Emergency measures in the wake of Covid-19
March 31, 2020. Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi announced a ban on all arrivals and transits by foreigners in Indonesia. Foreigners with stay permits and some diplomatic visits will be exempted. Screening for returning Indonesian nationals will also be strengthened.
Previous Note: In the wake of the police raid on Atlantis Sauna and subsequent convictions, and the public canings of two young men convicted of sodomy this past year, many people may wonder if an Indonesian vacation is such a good idea. For some of the bad news see the bottom of this page: Whats going on here?
Jakarta has never had a scene the likes of Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei or Tokyo - or even Seoul, Singapore or Manila, but it did have a few nightclubs, cafes and saunas where LGBTQ people could be themselves. Now, outside the island of Bali, which has it's own distinct culture, most such spaces have shut down, as society becomes increasingly hostile to alternative lifestyles.
There are still many reasons to experience this beautiful country, with the fourth largest population in the world living on 922 inhabited islands (with another 12,000+ uninhabited ones), speaking more than 700 languages - but visiting will require a bit of attitude adjustment and taking more than the usual care to observe local customs. Do the research, and find some friendly locals to show you around and alert you to the dangers -- you can always relax in Bangkok or Pattaya on the way home. Donations to groups such as Arus Pelangi, GAYa Nusantara, or GWL-INA, help local LGBTQ people to help themselves and one another.
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 include the Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, each year in early March. The Jakarta International Film Festival with screenings of films from around the world appears to be on hiatus.
Soekarno-Hatta International Airport is the main airport serving the greater Jakarta area, located about 20 km west of downtown. From Europe, airlines such as EasyJet, Ryanair, and Air Berlin land here, and from North America there are Southwest and Vigin America flights. Consider Bangkok on JetAsia, or Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia, as intermediate destinations. Shuttles, taxis and two bus companies connect to the city center from departure areas at all airport terminals.
Thirty-day non-renewable visas are issued on arrival for Europeans, North Americans, Australians and Kiwis among others from 169 countries.
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 of the road driving, public transportation beats car rental options. "Auto rickshaw" bajaj, can still be found in some back streets 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. Karental has an English language guide to getting around here.
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
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." Trip101 has tips on the best street foods to sample, plus more articles for visitors.
For an expat's take on local restaurants, housing and other tips, see Living In Indonesia.
Nightlife & gay scenes
The up-front gay scene has always been small for such a large city, but Jakarta was once considered by international partiers to have had one of the wildest nightclub scenes in the world, and lines between genders and cultures often blurred with widespread use of E in the clubs. Problems included widely varying street quality, along with pickpockets and con artists. But the more serious danger was drug law enforcement squads with on-the-spot searches and urine tests resulting in life-changing consequences for anyone who tested dirty.
Appolo (Bellagio Boutique Mall UG Level, Jalan Mega Kuningan Barat VII) - CLOSED - popular upscale Wednesday-Saturday gay dance club and lounge in the central business district mall, erotic male go-go strippers, karaoke and drag shows until 4am; lounge bar 7pm-1am nightly (except Sundays).
Oh La La Café (Mega Kuningan Timur Kav E 4.3), a gay-popular Bellagio Boutique Mall café/restaurant, serves French-style cuisine; busy most nights but especially on weekends.
Mainstream clubs with good guest DJs (and less male-expat-local-girl-hookup vibes) include: Jenja (Jalan Cilandak Town Square, South Jakarta), Wednesday-Saturday nights 9pm-3 or 4am, mixing mostly male expats and students who come to dance; Exodus (Kuningan City Mall, Jalan Prof Dr Satrio Kav 18, South Jakarta), three-floor electro dance club by the Stadium group, restaurant, live music lounge, young mixed crowd; and Illigals (Hayam Wuruk Tower, Jalan Hayam Wuruk 108, North Jakarta), nightclub, 53-room hotel, Sky Spa and 24-hour karaoke suites.
A club institution of many years, Stadium in West Jakarta, mixed young locals and international backpackers in a four-level dance club, non-stop Friday night through Monday morning, with shows and world-class DJs - CLOSED by officials after a young cop overdosed and died here. Ostensibly straight, it had a weekend gay subtext among the younger guys.
Saunas and massage
Note: The Atlantis Sauna was raided and closed by police, May 21, 2017 (see below) and did not re-open.
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) - CLOSED - sauna for men in Kelapa Gading; gym, steam room, sauna, whirlpool, internet, smoking area, rooftop bar, no-towel nights. Events include bukkake, orgyland, masquerade.
Millennium Hotel Sirih (Jalan Haji Fachrudin 3, Jalan Thamrin District), small but good facilities in mainstream hotel, popular with gay men; sauna and steam room, gym, outdoor pool, body scrubs and massage services.
Swiss-Belhotel Mangga Besar (Jalan Kartini Raya 57), North Jakarta mainstream hotel with gym, large indoor pool, steam room, dry sauna, spa and massage services; popular with local gay men.
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. Since the Atlantis raids TI was recast online as a health spa/ gym facility - but there are unconfirmed reports that they too have now closed.
See four male to male massage service providers at our map/ listings page - with working websites as of December 2017. All are outcall only, so we have no map locations for them.
Whats going on here?
Life for gay men in Jakarta became more difficult in 2017 as police raided the Atlantis Sauna one Sunday evening last May, and detained over 140 male staff and customers, including four foreigners. Some men taken to the police station were transported and interrogated while still naked. Photos of the men were leaked to online media in what police have called a "procedural mistake." Most were held for questioning, with ten expected at the time to be charged under Indonesia’s new pornography laws, facing prison sentences of up to ten years. Press coverage appears nonexistant lately, but just five men were said to remain under investigation at last report. See the response statement by the LGBTI advocacy group Arus Pelangi.
Homosexuality per se is not illegal in most of the nation, and there are long-standing traditions of same-sex bonding. Social and institutional gender segregations have given cover for a multitude of relationships between individuals in the past - so long as people were discreet, observed social norms in public, and fulfilled family obligations. But contact with, and exposure to western models of sexuality and lifestyle are seen as a threat by some people, causing changes in public attitudes.
Even before events of this year, the previous two years had seen closings of some gay business and websites, and the removal of sexually suggestive imagery by those that remained. The conservative reaction also targeted "punk" haircuts and clothing styles, along with women who behaved or dressed in proscribed ways. Open discussion of sexuality in any form has generally been considered taboo and obscene, and film festivals, that once screened foreign films with more tolerant attitudes, became ever more conspicuous by their absence.
President Joko Widodo had said to the BBC that "there should be no discrimination against anyone," but comments by other officials encouraged discrimination against, and physical attacks on gay men by both law enforcement officials and local vigilantes. The defense minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, has called homosexuality a national security threat; part of a "proxy war" waged by foreign states. The West Java police chief Anton Charliyan, who said that LGBT people suffer a "disease of the body and soul," announced a new investigative task force unit of police, army and provincial officials to monitor and search for LGBT parties. He called on the public to report any such activities - so keep in mind the danger of entrapment if using apps.
In early 2017, in Surabaya, the second-largest city in Indonesia, police arrested 14 men at what they called a "sex party," and forced them to take HIV tests. In Banda Aceh, Indonesia's most conservative province in northern Sumatra where sharia law is enforced, two young men arrested in late March were convicted of sodomy after suspicious neighbors broke into their apartment as they were having sex, took photos of them and called the police. Their sentence of 85 cane lashes each was publicly administered in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital on May 24th, shortly before the observance of Ramadan. A crowd of up to a thousand people applauded, cheering and clapping as the men were beaten, and video was live-streamed online.
Atlantis Sauna has not re-opened. The website of Appolo, the gay nightclub is down, their twitter is frozen, and the club was reported to be closed in a November 2017 Travel Gay Asia review. The facebook page of T1, the other gay sauna which reopened after Ramadan, still works in low-profile mode without recent updates, but it may also have closed.
For two long reads on both traditional and changing attitudes in the country, see: the May 2017 paper by Mirna Nadia: Shifting Boundaries and Contentions: The Regulation of “Victimless Crimes” in Indonesia; and the Wikipedia article, Homosexuality in Indonesia.
Other recent articles: Indonesia’s Crackdown on Gay Men Moves From Bars Into the Home by Jeffrey Hutton, ©The New York Times, Dec 20, 2017.
Jakarta Is Sinking So Fast, It Could End Up Underwater, by Michael Kimmelman, ©The New York Times, Dec 21, 2017; and $40bn to save Jakarta: the story of the Great Garuda, by Philip Sherwell, ©The Guardian, Nov 16, 2017.
Is Indonesia really going to hand out five years' jail for gay sex? by James Purtill, ©ABC Australia, Jan 31, 2018.