time features rare and exotic birds, such as the sought after Bali Starling, or White Peacock. The Indonesian Forestry Ministry has cracked down on the trade of illegal wildlife, over the years, and much of the capture methods are legal, though don’t be surprised if you come across more unconventional fare. None-the-less, from a spectator’s point of view, the Pramuka bird market is an intriguing part of Indonesian culture that cannot be ignored.