Our Trip of Wonders to Indonesia began with Jakarta. We were barely here for a couple of days but here is a quick post on some of the top things to do in Jakarta Indonesia.
Ten things to do in Jakarta in 48 hours
I met ghosts on the streets in Jakarta, saw a magician sitting up in the air, posed with life size puppets, watched a man getting healed on the pavement with a coin and heard the story of a fertility canon which fires passions. And that is when I realized that there is more to the Indonesian capital, that calls itself The Big Durian than just traffic. The stories, the legends, the myriad traditions, the cultures – Jakarta is a mosaic of different worlds.
There are several influences here from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Even today you can see the colonial era monuments from the Dutch period. Home to the old Batavi tribe, Jakarta has been a potpourri of different cultures including Chinese, Malay, Arab and Indian. We barely had 48 hours in the capital city and based on my experiences, here are some of the top things to do in Jakarta
Visit the old town Kota Tua
The old town takes you back to the Dutch era when the town was called Batavia and was the capital of Dutch East India Company. We landed here on their Independence Day and the entire town wore a colourful look. School girls posed against the old Town Hall which is now the National History Museum. Young girls and boys wearing colourful clothes with matching hats hired cycles and were roaming around the Fatahillah Square.
Walking around I could see several monuments and museums – the Wayang Museum which showcases the Javanese wayang puppets is the most popular here. There is also the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum housed in the building which was the former Court of Justice, Museum Bank Indonesia, The old Post Office, Cafe Batavia among other attractions. The area also includes Chinatown and there are some old temples, churches and markets in the vicinity. The old port can be seen as well. Personally this is one of my favourites among top things to do in Jakarta.
The legend of the fertility canon at Fatahilla Square
However as a story teller, I am fascinated by local myths and legends and I found a tale surrounding a 350 year canon in the Fatahillah Square that can fire passions too. It is called the fertility canon. This fist is a symbol of sex and was originally referred to as vica or good luck. Locals believed that if you sit atop the canon, then the hormones are likely to get activated and barren women can bear children. The belief apparently pre dates the Dutch presence in Jakarta.
Pose with a puppet or a ghost
Meet the Ondel Ondel, traditional large puppets, originated from Batavi . They are performed largely to ward off evil. Call them a lucky charm. These puppets are about 2.5 metres tall and is made of woven bamboo, while the mask is made of wood.
And if you are in the mood for something more gory, you can pose with a ghost called Sundel Bolong. The soul of a pregnant woman who died in childbirth, Sundel Bolong ‘s foetus can be seen through a hole. A vicious ghost, locals believe that you should not cross her.
Lose yourself in the monuments of Merdeka Square
Palaces, museum, gardens, mosques, churches fill the city centre of Jakarta at the Merdeka Square, believed to be one of the largest squares of the world. Right in the centre is the National Monument called monas, surrounded by a park. In the Dutch era, it was called the King’s Square. If you like a bit of history and monuments, then this will be one of the many things to do in Jakarta
A moment of quiet at the Istiqlal Mosque
Silence fills the air the moment you enter this mosque located near the Merdeka Square. I saw kids playing in the courtyard, siblings taking selfies while others are praying. The mosque has seven entrances. We climbed the first floor and saw the large prayer hall below while the ceiling was covered with a massive spherical dome.The national mosque is believed to be one of the largest in South Asia.
Visit the Jakarta Cathedral
Standing right next to the Istiqlal Mosque is the century old Jakarta Cathedral and is called the Church of Our Lady of Assumption. A reminder of the colonial era, the cathedral is built in the neo gothic style. Sitting there and soaking in the silence, I was lost for a moment here.
Soak in the history National Museum
Culture, art, archaeology music and sculptures – the National Museum showcases the heritage of Indonesia and even showcases objects from the prehistoric era. Originally known as the Elephant Building, one of the most interesting rooms here showcases priceless treasures including golden relics. There are ceramics that can be seen here from ancient Chinese dynasties. Artefacts and objects that showcases the cultures and lifestyles of different regions of Indonesia are also displayed. I was fascinated by the ancient Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that adorn the courtyard. One of them is a large carving of Shiva in the form of Bhairava which is believed to be portrayed by one of the kings, Adityavarman. If you like history and culture, then this should be on your agenda as its one of the top things to do in Jakarta.
An excursion to Bogor
Palaces and gardens greet you at this small town located near Jakarta. It houses the Presidential Palace and a lovely botanical garden.
While the former needs permission, you can get fantastic views of the palace from the garden. It started drizzling when we were there and it stayed true to its name – the Rain City.
Inside the gardens, we visited an old Dutch cemetery as well. The paths take you to small ponds and it is easy to get lost here . Children posed for us as we saw a group of school kids singing and playing, probably on an excursion too like us. The Garden Cafe is a great place to relax with some Bintang Beer. Dont miss it on your list of things to do in Jakarta.
Kerokan – an ancient healing technique
I have always believed that we learn more about a country and its cultures on its streets than in a monument. So, while we were returning from Bogor, we saw a man sitting on the pavement and his bare back was filled with red streaks and the skin virtually scraped. Another man was applying oil and holding a coin and creating patterns on his body until it turned red. I was told that the latter was a healer who was practising a technique called kerokan . The technique apparently removed toxins, “wind” or gas and locals believe even bad spirits which is probably causing the health issues and increases blood circulation.
Get a reflexology massage
For me personally the panacea to all ills is a relaxing body massage and I had one of the best reflexology massages at Kokuo Reflexology. Walking through a small lane and then climbing winding staircases in the dark, I entered a huge hall where a group of us were waiting for our masseurs. I almost slept through the whole process as my masseur squeezed and pressed every muscle in my body, including the ones that were dormant for a while . Highly recommended. Even if you do not have the time for any of the above activities, make sure you have the time for this .
And those are my recommendations for things to do in Jakarta. You can also head to karaoke bars, go to markets, do some street photography in the night or enjoy a cocktail at the city’s bars. Let me know what interests you. If you are looking to experience the best of Jakarta in two days, you must check out this guide for more details
Top Five Things to Do in Indonesia – Travel With Lakshmi
If you are planning a visit to Indonesia, do see my video on the top five things to do in Indonesia on my youtube channel, Travel With Lakshmi. I would appreciate it if you can subscribe to the channel.
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