While Jakarta is not the first choice in people‚Äôs mind for Indonesia vacation destination, you can definitely discover history and culture in Jakarta…if you know where to look.

A friend said to me once, “Jakarta is not a good place to visit, but it is a good place to live.”

While I spent the first 18 years of my life in Jakarta, Indonesia, I honestly don’t agree with that assessment. Jakarta can be a good place to live, but that depends on where you are in the socioeconomic status. With its so-bad-it-can-send-you-to-hospital traffic condition from 6am to 10pm, plethora of malls, and so many other things enough to make you spin (if you’re lucky) OR live in a deceivingly unhealthy bubble (if you’re not so lucky), Jakarta is as tough as many other major cities in the world to live. Nevertheless, it is indeed THE center of Indonesia, offering many different kinds of opportunities for the smart and the resilient. So I do have mad respect to those entrepreneurs who decided to make a living and strive in Jakarta.

On the other hand, while Jakarta is not the first choice in people’s mind for Indonesia vacation destination (thank you, Bali), you can definitely discover history and culture in Jakarta…if you know where to look. The traffic itself can put you in a daze (even if you’re locals), therefore we were very fortunate to have a friend who is so deeply passionate in Indonesian history and culture. He happened to have a free day (yay!) to accompany us strolling around a portion of Jakarta known as “Kota Tua”, or the Old Jakarta (Old Batavia). And quite frankly, I know my trip was supposed to be all about the wedding, but this little Old Jakarta adventure day was THE ONE I truly looked forward to.

Our day began with some bus riding with TransJakarta, and our first destination was Candra Naya at Glodok (Jakarta’s Chinatown). This historic building is located at Jalan Gajah Mada 188, however it’s probably easier to tell your taxi driver to go to Novotel instead. Why? It’s because the building is literally tucked underneath a towering apartment complex behind Novotel and a 7 Eleven store. I’m not kidding, see the picture below.

Like many gems in Jakarta, not many people (including locals) know about this beautiful Chinese style building, whose structures are so gorgeously decorated with intricate ornaments inside and outside. Estimated to be built in the 19th century, Candra Naya is now used as a meeting place for the Chinese community in Jakarta. It’s truly magical to see, get inside, and examine this recently renovated building…no. Not just a “building”, it’s a historical treasure, arguably the last of its kind in Jakarta.

It’s heart-warming to know that even though the buildings surrounding the original Candra Naya complex got sold and made up into a new apartment complex, the main building and its accompanying smaller houses (one on each sides) can continue to exist for people to visit and enjoy. It’s free to visit, but make sure to ask the house caretaker if it’s OK to enter and look around the house.

We’re lucky to have our good, good friend accompanying us in exploring the Old Jakarta alleys. I mean, would you know that at the end of a small dark alley between two houses, there’s a great noodles cafe that you should definitely try? I mean, see the photo below.

Yep, exactly. I wouldn’t, either.

The picture below illustrates my point about Jakarta’s crazy traffic. The street vendor and the motorcyclist in front of him were going against traffic in a one-way street, on which many pick-up trucks parked (on the background). People walked on the street too, because the pavement was littered with trash and what-nots. Meanwhile, two motorcyclists who were going with the correct flow traffic (on the foreground) had to weave themselves through the against-the-traffic-flow vendor and the cyclist (who did not seem to think or realize that they were doing anything wrong). Dizzy yet? This is only a fragment of everyday life in Jakarta, get used to it :)

After walking through several alleys, we came to Vihara Dharma Bhakti. I loved seeing his vihara (or “klenteng”, as we call it in Bahasa Indonesia) again after 7 years…it’s been a while. Even though it was a weekday, worshippers came and went to burn candles, incense sticks, or money papers, and offer their prayers. The intense red-and-yellow-colored vihara is the oldest one in Jakarta, and it’s really a center gathering place for Buddhist holidays, especially on Visakah Puja (or “Waisak” as Indonesians call it). My gosh, this vihara is amazing to see and experience…it never gets old.

As we walked to the next destination, we came across this awesome, vibrant alley entrance.

Soon enough, we arrived at St. Maria de Fatima Catholic Church, which is such a gem amongst catholic churches in Jakarta. Clearly influenced by Buddhist culture, the building’s roof shape is not unlike Candra Naya, it has two fu dogs guarding the entrance, and the face of St. Maria statue structure in the parking lot resembles Kwan Im’s, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

We made a pit stop at a (relatively) nearby alley that’s famous for its many food vendors, Gang Gloria and chatted up a storm at a classic ice coffee place named “Tak Kie” :) When we walked to our next destination, we passed through a 1920-style medicine store Tai Seng Ho (or Tay Seng Hoo if you google it), as well as rows of street painters working and selling their wares; can you spot a Ben Affleck or Princess Diana paintings on the third picture below?

Ah, Bank Indonesia Museum, we’re so proud of you. Finally, a Jakarta museum that’s highly informative and educational, as well as world-class. This museum’s admission is FREE and it’s very tourist-friendly (the signs and descriptions are in both Bahasa Indonesia and English). Some of the highlights include a room with gold bars on the floor (it’s true) and a clock that’s embedded to the wall (it’s so cool, see the 5th picture below). No wonder this museum is one of the top destinations in Jakarta.

From Bank Indonesia Museum, we hired three “ojek” (bicycle taxis) to bring us to Jakarta’s old port, stopping by at Kota Intan Bridge, which is built in 17th century by the Dutch, along the way.

Want to see how one of us look riding an ojek? Well, here’s me with the ojek, obviously channeling Assassin’s Creed style (who am I? Altair? Ezio? Connor? None of the above?). Who cares, this photo is so ridiculous (who wears something like that in Jakarta??) I love it.

And after some more exciting traffic maneuvering, we arrived at the historic Sunda Kelapa Port. While the port played a big part in Jakarta development in the past, today only wooden ships docked at Sunda Kelapa. But don’t underestimate this port; businesses are going strong here, not to also mention the travel guide stations that serve foreign tourists who visit and admire the ships.

We went back to the place where we started with TransJakarta again, however I have two more “that’s so Jakarta” pictures to feature in this post. The first is a police officer who’s smiling to the general direction of the camera as he crossed the street with motorcyclists behind him (don’t worry, he made it to the other side of the street safely). And the other is two girls selling food and drinks, carrying their filled-to-the-brim shopping baskets on top of their heads. So fascinating.

Hmm, I don’t think you’ve seen enough of Old Jakarta. Here are some more pictures depicting the uniqueness of Jakarta:

So what do you think? Would you want to visit Jakarta, at least once in this lifetime? It’s certainly exciting to discover, and there’s a LOT more to discover, granted you know where to look for them. Go here to see the whole album of Candra Naya, Dharma Bhakti Vihara, St. Fatima church, Old Jakarta alleys, Sunda Kelapa harbor, and overall “gems” of Jakarta traffic and what’s under the bridge.

I have to once again say huge, special thank you for our friend (you know who you are) for being our travel guide during our adventure. We’re so fortunate to have you as our friend and we’re looking forward to more adventures in the future, when our paths meet again!

Thanks for reading, everybody; until next time,
Musank