Indonesia 2019: Jakarta Day 1 – Central Jakarta

Day 1 in Jakarta, not surprisingly I was fighting jet lag. I think I woke up around 2AM and started doing some trip planning. I normally don’t like to plan much prior to any trip, but this time my lack of planning was a bit extreme even by my own standards. I had round trip air tickets to and from Jakarta and the Lonely Planet Indonesia travel guide and that was it. LOL. Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I started to read the travel guide, as well as research online some of the day trips available in and around Jakarta. Soon I decided that we would spend couple weekend days in Jakarta, and I would do some day trips while Nick is at work on Monday and Tuesday.

Bus ride to Old Town

After a big breakfast buffet we set out to central Jakarta. We always like to try out public transportation where ever we go, so we decided to take on 6H bus to Istiqlal station where the grand Istiqlal Mosque is. It took us a while to realize we were not waiting at the right bus station. We were at the station for local pickup/dropoff buses. But 6H is part of TransJakarta bus, which has their own big station (and separate bus lanes) in the middle of the roads. According to Google, the bus is free but we were asked to pay for R40,000 ($3) to get a bus card. The ride was ok. The bus was clean and not too crowd probably it was Saturday. Nick noticed some funny signs indicating restricted behaviors on the bus- including No weapons, No eating/drinking, No Durian, and No holding hands (Guess after all this is a conservative Muslim country).

We got to Istiqlal station around 10 after a ~20 minute ride. We decided to stop at Jakarta Cathedral first as Google indicated no visiting hour during 12-2, probably for closed services. I read beforehand this was the largest cathedral in Southeast Asian, but I was not that impressed. Compared with those truly enormous, jaw dropping cathedrals in Europe we visited (to name a few, the Notre Dame in Paris, Domo in Florence, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and many many others around Europe), Jakarta Cathedral seemed small and plain. There was not much of the art – stained glass, wall paintings, and statues – commonly associated with cathedrals. The statues (at least the Virgin Mary) seemed to me more like a porcelain mannequin one might see in a clothing store. There were quite a few groups of school kids visiting, apparently on some sorta field trips. What was interesting to me was most the kids (or maybe the adults too) are muslins. It was interesting to see the girls in headdresses walking in a Christian cathedral.

Next stop is Istiqlah Mosque, which is right across street from the Cathedral. As non-Muslims we were asked to register and offered a robe to cover our shorts and T-shirts. We were in a small group of 4, with a mother and daughter from Japan. The guide spoke OK English and took us through the most building. The mosque is the 3rd largest in the world, which can host 200,000 attendees. It was built to memorialize the independence of Indonesia, hence named Istiqlah (‘Independence’ in Indonesia). Again, I was not that impressed. It is a big but otherwise plain concrete building with not a lot architecture details. The fact that it was next to the Cathedral seems an indication of religious tolerance in the country. Another interesting observation was how popular and well-liked Obama is in Indonesia. Our guide kept mentioning about how nice and great Obama is, and pointed out locations in the mosque where Obama and Michelle had stood when they visited the mosque in 2010. He didn’t mention once about Trump.

The next stop was the National Monument (Monas). It is a 132m/433ft tall tower topped with gold flames in the centre of a large park. In my opinion Monas is not all that attractive. The out-of-proportion skinny pillar sitting on a huge concrete block reminded me of those Soviet/Chinese monuments, which are lifeless despite their grand scale. We were planning to take the elevator to the top but decided to skip when the lady at the ticket booth told us there was a 2-hour wait. We walked across the huge lawn to our next stop, National Museum.

We first stepped into the old wing, which has one ‘treasure’ room followed by a large courtyard. Hundreds if not thousands of stone statues, mostly of Hindu Buddhist arts, cramped into every square inch of the floor and wall space. I had never see any museum display so crowded that some pieces were literally tucked in corners no one can see. Visitors could actually touch most statues. The new wing is more open and spacious and has 4 stories. But it was not easy to follow as there was not much description given in English.

It was around 2PM when we finished the museum. We covered the highlights of central Jakarta. After a half day of walking in the hot and humid weather, neither of us wanted to continue the walking tour. We took the bus and stopped at the food court of shopping mall. There we got some cold refreshments and small bites of fried food on skewers (fish balls, dumplings, etc). The breakfast buffet was huge so neither of us was hungry. We stopped at the grocery store next to food court. I was hoping to get some good local fruits but was shocked at the price. $4/lb for grapes, $5/small box for strawberry and $10/small box for figs! It’s more expensive than Whole Foods price so we left empty handed.

We took a taxi back and arrived at the hotel by 3PM. I was hoping to dip into the pool but there was a thunderstorm coming. So I decided to take a short nap – and that was a mistake. I woke up at midnight LOL. Then it was hard for me to get back to sleep so decided I might as well do some more trip planning. After booking our flights to Bali, I was able to go back and get a bit more sleep around 5.

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