A steamy, raw, chaotic place that puts all five senses in overdrive, Jakarta is not for the faint-hearted. Founded more than 1,500 years ago and forging ahead at a dizzying pace, Jakarta feels both old and new. From sleek high-rise hotels to gritty nightclubs to the National Monument, where children fly kites and adults swell with patriotic pride, Jakarta is everything at once. Yes, the traffic is terrible and the poverty is heartbreaking, but Jakarta thrives in spite of itself. Its energizing vibe will beguile you.
Things to Do
Get a feel for the country's traditional architecture in a stroll around the provincial houses of the Taman Mini Indonesia cultural park -- note the sweep of the massive roofs and the pointed peaks. Sunda Kelapa, the old port, is the place to gaze at the colorful old-time schooners, a direct link to Jakarta's maritime past. Browse the ethnic costumes, Hindu artifacts and bronze statutory at the National Museum. Take the lift to the top of the National Monument and scan the sprawling metropolis from 400 feet up.
Nightlife and Entertainment
This otherwise conservative Muslim city harbors a hard-core party scene. Pulsating nightclubs with live bands and cool DJs make music into the wee hours in places like B.A.T.S. in the Shangri-La and Dragonfly on Jl. Gatot Subroto. The lowbrow but perennially popular Stadium club in Kota is a techno-playing favorite of the clubbing crowd. Every modern high-rise hotel in the CBD has an elegant bar or two. For something different and completely local, watch a traditional Javanese dance at the Bharata Theatre.
Restaurants and Dining
When Indian, Arab, Chinese and European traders arrived centuries ago, they brought their culinary traditions with them, and today Jakarta's culinary scene is a rich stew of multi-ethnic ingredients. The food courts in the city's shopping malls are full of cheap local fare, from satay to nasi goreng and gado gado. Hit Huize Trivelli Heritage Resto & Patissier for interesting classic Indonesian dishes with a Dutch twist. Go colonial at Café Batavia and tuck into continental classics like Caesar salad and caviar amid the historic 19th-century ambience.
Jakarta's Western-style shopping malls have a following that borders on religious. Ride the gleaming escalators in the Grand Indonesia mall to shop in stores like Giorgio Armani and Topshop. The world's most prestigious brands reside here and at Plaza Indonesia, Senayan City and Pacific Place, in the city center. Drive a hard bargain in the shop stalls of Antique Alley in Jalan Surabaya -- filled to the brim with Indonesian collectibles from shadow puppets to Chinese-style Javanese porcelain. Scan the racks for local looks at the Umang Batik Boutique.