Jakarta, Indonesia's economic and political center, has the tenth largest population among cities of the world. Established in the fourth century, it became an important trading port in the Hindu Sunda Kingdom. The Portuguese were allowed to build a fort in 1522, to offset rising Islamic power of the Javan Sultanate of Demak. But in 1527 Demak conquered Sunda Kelapa, drove out the Portuguese, and renamed the city "Jayakarta," part of the Sultanate of Banten. Dutch and British interests then vied for control, but by 1619 the Netherlands prevailed, renaming the city "Batavia." During WWII Japanese forces briefly took control. After Japan's 1945 defeat, the nationalist leader Sukarno declared independence and was proclamed president, but Indonesians had to fight the returning Dutch until 1949, when Jakarta became the capital city of the new nation.
Indonesia has about 300 ethnic groups, each with it's own cultural identity. Some of all of them can be found in this huge city, along with their various languages, dialects, foods and customs. A large Chinese community also contributes to this cultural mix.
Popular local Jakarta dishes include Soto Betawi, cow's mill or coconut milk broth, with beef tendons, intestines, and tripe. Traditional Padang (West Sumatra) restaurants and inexpensive Javanese Warteg (Warung Tegal) food stalls may be found everywhere. All the islands and regions of Indonesia are represented, each unique but influenced by so many others at this trading crossroads. Flavors of these storied "Spice Islands" brought ships from far and wide, and locals were quick to adopt new foods such as peanuts and chili peppers, brought by 16th century Spaniards from the Americas. International fare includes American fast food, Chinese of many varieties, French, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, Thai, and contemporary fusions. Rice retains a central place in this culture, shaping the landscape, sold at every marketplace, and served in most meals, both savory and sweet. Coconut milk is another important staple. Bottled water should always be used, and the 'tamper proof' seal checked.
Primarily a city of government and business this has not been a big tourist destination, except for the old city. The building of new entertainment centers, and international-class hotels and restaurants has begun to change that, and historical sites and cultural heritage are now better promoted. A cluster of museums in old colonial buildings, near Kota Station in Old Batavia, can be visited together for the history of the city, fine arts, ceramics and a collection of traditional Wayang puppets. A sprawling seafront complex, Jaya Ancol Dreamland, includes amusement and theme parks, waterpark, aquarium, beaches, hotels, a golf course and the Ocean Eco Park. It's also known for gay cruising in the evenings.
Jalan Jaksa, the center of the international backpacker district since the 1960s, is full of budget hotel rooms under US$50/night, and hostel dorm beds from US$8-16 per night. The many low-cost restaurants, cafes, and sidewalk food stalls offer a wide range of cuisines, Western or Asian style. Bars, money changers, convenience stores, laundries and internet access shops/cafes are also to be found here. From the nearby Gondangdia train station you can easily get to most everywhere in Jakarta and beyond. Shoppings centers within walking distance include the Sarinah Plaza, the Plaza Indonesia/ eX entertainment complex, and the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town around Bundaran HI - plus the Tanah Abang Blok A Market.
Parades, traditional music, ondel-ondel giant puppets, palang pintu martial arts, and stalls of local crafts and foods fill the street each summer during the Jalan Jaksa Festival. Other events have included: the Jakarta International Film Festival annual screenings of films from around the world; and the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, both of which appear to be on hiatus.
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is the main airport serving the greater Jakarta area, located about 20 km west of downtown. As European and North American cities have few if any flights direct to Jakarta, consider Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, with over a dozen flights a day to Jakarta, as intermediate destinations. Shuttles, taxis and two bus companies connect to the city center from departure areas at all airport terminals.
Two rail lines connect Jakarta with other cities throughout Java. Cars range from modern air-conditioned comfort, to hot and hard wooden seat cheaper options. Most trains from big cities in Java (Purwokerto, Yogyakarta, Solo, Semarang, Malang and Surabaya) arrive late afternoons or evenings at Gambir station. Buy tickets at major stations. The PT Kereta Api website is Indonesian-language only, and you can't buy tickets online.
With bad traffic congestion, chaotic city layout, and left-hand-side driving to vex North Americans at least, public transportation beats car rental. "Auto rickshaw" bajaj, are still found in back streets of some parts of the city, and the TransJakarta (Indonesian-only website) rapid transit "busways" have ten dedicated bus corridors in use from 5am to 10pm. Bus stop shelters are usually located in the middle of the road, reached by elevated bridges. Fares run about 40 cents/US. The Indonesian language uses Roman letters, so street names are easy to recognize; "Jalan" the word for street is often abbreviated to Jl.
For taxis the Blue Bird group (62 21-7917-1234), with 24 hour service, is known for reliability, efficiency and safety. Always use their meter, and beware of imitators - not all blue taxis are Blue Birds. Their Silver Bird executive taxis (62 21-798-1234) charge a premium for the larger and newer cars. They also have limos and charter buses.
The rupiah (Rp) is the official currency of Indonesia (code IDR). Indonesians also use the word "perak" ('silver'). Each rupiah was subdivided into 100 sen, but with inflation (one US dollar has equaled around 13,000 rupiah in the years 2015-2017) sen are now obsolete. ATM machines are to be found at banks and other locations in major cities. Inform your home bank of plans before leaving for credit card transactions and cash withdrawals to work smoothly, and for info on partner banks or ATM networks to save on fees. US dollars are accepted, but exchange rates vary widely, and crisp new hundred dollar bills are preferred over old, damaged, or smaller denominations.
Media & Resources
GAYa Nusantara is the national gay magazine, with website, from the glbt community center in Surabaya.
Utopia, the gay Asia web portal, has up-to-date business listings for Jakarta, along with other Javanese cities. They also have an extensive list of 'meeting places' - parks, shopping centers, swimming pools and other such cruise spots. Travel Gay Asia is another regional website with Indonesian listings.
Jakarta100bars lists bars, clubs, restaurants, including gay places, in English - "the best nightlife in Jakarta."
For an expat's take on local restaurants, housing and other tips, see Living In Indonesia.
Nightlife & gay scenes
Although the up-front gay scene is relatively small for such a large city, Jakarta has been considered by international partiers to have had one of the wildest nightclub scene in the world, where lines between genders and cultures got quite blurred with the widespread use of E in the clubs. Typical problems included widely varying quality on the streets, and vulnerability to pickpockets and con artists. But the more serious danger came from drug law enforcement squads with on-the-spot searches and urine tests, and life-changing consequences for those who came up dirty. Several clubs and saunas have closed recently.
Appolo (Bellagio Boutique Mall UG Level, Jalan Mega Kuningan Barat VII), popular upscale gay dance club and lounge in central business district mall, erotic male strippers and shows until 4am Wednesdays through Sundays.
Oh La La Café (Mega Kuningan Timur Kav E 4.3), gay-popular Bellagio Boutique Mall café/restaurant, French-style cuisine, busy most nights but especially on weekends.
A local institution of over ten years, Stadium (Hayam Wuruk 111 FF, GG, HH, II JJ), in West Jakarta, mixes young local guys and backpacker internationals. Four-story dance club, many rooms, shows, world-class DJs; essentially straight vibe (girl strippers), but weekend gay subtext with many young guys. Open non-stop 9pm Fridays to 9am Monday mornings.
Saunas and massage
Jakarta has several gay male-oriented sauna/massage parlors and several more hotel facilities, outwardly straight but discreetly cruisy spots for locals and visitors to mix; the hotels Meridien, Millenium, Mulia and Sultan among them.
Atlantis Gym and Sauna (Rukan Kokan Permata Blok B 15-16), new place for men in Kelapa Gading; full gym, steam room, sauna, whirlpool, internet access, smoking area, rooftop bar, no-towel weekends. Theme events include bukkake, orgyland, masquerade.
T1 Sauna (Jalan Suryopranoto Komplek, Harmoni Plaza, Blok A16-17), South Jakarta hamman, sauna/spa, hot tub, tellak attendant, body scrubbers, m4m full-body massages and reflexology.