Jakarta is called the Big Durian for a reason: it is sharp and jagged, and its foul odour (both metaphorically, as a result of corruption, and literally, as a result of pollution) makes you gag. Its taste on your tongue is either the most delicious thing you will ever eat or something you spit out as soon as it enters your mouth. It is divisive, repulsive, chaotic - and in possession of its own unique allure.
I won’t lie to you and say that Jakarta has the same marketable charisma as somewhere like Bali or Raja Ampat, but I would also be lying to you if I said it wasn’t beautiful. The city is rough around the edges - it has been chipped and sharpened by centuries of history and yearly natural disasters in the form of frequent flooding. The city is constantly tearing itself down and rebuilding itself, but some things stay, like the resilience of its people and the charm of its chaos.
In the heart of Jakarta though is the historic centre which has withstood wars and revolution, fondly known as Kota Tua - old town. Once the heart of colonial Batavia, Kota Tua’s seventeenth century Dutch style buildings are now museums commemorating Indonesian history and heritage. Its streets and squares are filled with vendors and performers - I remember standing in Kota Tua at night snacking on street food while watching dancers swallow swords and fire.
Kota Tua bustles with life in the morning; start your day there, then head over to popular shopping mall Grand Indonesia, a short motorcycle taxi ride away in the afternoon. One of the biggest cities in the world, the city is famous for its massive shopping malls; Grand Indonesia has a nine story West Mall connected to an eight story East Mall by the five story Skybridge. Its aisles are filled with international designer brands and local chains side by side. Opulent and shining, it’s easy to lose your whole day there.
Jakarta: the Big Durian in the gem of the equator. It may not be the first thing on your mind when you think of Indonesia, but its distinct character may just lure you in.