Located on the northwest coast of the island of Java, Jakarta has a variety of cultures – Javenese, Malay, Chinese, Arab, Indian and European. This has influenced the architecture, language and cuisine. In the old town, Kota Tua, visitors will find Dutch colonial buildings, Chinese-style architecture in Glodok (Jakarta’s Chinatown) and even a traditional wooden schooners clock at the old port of Sunda Kelap.
The tallest building in Indonesia is Wisma 46 in Central Jakarta. This is a 250 m tall gleaming skyscraper located in the Kota BNI-Maybank complex.
Built in 1862 The National Museum is the best of its kind in Indonesia and well-worth a visit. It offers an enormous collection that begins in an open courtyard, which is filled with impressive millennium old statuary that includes a colossal 4.5 image of a Bhairawa king from Rambahan in Sumatra, who is shown trampling on human skulls. The museum has an excellent ethnology section with Dayak puppets and wooden statues from Nias sporting beards (a sign of wisdom) to some fascinating textiles.
In the new wing you’ll find flour floors with sections that are devoted to the origin of mankind in Indonesia, including a model of the Flores “hobbit”. There’s also a display of gold treasures from Candi Brahu in Central Java that include sparkling necklaces, armbands and a bowl showing scenes from the Ramayana.
The Indonesian Heritage Society offers free English tours of the museum – Tuesdays at 10:30 AM and Thursdays at 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM. Other tours available are in French, Japanese and Korean.
The Jakarta History Museum or Museum Kesejarahan Jakarts has found its home in the old town hall of Batavia. This is a stately Dutch colonial structure, once the epicenter of an empire. The building has a bell-tower and dates back to 1627, serving the city administration and used by the city law courts. Inside the museum you’ll find heavy, carved ebony and teak furniture from the Dutch period. Sadly the building is badly in need of repair. You can delight in such odd exquisite pieces, like the stunning black granite sculpture of Kali, a Hindi goddess associated with death and destruction.
Yin De Yuan is a large Chinese Buddhist temple that compound dates from 1755 and is one of the most important in the city. The main structure is topped by an unusual roof, upon which two dragons sit eating pearls. The interior is richly atmospheric with dense incense and candle smoke, wafting over Buddhist statues, ancient bells and drums and impressive calligraphy. After being damaged by fire during recent Chinese New Year celebrations the building is undergoing reconstruction.
To the east of Merdeka Sq. Lapangan Banteng has some of Jakarta’s best colonial architecture.
There is the Catholic Jakarta cathedral with twin-spires that was built in 1901.
Directly opposite is the city’s principle place of Muslim worship, the striking modernist Mesjid Istiqlal, highlighted by geometrically grated windows, designed by Catholic architect Frederich Silaban and completed in 1978. The mosque has five levels, representing the five pillars of Islam. Its dome is 45 m across and its minaret tops 90 m. Over 200,000 worshippers can gather here during Ramadan. Visitors are welcome and English-speaking guides are available.
The Mahkamah Agung or Supreme Court of Indonesia was built in 1848 and is an impressive structure.
Next to it you’ll find the colonial Ministry of Finance Building, formerly the Witte Huis or White House. It dates back to 1809 and was the administrative center for the Dutch.
To the southwest is Gedung Pancasila, an imposing Neo-classical building from 1830 built as the Dutch army commander’s residence. Later on it became the meeting hall of the Volksraad or People’s Council. It is best known as the place where Sukarno made his famous Pancasila speech in 1945, laying the foundation for Indonesia’s constitution.
The National Monument stands 132 m high and towers over Merdeka Sq. It is Jakarta’s principle landmark. It was begun in 1961 and Monas was finally completed in 1975. The monument is constructed from Italian marble and topped off with a sculpted flame, gilded with a 35 kg gold leaf. The entrance to the monument is through an underground tunnel.
Close to the entrance to Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta’s old port you’ll find several old VOC warehouses that date back to 1652 and have made a home for the Museum Bahari. At this museum you can learn about the city’s maritime history and walking through the old buildings you can find good information panels in English and Bahasa Indonesia.
There are random exhibits displaying such things as a sextant (used for astronomical navigation), various traditional boats from around Indonesia, the shell of a giant clam, lots of pickled fish and some lighthouse lamps. The sentry posts outside are part of the old city wall.
Ancol Luar Biasa, on Jakarta’s bayfront is what is known as the people’s “Dreamland”. This is a landscaped recreation complex which is popular with families. Here you can delight in amusement rides, sporting and leisure facilities, including bowlin. It is quite crowded on the weekends. The main attractions include the Pasar Seni or Art Market, offering sidewalk cafes, craft shops, cable-car rides, art exhibitions and live jazz every Friday and the Atlantis Water Adventure water-park complex with a wave pool. waterslides and artificial beaches.
You can get great views of the bay from The Gondola, a cable-car system. The huge Dunis Fantasi fun park has the Halilintar twisted roller coaster ride and Kora Kora the swinging ship.
Inside the Ancol Dreamland complex you’ll also find Sea World, a high tech modern aquarium that exhibits the diverse tropical marine life found in Indonesian waters. The Freshwater World and Micro World offer lovely tropical fish and coral reefs. You can get up close with friendly creatures as the Touch Pool. Theater screens show movies about the underwater world at the Antasena Tunnel where you can walk-through an acrylic tube offering you real experience of life under the sea.
This giant aquarium has over 4,000 fish and sharks from 300 species.
The Welcome Monument or The Salamat Datang has been set in the center of a fountain. It was built in 1962 and stands shadowed by the Hotel Indonesia Kempinski, the city’s original luxury hotel. The roundabout is traveled every day by millions of people. The monument was built by President Sukarno to beautify the city. Here you’ll also find the Grand Hyatt Hotel which has rooms that offer great views of the monument that stands lit up at night. On New Year’s Eve there are firework displays right over the monument, traffic is at a stand-still and people flood the roundabout to celebrate the New Year.
At the northern end of Kali Besar you can find the last remaining Dutch drawbridge, the Chicken Market Bridge, dating back to the 17th century.
One of the most impressive homes to see is the red-tiled facade of Toko Meran, once the home of Governor General van Imhoff.
A popular place to visit in South Jakarta is Ragunan Zoo. It is located in the city suburbs. In a most exotic setting you’ll find such animals as the Komodo lizard, tapir, anoa, Java tiger, banteng, wild ox and many brightly colored birds. The zoo is a 10-hectare enclosure and this spot is a great place for family excursions and picnics. There is abundant flora to delight in.