Friday, September 6, 2013

A Few Practical Travel Tips for Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is not the easiest place to be in for travelers, but it does grow on you. If you let it, you will discover spectacularly majestic yet very tranquil spots like the largest mosque in all of Southeast Asia—the Istiqlal Mosque, or delicious street snacks like the savory egg pancake kerak telor. I did let the city grow on me and by the time I left, my first impressions of Jakarta were already gone.

National Monument, Merdeka Square, Jakarta, Indonesia
Located in the center of Jakarta is Indonesia's symbol of its independence—Monas (Monumen Nasional).

I have noted a few practical travel tips for Jakarta that helped me make my way through the city. Hopefully, these might help other travelers, too, most especially Pinoy travelers like me. Here they are:

1. Check Indonesian visa rules.

Before arriving, check if you need an Indonesian visa at Indonesia's Official Tourism Website. Check if you qualify for a visa on arrival. Nationals from 63 countries do. Citizens of ASEAN countries (like the Philippines) get a 30-day visa-free visit pass. If you do not qualify for a visa on arrival nor for a visit pass, you will need to apply for a visa before flying in.

Indonesia Visit Pass
Filipinos (and other ASEAN citizens) get a visa-free visit pass. No fees!

2. Get some moneyz.

In Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport Terminal 2 (which receives most international flights), most of the ATMs are found on the second level, in the Departures hall. (Strange, I know.) The staircase is outside by the passenger unloading area. ATMs of Indonesian bank CIMB Niaga (which can be found everywhere in Indonesia) works best with Philippine bank Banco de Oro debit cards. Exchange rate is almost always more favorable to me and there are minimal to no fees!

Related Post: How This Backpacker Handles Finances while on Long-Term Travel

The local currency is the Indonesian Rupiah. Bills are usually in 10,000, 20,000, and 50,000 denominations. They are really easy to get used to because 10,000 IDR is around 1 USD.

3. Take a bus to the city.

To get from the airport to the city center (where you are most likely staying), you can take a DAMRI Bus. It is air-conditioned and comfortable enough. Terminal 2 has a DAMRI Bus Terminal outside. Airport's exit doors to your back, the terminal is at the left. A ride to Gambir Railway Station in the city center costs 25,000 IDR (2.5 USD). Services from the airport to Central Jakarta run every 20 minutes until late at night. Because of the traffic, the ride could easily take two hours.

4. Learn some Bahasa.

English is not widely used. It is rare to find someone who speaks it fluently. So here's a great travel tip for Jakarta: learn some Bahasa Indonesia! It is really easy, especially for Filipinos. Here are a few words which I found very useful.

There is... / Is there... / Do you have...
Di mana?
Dari mana?
Where (are you) from?
Mau ke
Want to go to...
Straight ahead
Right (as in the direction right)
Left (also used to command buses to pull over)
Tidak (often pronounced tah)
Terima kasih / Makasi
Thank you
Kamar kecil (second word kuh-chill)
Entrance / enter
Saya - Kami
I / Me - We
Can / Possible / Puede (Filipino, Spanish)
How much? / How many?

Ada bus ke Gambir disini?
Is there a bus to Gambir here?

Tidak ada. (Pronounced t'ada)
There is none.

Boleh masuk ke Candi Siwa?
Is it possible to enter Shiva Temple?

Saya tidak mengerti.
I don't understand.

Saya tidak dari Indonesia. Saya dari Philippines. Bahasa Indonesia, sedikit-sedikit.
I am not Indonesian. I am from the Philippines. Bahasa Indonesia, very little.


1-10 ~ satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima, enam, tujuh, delapan, sembilan, sepuluh
11-19 ~ sebelas, dua belas, tiga belas...
20-90 ~ dua puluh, tiga puluh...
100-900 ~ seratus, dua ratus, tiga ratus...
1000-9000 ~ seribu, dua ribu, tiga ribu...

Filipino speakers will notice that words like empat, lima, enam, sepuluh, and ribu are similar to apat, lima, anim, sampu, and libo. So, for 25500 IDR, you say dua puluh lima ribu lima ratus. Easy, right?

5. Stay in Central Jakarta.

To make your life easy, it is best to stay in Central Jakarta. Here, you will find a few attractions like the Merdeka Square (right in the city center) and the Monumen Nasional as well as the Istiqlal Mosque and the colonial buildings around it. The main railway station, Gambir, is right next to Merdeka Square. South of the square is the backpacker tourist district, Jalan Jaksa.

I stayed at Six Degrees Backpacker Hostel located in Menteng-Cikini area south of Jalan Jaksa. From Gambir, you can hire a bajaj (tuktuk) to take you here. It should cost about 20,000 IDR. The hostel has excellent beds and is highly praised on Hostelbookers. There is a movie area, a billiards table, excellent WiFi, computer terminals, and an excellent rooftop hangout area, too. Located nearby are a number of convenience stores, street food stalls, fast food chains, and even a swimming pool facility.

Jakarta Skyline at Night, Indonesia
View of the Jakarta skyline from the rooftop hangout area of Six Degrees Backpacker Hostel

6. Try the local foods.

Make sure to try Jakarta food favorites. Kerak telor is a street snack that is basically a pancake made with sticky rice topped with roasted coconut shreds and dried shrimp. I also tried soto betawi, which is a rich slow-cooked beef broth with potatoes. It is similar to the Filipino bulalo, but more tangy and less peppery. The stalls around Jalan Jaksa are famous for soto betawi. A simple meal from a warung (street food stall) or from a food court should cost about 15,000 to 30,000 IDR (1.5 to 3 USD).

Kerak Telor (Betawi Omelette), Jakarta, Indonesia
A Jakarta hawker makes a kerak telor, a savory Jakarta pancake, in the streets of where else but Jakarta.

7. Hire transport.

If there is one practical travel tip for Jakarta you need to remember, it's that Jakarta is pedestrian-unfriendly, much like my city Manila. Sidewalks are not well-connected and many parts are not well-maintained. With the heavy motorbike and vehicle traffic, walking even a few hundred meters can be very unpleasant. I don't like dealing with tuktuk drivers but I had to in Jakarta. Tuktuks here are known as bajaj (pronounced buh-jai). You can also hire an ojek, a motorbike taxi (like the Vietnamese xe om). Make sure to agree on a price before hopping aboard. A ride stretching a kilometer should cost about 10,000 IDR (1 USD).

Central Jakarta Evening Rush Hour, Indonesia
A bajaj ride through Jakarta's chaotic streets during the evening rush hour. It was Ramadan, too!

8. Get out and explore the rest of Indonesia.

Being the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is well-connected to the rest of the country by flights and to the rest of Java Island by rail. You can head west to see Krakatau Volcano, off the coast of Java; or, you can take a night train east to the cultural capital of the Javanese—Yogyakarta in Central Java. Me, I headed southwest to Bandung, the old Dutch outpost surrounded by cooler hills and mountains considered the heartland of the Sundanese.

The most recommended transport to Bandung is the train. There are six to eight services daily from Jakarta. The ride takes around three hours. My ticket cost me 80,000 IDR (8 USD). You can reserve a ticket at Gambir Railway Station, Booth 17 (and adjacent booths). I did not need my passport but the reservation form needs you to input your ID number, so might as well bring it with you.

Gambir Station, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
The platform and tracks of the Gambir Railway Station are elevated from the busy streets of Central Jakarta.

Those are some practical travel tips for Jakarta, which I found highly useful while navigating this Southeast Asian city. Admittedly, the Indonesian capital is not easy to like outright. Give it time. Stay a couple of days. You may just find yourself having a pleasant time here.

Do you have any other practical travel tips for Jakarta which may help future travelers? Do share them below. Thank you.

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