Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

NOT SO NEW: Pasar Baru, which means new market, is the oldest shopping district in Jakarta. It boasts a wide variety of retail attractions, from tailoring and textiles to jewellery, sports and music outlets.
Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

SIGHTSEE BY BIKE: Bicycles for rent on one side of Fatahillah Square, which is the town square of Batavia, at the heart of Jakarta's Old City.
Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

EPIC ART: This huge statue from a scene in the Hindu epic Mahabharata dominates a roundabout on Jalan Thamrin, in the Central Business District.
Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

OLD-STYLE GLAMOUR: Even the toilets at Cafe Batavia are done in style, with pictures of famous people lining the walls and brightly-lit make-up mirrors.
Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

SMALL MEAL: Chicken Kungpo, stir-fried chicken with dried chilli and cashew nuts from Cafe Batavia.
Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

BALI DISH: Chicken skin satay in peanut sauce from Sate Khas Senayan.


    Sep 14, 2016

    Stuck in bad Jakarta traffic jam? It's not a total loss

    LIFE is a journey, not a destination. Nowhere is that truer than in Jakarta, where we spent most of our days trapped in traffic, forced to appreciate the beauty of the city through tinted windows.

    I had travelled to the busy Indonesian capital in August with a few friends to attend a wedding.

    Local architecture greeted us at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, assuring me that I had arrived at the right destination.

    Terminals 1 and 2 are designed like pavilions with a traditional Javanese stepped roof.

    The difference between the old and new in Jakarta was stark, even from our first ride from the airport to our hotel, located in the Kemayoran sub-district in the north of the city.

    The new Terminal 3 is a shiny, glittery juxtaposition to the existing traditional terminals. The tree-lined roads from the airport led to a flyover, with skyscrapers serving as an impressive backdrop to the low-lying slums.

    The poor live in squalor but religious faith still prevails.

    The area was peppered with mosques, whose domes peeked out from above the houses, adding a splash of colour to the bleak landscape.


    Pasar Baru is a shopping district founded in 1820, the oldest of its kind in Jakarta.

    The irony was not lost on us - Pasar Baru means "new market" in Bahasa Indonesia, which should teach you a thing or two about naming something "new", but I digress.

    Built when Indonesia was a Dutch colony, the shopping district now boasts a wide range of shops, from tailoring and textiles to jewellery, sports and music.

    Just across the canal from Pasar Baru sits the Gedung Filateli Jakarta, which is the Philatelic Building of Jakarta.

    The impressive building with its colonial architecture used to serve as Jakarta's post office. It now perfectly encapsulates the fusing of the old and new in the city - the same building which houses historic stamps can offer you a vanilla latte, courtesy of Starbucks.

    As most Singaporeans are wont to do, we ended up in a shopping mall, Grand Indonesia, to satisfy a friend's "spicy Indonesian food" craving.

    Sate Khas Senayan serves food from various regions of Indonesia, such as Ayam Penyet (71,000 rupiah or S$7.30), a fried chicken rice with special sambal, from Java; and Sate Ayam Campur Bumbu Blora (24,000 rupiah), chicken skin satay in peanut sauce, from Bali.

    A friend who has lived in Jakarta for the past few years helpfully informed us that if someone tells you an estimated duration for something to be accomplished in Jakarta, just multiply it by three.

    That pearl of wisdom came in handy when it was time to attend our friend's wedding.

    The temple was roughly a 10-minute drive down the road from our hotel.

    We had allotted half an hour of travelling time by car.

    It took us nearly an hour.

    We could only watch in jealousy at the seasoned Indonesians who had booked GrabBike and GoJek.

    These transport businesses very astutely leverage on motorcycles, which seem to operate on separate traffic rules altogether.

    As we were travelling in a group and had more time to spare, we decided to take an Uber car to Fatahillah Square the next day.

    An Uber ride from Holiday Inn Kemayoran to the square, around 7km away, cost us around 35,000 rupiah, and a taxi doesn't cost much more.

    Of course, the affordability of transport didn't help us arrive any sooner.


    Fatahillah Square was the town square of the Dutch settlement of Batavia, which was the name of the city during Dutch rule, and is now located in Jakarta's Old City.

    The Fatahillah Museum occupies the building that was the former City Hall of Batavia.

    Beside the museum lies the Wayang Museum, which boasts a selection of puppets from Sunda, Bali, Lombok and Sumatra, among others.

    Other buildings surrounding the piazza include the Dharma Bhakti Temple, a Taoist temple and the Bank Indonesia Museum.

    We had lunch at Café Batavia, which was located in the second building erected in Fatahillah Square.

    The downstairs area features a bar and a stage for live performances. Sitting by a window seat at the bar upstairs, constructed entirely of java teak wood, provides you with an amazing view of the square.

    Standout items on the menu include Sate Ayam dengan Nasi, chicken satay with rice (95,000 rupiah); Chicken Kungpo, stir-fried chicken with dried chilli and cashew nuts (90,000 rupiah for a small portion); and Mie Tek Tek Goreng, fried traditional Indonesian noodles with chicken and egg (75,000 rupiah).

    For the more occidental palettes, there are also starters like Greek Salad (70,000 rupiah) and French Onion Soup (70,000 rupiah).

    While the cafe was largely filled with tourists, there were mostly locals relaxing in the square outside. Colourful bicycles lined a side of the square, complete with matching lacy hats, ready to be rented.

    An alleyway entrance led to a market, with pop-up shops selling trinkets and souvenirs.

    Along a path sat an astrologer who was gossiping with other local entertainers.

    What struck me the most about Jakarta is the city's constant battle to conserve the old and keep up with the new.

    As we peered through the car windows in the clogged midday traffic along Jalan Thamrin, a major road that runs along the Central Business District of the capital, with GoJek bikes zooming past us and the cacophony of horn-tooting vehicles, a roundabout with a huge statue from a scene in the Hindu epic Mahabharata caught my eye.

    Right in the middle of these soaring buildings and massive shopping centres, Jakarta showcases its Hindu heritage, expertly celebrating the past, present and future all at once.