Jakarta, one of the largest megalopolises in the world, is a vibrant and dynamic metropolis. Every street is filled with juxtapositions and its chaotic appeal.
Jakarta is a town unto itself that is going through a very public makeover. Despite the horrendous traffic, life here is lived quickly and is motivated by a tangible sense of industriousness and optimism. Challenges result from this rapid pace of development. Jakarta has plenty of delightful surprises, including a top-notch food and coffee scene, hidden beneath the new high-rises, relentless concrete, congested streets, scattering of slums, and a continual blanket of smog. However, it is hardly an oil painting. Even the poorest of its residents have an optimistic outlook, and compared to many other major world cities, crime rates are low.
The ancient city is the precursor to Jakarta’s growth, from the sultry, powerful lanes of Chinatown and Glodok to Kota’s remnants of a colonial history. Indonesia exhibits its proud and self-assured face to the world in the more recent Merdeka Square. Further south, opulent mega-developments are positioned next to modest communities that contain enclaves of burgeoning art scenes and bohemian coffee shops. In chic restaurants and rooftop bars throughout the city, one may mingle with Indonesia’s future leaders. To the dismay of the current leadership, hedonists are free to go out clubbing and drinking till dawn.
Indonesia as a whole may be found in Jakarta. Not only do people flood the city in search of a better living (as they have for years), but they also bring with them a fascinating fusion of cultures, ideologies, and aspirations from the country’s 17,000 islands. While the opulent shops and hotels provide great dining from all over the archipelago and the world, a stroll down a street lined with food vendors will reveal an enormous variety of cuisines. In the meantime, merchandise arrives from all over and is offered for sale 24/7 in stores and on street corners.
Indonesia puts on its best front in Jakarta. It offers the best museums in the nation, the widest variety of dining options, and public areas in multiple malls that can compete with anything in Singapore or Bangkok. On Sunday mornings, when Jl Thamrin is blocked to traffic, you can wander down it and take in all the architecture. Jakarta is still a city where people can spend late hours in bars and clubs or linger with groups of friends, despite the fact that religious pressure has somewhat diminished Jakarta’s reputation as a destination to party till dawn.