Jakarta is my new regional fave
I LEFT my heart in Jakarta, I think.
My mother is Indonesian, born in that very city, so I guess I count myself as connected to it by blood. Also, there's the fact that I understand the language fairly well, although speaking it doesn't come as naturally.
But the tipping points that made Indonesia's capital my new favourite regional destination (dethroning Hong Kong by a mile) were its pockets of chic spots, overtly fabulous malls and hotels, as well as good eats.
OUTDO, OUTLAST, OUTSIZE
One thing that is immediately noticeable about the cityscape is that big is better. Even the city's "minor league" malls dwarf our best ones in Orchard Road.
Our hotel of choice was the home- grown - but in no way homely - Mulia Senayan in Jalan Asia Afrika Senayan.
This is the place to spend a night or two if you're really in the mood to feel like a celebrity. Its foyer is opulent, with a double-height ceiling, plush fittings and baroque touches in the decor and furnishings.
Everything is a tad overdone, but if you like things grand, then let this place bring out the Ibu ("society lady" in Bahasa Indonesia) in you.
FOR THE HIPSTERS
The more we explored the city, the more we drifted away from the gargantuan malls and found solace - and friendship - with some native hipsters.
I found a friend in Mr Luthfi Hasan, who is, by reputation, the city's foremost authority on vintage-furniture styling. His house has been featured in Martha Stewart Jakarta and Elle Decoration.
An ad-man who owns his own agency, he loves to go hunting in markets out of town for antique treasure. He searches in places like Bogor or a bit farther away like, say, Toronto.
While running a blog called Jakarta Vintage, the trained architect fills his weekends by sourcing for mid-century chairs and sofas to refinish and upcycle.
For shopaholics wondering what to get in Jakarta, here's a tip: Beyond the kek lapis (traditional Indonesian layer cake) and batik sarongs, seek out the less ordinary.
While at Dharmawangsa Square, check out the flagship Tulisan store and stock up on fabric bags and accessories in beautiful limited-edition graphic prints and hand illustrations.
The products are so well-received that there are 41 outlets in the United States and Mexico, and four in Hong Kong.
Elsewhere, Alun Alun in Grand Indonesia Shopping Town is a concept store featuring works by Indonesia's best contemporary designers, who eke out modern designs using traditional fabrics and materials.
THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE
For those who prefer something with less snob appeal and that is more traditional, soak in the city's more down-home offerings.
Start with the macet (traffic jam) - there's nothing more truly Jakartan than this.
Do yourself a favour by mapping out your travel route with your hotel concierge or Google Maps before you venture out to your destination. Then give yourself a lead time of at least 45 minutes to get stuck in traffic.
Once you have the jam figured out, do not let it ruin your day. Relax instead with a Javanese massage at any one of the branches of Martha Tilaar spa (www.marthatilaarspa.com), where luxury body treatments cost approximately S$48 for 90 minutes.
Or stuff your face with Daeng Tata's slurptastic sop konro (a mutton stew which is a hybrid of our own sup kambing and sup tulang), along with some beef ribs in a rich gravy.
Tuck into them with lots of rice to soak up the gravy and, if you're game, some spicy sambal belachan. The place is kind of hard to find unless you're a local, and there's virtually no place to park.
But, if you're adventurous, look for it in Jalan Casablanca, Tebet.
The writer is a full-time copywriter who blogs about travel and family at www.travellinginthrees.com