Jakarta is a name that is so familiar, but it also couldn’t be more unfamiliar. It conjures up images of a big smoky city with millions of people, that is chaotic and unorganised. A south east Asian city somewhere between Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok. But these images couldn’t be more separated from what the place is actually like. I got the chance to spend a weekend in Jakarta and this is what I learnt.

A city on the move – Jalan Jendral Sudirman avenue

As a big city, Jakarta didn’t feel as big as it is. It is one of the largest cities in south-east Asia. The capital city of one of the most populous countries in the world (Indonesia is 4th behind China, India and the United States). An island nation that is made up of thousands of islands. Jakarta feels as if it’s on the precipice of entering in a new era. The city centre is full of skyscrapers and fancy shopping centres and there are many young people hanging out in hip restaurants and cafes. As my local friend was explaining to me Jakarta is not an old city and hasn’t tried to hold onto it’s past, it’s on the move and forward-looking.

Every weekend one of the major avenues of the city is opened to the public. Jalan Jendral Sudirman is transformed into one of the world’s largest promenades for a few hours. The initiative is transformative. An otherwise inaccessible part of the city becomes a giant promenade. You can find families, young people strolling up the main road. You can find people rollerblading, riding their bicycles. There are markets, public performances. It’s a great way to come and meet the people of the city themselves.

The old city and traditional drink called Jamu

I booked my stay in the old city of Jakarta in the newly renovated Mercure Jakarta Batavia hotel.  It was a fantastic location which gave direct access to some of the old historical Dutch part of the city. The hotel is located along the Kali Krukut canal and in walking distance of the Fatahillah Square. This is a great place where locals come and hang out. The square is surrounded by small gift shops museums. The Jakarta History Museum was on great place worth exploring to learn a bit about the rich history of the city.

You can get a fantastic 5 star meal from the Batavia Café. This is where I had arguably the best nasi goereng of my life.

Off the main square there are lots of small laneways, an effective rabbit warren of surprising and interesting cafes. One such place we stumbled upon was Acaraki Jamu. It’s not your traditional café. They specialise in a very unique Indonesian drink called Jamu. Its a traditional drink made of natural minerals such as roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. Give it a go. The traditional drink may be more of an acquired taste. It has a very earthy and a spicy taste. There are also other more modern variants that are sweet and with milk which are absolutely delicious!

M Bloc Space – Something different

M Bloc space is an old industrial zone of the city that has been transformed into a young neighbourhood with cafes and exhibition areas. It’s a place where there is art, coffee, bars, music, conference spaces. It was a great place to get into and explore.

M Bloc Space contained a section of mural art. There are some small laneways lined with gardening projects and creative industrial communal spaces to pass the time with friends and hang out. There there are concert venues contained within the complex as well as multiple exhibition spaces.

Some of the old warehouses have been converted into bars and cafes. One great place is _oeang You have to crouch through a small quirky doorway which into a cosy space where you can grab a drink or some coffee, get a bite to eat and some ice-cream.

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