Things to Do in Jakarta
With a history dating back more than 1,500 years when it was a part of the Sudanese Tarumanagara kingdom, Jakarta has managed to preserve a healthy dose of the old to contrast the dizzying new development. For a taste of Jakarta’s ancient roots, take a walk through old downtown Kota, where you’ll find the National Museum -- one of the best archeological museums in Southeast Asia.
To put your finger on the pulse of the city, visit the National Monument (Monas) in the middle of Independence Square on a weekend, when the sense of national pride is palpable, or press through the crowds of the Jalan Surabaya Antique and Flea Market, where it seems you can find anything under the sun.
The National Monument sits in the center of Jakarta’s Merdeka Square and was built to commemorate Indonesia's struggle for independence. The tower’s construction began in 1961 under President Soekarno, and the monument – also known as Monas – was finally opened to the public in July 1971. The tower stands at more than 130 meters tall and is topped with a burning flame, symbolizing that the spirit of the Indonesian people will never be extinguished. The flame is made from bronze metal and coated with gold foil, while the main structure symbolizes a rice pestle and mortar, thereby representing Indonesia’s agricultural history. These objects are also said to symbolize fertility by representing the male and the female. A lift on the southern side of the monument takes visitors up to the viewing platform at 115 meters above ground level. The National Monument is surrounded by a well-kept park, often used for sports and recreational activities.
The National Museum in Jakarta sits on the western side of Merdeka Square. After various incarnations under a number of different names, the National Museum was opened in 1868. Often referred to as the ‘Elephant Building’ due to the bronze elephant statue at its entrance, this impressive museum houses a huge collection, providing an in-depth insight into Indonesia’s fascinating cultural heritage. The National Museum essentially takes visitors on a journey through Indonesia’s history, from prehistoric times right up to the present day. There are almost 150,000 artifacts on display here, with prehistoric, archaeological, ceramic, ethnographic, numismatic/heraldic, geographic, and colonial collections to explore. A new wing was added to the museum in 2007, with four levels dedicated to the neo-classical colonial era and the origins of mankind in Indonesia, including a model of the Flores ‘hobbit’.
Located in the Taman Sari neighborhood of the city, Jakarta’s Chinatown is in an area known as Glodok. It lays claim to being the largest Chinatown in Indonesia, and one of the largest in the world. Dating back to the Dutch colonial era, Glodok is best known for its markets, architecture, and temples, as well as being one of the biggest centers for electronics in Jakarta.
Amid the traditional houses and such impressive temples as Da Shi Miao and Vihara Dharma Bhakti, shopping and food are at the heart of Glodok. Visitors can take a stroll through the streets, passing historic buildings and ancient temples, while visiting shops selling modern-day electronics next to those touting traditional Chinese medicines.
Fatahillah Square (or Taman Fatahillah) is located in Kota in North Jakarta. It was the town square for the Dutch settlement of Batavia, and as such features some well-preserved buildings from that era. Today, this cobblestone square is a bustling hive of activity, particularly at the weekends. Locals come to socialize and visitors come to marvel at the colonial buildings and tour the museums. In the evenings and weekends, the square comes alive with street vendors, artisans, jugglers, and international tourists. Three of the city’s best museums can be found at Fatahillah Square. Wayang Museum, with its huge collection of Javanese puppetry, sits on the west side of the square. The old Jakarta History Museum is located on the north side, while the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum sits to the east of the square.
Jalan Surabaya Flea Market is tucked away in the affluent suburb of Menteng in Jakarta. Established in the 1970’s, the market was initially only open on the weekends, when vendors would walk among the locals with their wares, selling mainly household items. At some point in the 1980s, one of the stallholders began to sell antiques, and seeing its popularity, the other vendors soon followed suit!
This half-kilometer stretch of shops and stalls now offers everything from old gramophones and vinyl records to art, woodcarvings, furniture, and textiles, along with a whole range of antiques (both of the genuine and slightly more dubious variety). Haggling is expected, of course, with good-natured vendors starting transactions with high prices in the expectation that buyers will drive a hard bargain.
Formerly known as the Pejaten Mall, Pejaten Village is a shopping and entertainment center located in South Jakarta. While not the largest shopping mall by Southeast Asian standards, Pejaten Village nonetheless features a wide range of leisure, retail, and eating options. It’s also a pleasant, often uncrowded, place to visit.
Pejaten Village offers al fresco dining, a children's playground, a fitness center, and a cinema, along with a wide range of restaurants, department stores and smaller retail outlets. The large Hypermarket here is popular for grocery shopping among locals, with plenty of fresh vegetables, meats, and fish sold at reasonable prices.
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