City Life: Hustle, bustle and hurly-burly
One of the largest, most populous, and busiest cities in the world, Jakarta is southeast Asia's definitive megalopolis, but buried beneath the seemingly chaotic urban splash, you'll find traces of a rich colonial past and a progressive dynamic present.
Like its namesake, 'the Big Durian', Jakarta is larger than you'd think, pungently aromatic, and, once you've got used to its dramatic flavour, unexpectedly addictive. Known as Batavia under Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia's capital retains architectural traces of its history as the administrative centre of the East Indies and culinary relics abound in its cafés and restaurants. Today, however, Jakarta is vigorously modern outpost with a thrumming nightlife, a robust shopping scene and an eye for art and design. Located on the east coast of Java, this non-stop traffic-clogged city makes a striking contrast to the rugged tropicana of the rest of the island.
Indonesia's drivers often play fast and loose with the rules of the (frequently treacherous) roads, so hiring a chauffeured car is often the safest bet. The Blue Bird group, which runs the city's most reliable and extensive network of taxis, offers limo rentals on an hourly or daily rate, with or without a driver (www.bluebirdgroup.com). Jakarta is notoriously congested, and there's a three-person minimum requirement for cars on certain roads at peak times to minimise this.
International and domestic flights, including Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Emirates touch down in Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Metered taxis readily available for the 12-mile drive to the city, with an additional Rp 3,000 airport surcharge and Rp 8,000 road toll. On the subject of charges, it's worth remembering that the departure tax (Rp 30,000 for domestic and Rp 100,000 international) has to be paid in cash.
While the city doesn't have an internal subway system, Kota, Gambir and Jatinegara train stations, located within Central Jakarta, provide connections within Java to destinations such as Yogyakarta and Semarang.
Country code: +62; city code: (0)21.
For an intelligent, fast-paced tale of an ex-pat Brit immersed in post-colonial paranoia and murky dealings in the Javanese capital, try Jakarta Shadows by Alan Brayne.
Do go / Don't Go
Thanks to the Indonesian archipelago's equatorial position, Jakarta is hot and humid all year round, although the November to April is the wettest period (January especially). For a drier visit, go between June and September.
Jakarta's cuisine is a melting pot of culinary influences, from Dutch to Chinese. The Javanese typically favour chicken and fish dishes with white rice (nasi putih) as a staple. Taste-wise, Javanese foods lean towards the sweet side, with coconut milk a favoured ingredient, although this is less apparent in Jakarta and East Java, where chilli dishes are more prevalent. As the region is predominantly Muslim, there's no shortage of halal food. If you're hankering after some local specialities, the food courts in major shopping centres such as Plaza Senayan (www.plaza-senayan.com) offer a wide variety of affordable and hygienic local cuisine.
Stick to the Blue Bird taxis, distinguishable by the blue paintwork and bird logo. Major shopping centres and buildings all have ranks, and flagging one down on a main road rarely poses a problem. They're surprisingly affordable too - it's the traffic that's the turn-off.
Many hotels add a 21 per cent service charge and government tax to bills. 10 per cent is the norm where service isn't included. While tipping taxi drivers is not obligatory, you can round up your fare to the nearest Rp 5,000.
Indonesian Rupiah (Rp); £1 is around Rp 19,000.
The Jakarta in-crowd dresses as snazzily as the city's hot and humid climate will allow, so pack some eye-catching outfits, especially if you plan to sample the nightlife. Indonesia is largely a Muslim country, however, so dress sharp but not scanty.
Commonly referred to as 'Museum Gajah' (elephant) thanks to the a bronze statue parked in the compound, Indonesia's national museum is a sprawling colonial building containing artworks, antiques and artefacts dating back to prehistory. Go early to ensure you have ample time to wander through the exhibits because the museum is known to shut its doors inexplicably early, usually by 2.30pm (www.museumnasional.org). Jakarta has a surprising array of art galleries. While Kemang is home to a significant number of them.
From high-fashion shopping centres to wholesale malls frequented by locals and savvy tourists alike, Jakarta's shopping is definitely not lacking. Famed shopping street Jalan Surabaya Menteng sells antique curios, bric-a-brac and an amazing array of bags. Potter around to find anything from old nautical equipment to vintage cameras, typewriters and lamps - a great place to hone your bargaining skills. The Mangga Dua ('Two Mangoes') multiplex in the centre offers a vast variety of local products at wholesale prices. Plaza Indonesia (www.plazaindonesia.com) is connected to the Grand Hyatt, and is home to timeless classics such as Cartier, Zegna and YSL. For other opportunities to plunder your plastic, head over to Plaza Senayan (www.plaza-senayan.com) for more upscale shops. Local Indonesian designer Biyan's boutique is a must-do for vibrantly styled women's couture, as well as a ready-to-wear collection. Senayan City (www.senayancity.com), across the road from Plaza Senayan, is packed with high street shops such as Banana Republic and Armani Exchange.
For birds-eye views of the cityscape, head up to the observation platform of Monas, the National Monument, which stands an impressive 137 marble-made metres above the ground. Constructed during the Sukarno era as a symbol of freedom and nationalism, the tower is topped with a flame sculpture gilded with 35 kilos of gold.
Take a morning stroll along Sunda Kelapa Harbour, the city's 16th-century port, where you'll find traditional sailing ships known as Makassar schooners, or phinisi. One of the world's last fleets of commercial sailing boats, these brightly painted ships still transport cargo between Jakarta and its outer islands.
February The Indonesia International Open golf tournament has been held in Jakarta since 1995. May The Jakarta Fashion & Food Festival (JFFF) is an annual event held to promote the city as a shopping destination with model hunts, carnivals and young designer awards (www.jfff.info). 17 August Jakarta drapes itself in red and white for the city's independence day, a grand affair celebrated by hordes of spectators in Mederka Square. November/December Film buffs and arty types flock to Indonesia's only film fest, the Jakarta International Film Festival (www.jiffest.org).