Since Nick was working on Monday and Tuesday, I had two free days to see more of Jakarta. We had already seen a lot downtown Jakarta over the weekend, and since the days were so hot and humid, I decided to spend a day to visit Bogor Botanical Garden, hoping to get some serenity and relaxation in a town outside of crowded Jakarta.
Bogor Botanical Garden
Since I had the whole day, I decided not to take taxi but try public transportation. Thanks for Google Maps, I had the detailed itinerary in hand. First, following Google Maps I walked to the bus stop. I was supposed to take bus #6A, which supposed to run every 3 minutes. After waiting 10 minutes and seeing no signs of #6A bus, I asked a local guy. Again, like everyone I asked for help in Indonesia, he was super nice to help. He told me not to look for the regular air-conditioned bus, but an unmarked blue one. Then he decided to wait with me for the bus and make sure I got on the right one. On the bus I told the driver I need to stop at Tebet Station. Apparently the driver didn’t speak English so a woman on the bus spoke to the driver and told me she asked driver to drop me off at Tebet. She even negotiated the price for me at Rb5000 or about 40 cents. (later I found out that is the ‘regular’ fare for tourists while locals pay at Rb2000).
The bus was a very aged, small, minivan-sized vehicle. It had two rows of seats on on each side and could fit 8-10 people. It wasn’t not air-conditioned and the door was never closed the whole time. The driver was picking up and dropping off passengers upon request. He honked each time when he saw a potential customer. Later a friend told me that this minibus used to be very popular, but the recent rise of Grab/GoJek motorbikes and taxis took a lot business away from them so they are struggling. Anyway, my ride was Ok. There was no comfort but got people from point A to B quick and cheap.
At Tebet station I was buying the commuter train ticket to Bogor, and it was nice to find out that my bus card I bought earlier could be used to ride commuter train. The trip is about 1 hour and cost only Rb5000 or 40 cents. It was about 9:00AM when I got on the train and there were not many people on the train, but I read that during the rush hour the train could get so crowded that one has to push to get on. The train wasn’t travel very fast (it is hard to compete with Chinese train speed) but the ride was very smooth and comfortable. It seems the staff on board serves as security guards, conductors and cleaning crews. They kept the train in order and cleaned it whenever they could. I got in Bogor around 10:00AM.
Now, to get to the Botanical Garden entrance from station was a completely different story. For some reasons, the garden closes the gate near the station on weekdays. The open gate is almost at the complete other side. Google Maps says it was about 1 mile, 20 minutes walk or 30 mins by car or motorbike. I thought Google was wrong that it would take more time to drive than walk. But I didn’t want to walk in this heat so I decided to find a taxi. However the area around the station was super crowded and I couldn’t find a taxi. And since I had problems installing Grab I couldn’t even get a motorbike. So I went to talk to a police guy. Apparently in a small town everyone knows everybody else. He talked a guy who walked me to another guy then the 3rd guy walked me to a motorbiker. He told the biker to take me to the garden gate. The biker put a helmet on me and started driving, without saying the price even I asked a few times.
Soon I understood why Google showed it took more time to drive than walk. (Google is always right, isn’t it?). The traffic was horrible, even worse than Jakarta. The cars were basically stalled and could only move inch by inch. Now I was glad I got a motorbike and not a taxi. The biker surely knew how to handle this traffic. He fishtailed in this seemingly impossible traffic, and squeezed into every open crack. Half of the trip he had to move the bike with his feet since there was very little room between the vehicles. I could shake hands with people next to me. So it did take 30 minutes for the ride. When we get there, the biker finally ask me to pay “whatever I think it’s good”. Since Grab bike price is Rb20000 ($1.5), I decided to pay him Rb30000 ($2) and he seemed very happy. That was an experience indeed.
Bogor Botanical garden was founded in 1817 by Dutch East Indies. It is a major research center for agriculture and horticulture and it’s the oldest botanical garden in Southeast Asia. It has fairly large size of more than 200 acres. It probably would be a destination for a botanist, but for me, it was just nice to walk in the woods with relative serenity, especially after a couple days in the crazily busy and noisy Jakarta.
The garden was well maintained, however the signage was done poorly. There were supposedly 3000+ species in the garden but most of them didn’t have clear signs, or if they did, the signs were not marked clearly or missing English so it was hard to read. But I mostly just enjoyed the walk. It was still a hot and humid day, but wandering in the shady woods wasn’t too bad. It was mostly quiet as it wasn’t a weekend so there weren’t many visitors. Apart from the car and motorbike noise from the street, it was pleasantly quiet. I walked through most parts of the garden, except the palace which wasn’t open to public that day. I stopped for lunch at the Garden Cafe. It sat on the top of a hill so I had a very nice view of the garden. The food was quite good and much cheaper than Cafe Batavia.
Overall the garden visit was good. It wasn’t anything grand but a very nice break from the crowded Jakarta and the hot humid weather.
The mega malls
The last day in Jakarta I decided to rest mostly. But I did make my way to check out one of the mega malls near where I stayed – the Lotte Shopping Center in Mega Kuningan. Indonesia recovered from the market crash in later 90’s and had its economic boom. The mega malls have been popping up everywhere for people to shop. The Lotte shopping center has 5 stories of shops, restaurants, and a cinema. It was impressively huge and I got lost several times. And it was only the 3rd largest mall so I couldn’t image what the other two looked like. But again, it was just a shopping mall with lots of stores. Many of them had familiar names like Levi, Adidas, and Zara which you see everywhere. I walked by most shops without going into any of them. In the end I just had a cup of coffee and left.
Jakarta overall is a mega city with a huge population (30M I think). The city is crowded with unbearable traffic as the infrastructure simply can’t handle all the residents. I did see a lot constructions of elevated highways and a new subway system just opened the week before I got there but I didn’t try it. So hopefully traffic will get better in the future.
Like most of the Asian cities I visited, the recent economic boom created so much wealth in the country and it brought huge investment into Jakarta. The place I stayed was in center of CBD Mega Kuningan. The area was well planned with high rises of office buildings and 5-star hotels (Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott were right next to our hotel). However as soon as one steps outside the area, even just a block away, one will see the country is still underdeveloped. Similar to Bangkok, Shanghai or even Hong Kong, majority of the city is built of cheap brick and concrete with no designs, luxury or even safety considered. The closer to the city center, the worse the situation is. Some place I visited, such as the area in the port outside Kota Tua and along the commuter rails to Bogor, one could see pure poverty very clearly. This huge inequality of wealth must create a big social instability issue. It may be the reason for the recent riots against Indonesian Chinese. It will be challenging and take a long time for Indonesia to deal with this issue.
The people in Indonesia are some of the nicest I have encountered. I feel people are polite and genuinely happy. Perhaps this is in their culture or religion. Everywhere I went, people were willing to help when I needed it, such as giving directions and finding the right bus for me. In a lot places we visited, people are still excited in seeing foreign tourists, especially white people. They will often ask for selfies with us. Even street vendors selling food drinks and souvenirs were nice. They want to do business with tourists but they weren’t pushing and flocking over tourists like a lot other other places we visited. This did make my stay in Jakarta truly memorable.