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A Journey through Jakarta


Jakarta has always been a cultural crossroads, first as a small port in an ancient Hindu kingdom and then as “the Jewel of Asia,” at the center of the spice trade. Today, the city is home to more than 10 million people and it is the capital of Indonesia’s 17,000 islands. If it happens in Indonesia, it starts in Jakarta. It can take years to know this multi-layered city, but if you only have a few days, start your journey from the central location of The Fairmont Jakarta and  explore the places where the spirit of this vibrant metropolis is on display.

The Fairmont Jakarta 

Old City Soul, Kota Tua

The Dutch East India Company established its South Asian headquarters here in the early seventeenth century and named this Ciliwung River area Batavia. Ships regularly left port loaded with nutmeg, cloves and pepper, headed to Europe India and China. Batavia became the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Today, this area is known as Kota Tua (Old City), Old Batavia or Old Jakarta and it retains its Dutch colonial architecture and charm. Kota Tua is approximately 14 kilometers by car from Fairmont Jakarta, and the area, with its terra-cotta tile roofs, white stucco buildings and cobblestone streets, calls to mind the heyday of the spice trade. Visitors who stroll along the streets mingle with merchants selling handmade crafts, while street musicians fill the air with tunes played on traditional and improvised instruments such as glass bottles. Between shopping and listening, don’t miss a chance to visit Fatahillah Museum (Jakarta History Museum), built in 1710 as Batavia’s City Hall. The museum’s collection includes Hindu-Buddhist stone sculptures, decorative furniture and Dutch Colonial ceramics. Just across the square from the museum, Café Batavia, housed in a 200-year-old building, preserves the feel of pre-World War II Jakarta with vintage furniture, fixtures and framed photos filling the walls and columns. Try one of the Dutch specialties such as bitterballen, a breaded, meat-filled snack that’s dipped in a mustard sauce.

The kitschy Cafe Batavia 

While in the Old City, take a 15-minute walking detour to Sunda Kelapa, the historic port where you can see examples of the pinisi, the traditional two-masted wooden sailing ship, which continue to shuttle freight between the city’s many islands. This is an unvarnished, working port where the rhythm of Jakarta’s daily life has remained unchanged.

Jakarta's Historic Port

Past Perfect in Jalan Surabaya

There are infinite ways to shop in Jakarta. The city’s many modern malls teem with new goods, but if you prefer remnants of the past, head to Jalan Surabaya, the flea market street where dozens of stalls charm with their eclectic treasures. The market is roughly eight kilometers from Fairmont Jakarta and part of the upscale Menteng neighborhood (where U.S. President Barack Obama lived as a child). The blocks-long antiques market is a must if you’re a fan of blue-and-white Delft porcelain, painted Balinese wooden sculptures or Javanese puppets and masks. Jalan Surabaya is a bargaining market and prices vary widely from stall to stall, so take the time to compare before you make your purchase. This will give you a chance to spot the many reproductions mixed in with originals. After you snap up a treasure or two, stop in at Cali Deli for a quick lunch to celebrate; locals recommend the lemongrass sandwich, but you'll find a large selection of bahn mi (Vietnamese sub sandwiches) plus creamy Vietnamese coffee to tempt your palate.

Vintage shopping on Jalan Surabaya 

Checking Out Cikini

Within three kilometers of Jalan Surabaya, Cikini (pronounced chi-key-ni) is the trendiest destination for Jakarta’s café society. With its mix of historic and contemporary buildings, Cikini bustles with locals and visitors. Your first stop should be Taman Ismail Marzuki Theater, a contemporary arts center named for the prolific and beloved composer and musician. The complex includes a cinema, major theater and a planetarium, but youthful locals flock here for the ambience. Outdoor food carts offer everything from satay to sushi and artists often perform impromptu street theater on the shaded grounds. 

Hot Stuff in Pasar Santa

Until recently, Pasar Santa was known mostly as a produce market. But since ABCD (A Bunch of Caffeine Dealers), a coffee kiosk in the market opened, young Jakarta foodies began opening new, experimental venues in the market’s food court. Insiders rave about DOG, home of the black sesame hot dog bun as well as Cendol and Durian, where the traditional Indonesian dessert cendol is re-interpreted with unexpected toppings such as crushed Oreos. The food isn’t the only thing that is new and experimental. The shops are hot, too. Tokio Fuku sells pop culture T-shirts and Shoe Bible revives post-rainy season shoes for you.

At the end of the day, there's no better way to retreat from the fast-paced city than by relaxing poolside, or unwinding with a massage at Fairmont Jakarta’s Willow Stream Spa. Make your Jakarta journey as unique as you are. E-mail Fairmont Jakarta at to make your plans today.


Joanne O'Sullivan is a freelance writer based in Asheville, North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Bootsnall, Arttrav, Asheville Citizen-Times, The Florentine, and other travel and lifestyle publications.


Photo credits

AV3A1289 by smagdali 

Cafe Batavia Portraits by Brian Giesen 

jalan-surabaya-2 by JakartaThingsToDo




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