After travelling for 18 hours the last thing most people feel like doing is hitting the streets of a large, crazy city filled with smog, traffic, pollution and millions of people. However, when I’ve been travelling so far, for so long, that is the first thing I want to do!
I want to see the place I’ve finally arrived at! I want to smell it and taste it and touch it and meet it!
Fortunately, my travelling companion, Vaughan, was a bit more travel-wise than myself, and suggested we take the morning to nap and unwind and catch our breath after our 3 flights and 14 hours of flying time before heading out to explore the city of Jakarta. He was right!
I sunk into the soft, enveloping layers of my hotel bed and closed my eyes… what felt like minutes turned to hours!
Eventually I had to physically haul myself from the embrace of my duvet and shower and change to wake myself up. It wasn’t too hard, the lure of a new city was strong!
After a quick bite to eat, Vaughan and I hailed a Blue Bird taxi and headed to the centre of the town. We didn’t know too much about where to go or what to see, but a quick internet search helped us and we decided to head for the old town centre known as Kota Tua.
Jakarta is one of the biggest cities in the world and home to over 28 million people! The energy of the city is dynamic with a tough edge. This is not a town for the timid. You have to dive into this city with all your confidence! It’s fast paced and chaotic and somewhat daunting for a first time Asia visitor like myself, but these are the types of travel experiences that crack your world view wide open and I’m all about embracing those!
Fatahillah Square and Kota Tua
After fighting our way through the crazy traffic we finally arrived in the old town, ready to explore some of the city’s history.
We passed vendors plying their goods, chatted to school kids trying to find tourists to interview and walked through a food stall alley filled with Indonesian delights such as Durian (!)
The wide open space of Fatahillah Square made for a pleasant change from the congested roads! For a Thursday afternoon there was a lot going on. Locals sat around on the sidewalks chatting and laughing while listening to live music, local tourists took selfies and a few even asked to pose with us for photos!!
At one point we came across a street side tattoo taking place right on the side of the road. A rather young girl was having her leg tattooed by what looked like a biker gang and was just quietly being comforted by her boyfriend. Crazy!
The history of Kota Tua
Kota Tua is the area that was once known as Oud Batavia and the historical centre of sprawling Jakarta.
The Dutch established a base here in the 16th century which became the headquarters of the Dutch East India company due to its strategic position on the spice route and access to natural resources located across the Indonesian archipelago.
The square is home to some some beautiful old Dutch-style buildings. Although many of them have fallen into disrepair over the years, a few surrounding the square have been restored and are now mostly museums, including the Jakarta History Museum (once the City Hall), The Museum Maritime and Museum Bank Indonesia.
The brightest attraction on the square were these beautiful neon bikes that are available to rent and cruise around the central square… unfortunately you can’t get too far with them before you hit the traffic again, but they looked really fun!!
After strolling the square we decided to adventure off into some of the side streets to get an idea of what the “real” Jakarta was all about. Our aim was to find the oldest drawbridge in Jakarta, but with not much direction we ended up winding our way through some of the more “interesting” back streets!
Fortunately these types of adventures always result in the best photo opportunities and we had plenty of those…
Finally we located the wooden Kota Intan bridge (also known as Chicken Market Bridge). It was constructed by the Dutch in the 17th century and extends over the Kali Besar canal. In the past it would have been raised to accommodate merchant ships, but unfortunately it can no longer be raised or crossed by pedestrians as its planks are in disrepair.
After we finally found the bridge we realised that there wasn’t much else in the area so decided to rather head off to discover another part of town…
We jumped into the back of a “baja” and it was right back into the thick of things, this time in the most authentic mode of Jakarta transport!
What a ride it was! Next level crazy! Such an adrenalin rush cruising the city. I loved it!
Our next stop was the largest mosque and the largest cathedral in Indonesia – located ironically facing each other on opposite sides of the street.
Istiqlal Mosque, or Masjid Istiqlal, is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and it was built to commemorate Indonesian independence.
After refuelling with a quick coffee break at one of the more upmarket malls in the city, it was time to head back into the traffic to our hotel for the first dinner of our trip and a chance to meet a few of the faces of our upcoming trip…
Jakarta was a wild introduction to Indonesia! I’m so glad we spent an afternoon experiencing it’s unique atmosphere… it would prove to make for a great contrast between all the other Indonesian wonders we would discover over the coming weeks!
Read more about my #TripofWonders experience in Indonesia here:
Images: Kathryn Rossiter