Jakarta wasn’t at all how I expected it to be.
I mean sure, the Indonesian megalopolis (try saying that three times fast) was crowded, traffic-choked and frantic.
But in amongst the madness (which I’m always rather fond of anyway) I discovered a beating cultural heart that really surprised me.
Here’s how I spent 24 fabulous hours in the Indonesian city that never sleeps, with an upbeat city retreat playlist to accompany it.
Rise and shine at the uber-luxurious Raffles Jakarta. This whole hotel is an homage to the late (and debatably great, depending on how flamboyant you like your art) Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan. Gunawan’s psychedelic pieces have been worked into the enormous glittering mosaic in the lobby, into the ceiling murals and into the carpets. They’re so trippy I start to wonder whether those mushrooms I ate on the breakfast buffet might have been a bit magic…
Our city tour starts with a visit the the National Museum of Indonesia, which is actually much less boring than it sounds thanks to some fabulous real gold and silver headdresses, a necklace made from teeth by a tribe in Kalimantan, and a battle sash made entirely from animal tusks.
Next we head to Fatahillah Square in Kota, the old town, where we learn about Jakarta’s Dutch colonial roots and got an idea of how the city might have looked back in the 1600s. I can’t quite bring myself to rent one of the cute coloured bikes with their matching-hued floppy hats that sit around the edge of the square; the combined fears of nits and scraping my knee proves too much. Instead, I poke my head into Cafe Batavia – the second oldest building in Jakarta, apparently. It’s truly a step back in time to the colonial era, and weirdly slash delightfully I find the bathrooms plastered with pictures of semi-naked men.
Around the corner is the sweetest little puppet museum, where we learn about why shadow puppeteering is so integral to Indonesian storytelling, and even get a mini puppet show from fourth generation puppeteer Ki Edan Aldy Sandjoyo. He tells us his performances can run up to nine hours; thank the lord he gives us just a 15-minute taste.
The area around the puppet museum is lined with gerobak, or mobile street stalls, selling everything from fresh fruit, to fried noodles, to satay skewers and fresh eggs. If we were game, we’d eat here. But we’re pussies, so we stuff ourselves with a full rijsttafel (traditional Indonesian ‘rice table’) feast at the super posh Kunstkring Paleis restaurant instead.
Our meal comes with a conga line-type dance that we’re forced to participate in, and I eat a bean that turns out to be a green chilli and almost pass out. I’m promptly revived, however, by the discovery of the Suzie Wong-themed cocktail bar next door, where the opium den vibes are next level.
I’m a total antiques nut so I love the flea market at Jalan Surabaya, where the tiny shops are crammed with everything from tribal wooden statues and old books, to vintage vinyl and cameras and sleeping shop keepers. Even if you’re not into old stuff, I’d recommend coming here for the Insta opps alone.
Afterwards, we head back to the hotel for a turn about the Raffles art gallery, followed by a sneaky pre-dinner massage (which is amazing, but the real highlight is the ice bath and rain shower with three different forest soundtracks that follows it) and bath. Peace out.
We brave the Jakarta traffic again to head to what’s said to be one of the hottest joints in town for dinner and drinks, Skye bar. 56 floors above the city, we sip cocktails by the alfresco pool as the city lights twinkle below us, and cheers to how very unexpectedly awesome Jakarta has been.