- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Visit Jakarta, Indonesia
Jakarta is definitely a traveler's tightrope walk. Hardly a halcyon vacation spot, the ‘Big Durian’ compensates with rewarding experiences, should the more adventurous accept its sights, sensations and challenges.
Things to see in Jakarta
Located just west of Monas is The National Museum, also known as Gedung Gajah (Elephant House) for its verdigris-coated bronze elephant out front. An erstwhile societal home for the Dutch intelligentsia, today the museum houses an intriguing melange of over 140,000 cultural artefacts which speak for the nation and its grand narrative of multiculturalism and survival. From prehistoric earthenware pots to coins dating back to the Majapahit Kingdom, the museum is one of the finest in all of South East Asia. Apart from temporary exhibitions, it also holds special events such as a Confucius Day, an eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary arts festivals, and even parkour sessions for the city’s cool practitioners.
The old town of Batavia, known as Kota, is the epicentre of the Dutch colonial era. Crumbling away are half of its 284 buildings, though a few are still worthy of some rubbernecking. Taman Fatahillah, the main square, is where all the action happens. Rent a traditional bicycle here called an onthel and cruise around Pee-wee Herman style. Next to the square is Café Batavia, a former Dutch East India Company office whose exterior is colonial, while its interior made up of wall-to-wall portraits of old Hollywood actors. West of the cobblestoned-square is Kali Besar, a canal which runs northward. The Chicken Market Bridge (an old drawbridge which dates back to the 17th century) is not too far away, though refrain from looking into its canal as you could still see why previous residents caught all sorts of mosquito-borne diseases. The canal empties out near Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta’s old harbour, where Dutch vessels sit in their golden years.
Smack dab in the centre of Merdeka Square, the National Moument (Monas to locals) pierces Jakarta’s concrete-filled skyline at 130m (426.5ft). The memorial, topped by a bronze flame coated in lavish gold, is the most important landmark in Jakarta, despite being an architectural excess constructed during a time of widespread poverty. For many it’s considered a symbol of Indonesia’s struggle against Dutch colonial rule; for others, a vile reminder of then dictator Soeharto’s 32-year reign which gave totalitarianism a new meaning in history books. At its base is a museum displaying the history of Indonesia in 51 dioramas. An elevator takes visitors to an observation platform where you can see Jakarta growing vertically by the day.