What to Do When You Find Yourself in Jakarta

By Mark Wiens 5 Comments

I spent 4 days in Jakarta before proceeding onwards in my journey through Indonesia towards Yogyakarta to climb Mt. Merapi and check out the Borobudur temple complex.  Jakarta is a massive bustling metropolis that can be somewhat overwhelming.

If you don’t just want to spend time getting lost in Jakarta’s labyrinth (which is usually a great thing to do), and have a few days, here are some worthwhile things to do.

View of Jakarta from National Monument
View Of Jakarta

Monas: National Monument

One of the central and noticeable landmarks in Jakarta is the Monas National Monument, known in slang terms as “Sokareno’s last erection.”

Located in the center of Merdeka (freedom) Square and park, the 137 meter monument can be scaled by elevator for a very modest fee.

The result is a pretty compulsive view of greater Jakarta and the smog that consists.  The view is interesting and helps to get a little orientation for the urban agglomerate.

Jakarta Mona National Monument
Jakarta Mona National Monument

National Museum

On an aimless stroll around town, inhaling copious amounts of putrid fumes, I stumbled into the National Museum.  Resulting from extreme afternoon heat exhaustion, I decided to make an entrance.

The overall museum is actually impressive and I would recommend it.  Artifacts from the expanse of the diverse Indonesian archipelago can be found in the museum.  Don’t miss the items varying from Papua penis gourds to ancient jewelry and skulls.

National Museum in Jakarta Indonesia
Jakarta National Museum

Old Colonial Quarter (Taman Fatahillah)

The old Dutch settlement in Jakarta is a colonial throwback and provides vivid and interesting contrasts.  European buildings are shadowed by homeless sleepers, Gothic punk youth,  guitar freestylers, and the ever annoying tune of the ice cream cart.

Tropical palms, intense heat, and filthy maintenance, drown the Euro looking streets and architecture.

The Cafe Batavia in old town is a worthwhile place to wander and the staff will be friendly even if you don’t purchase anything.

Enter with a full bladder as the bathrooms are beautifully mirrored and uniquely designed.

Historic Colonial Town Jakarta Indonesia
Historic Colonial Town Jakarta
Historic Town Jakarta Indonesia
Historic Town Jakarta

Food for Thought

At night, side street stalls will literally claim a section of road and string yellow and red canvas around their area to blockade it.

Don’t hesitate to dive into delicious ikan bakar (grilled fish with killer sauce), mystery buffets of nasi campur, and other cheffed necessities. For more information on food selection have a look at 9 foods to eat in Indonesia.

Nasi Padang Food in Jakarta
Nasi Padang Food in Jakarta

Impromptu Bands

Makeshift cover bands and guitarists with 4 stringed guitars will come to you like ocean waves rolling into shore.  Some people sing poorly on purpose so you have to give them something small for them to leave.

It’s not a bad idea to have a few 1000 Rupiah notes to get some of the most repugnant musicians to depart.  Other inspiring musicians are actually quite talented and might even deserve an applause.

Whether the music is good or bad, it does make for an interesting dinner or night of entertainment.

Masjid Istiqlal Mosque

Islam is widespread in Indonesia and shrieks from mosques can be heard throughout Jakarta.  If you show up at the entrance to the world’s third largest mosque, Masjid Istiqlal, someone will be obliged to show you around the premises.  It is free to look, though after a while someone will ask for a donation.

Masjid Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta
Masjid Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta


The main area for budget accommodation and convenience is located on Jalan Jaksa, in a decent city location.  I stayed on a side foot road right off Jalan Jaksa at the Bloem Steen guest house.

The front veranda garden, sufficient room conditions, and free breakfast with great coffee, make this guest house recommendable.

Jakarta Main Street

Note: Beware of the touts and jokers on Jalan Jaksa who attempt to sway your decisions. If in doubt, just be friendly and move along.


In a city of 20 million, with people spanning from close and far out islands, the diversity and expression of Jakarta is enough to look at and then be enticed. Indonesians are almost always friendly, so don’t fear getting disoriented and finding some ultra random places to hang out!