Expectations and reality – being a tourist in Jakarta

Jalan Sudirman Jakarta

Expectations are tricky – you form them before you even do something and base them on limited information, experience, or knowledge. I had my own before I came to Jakarta, but I can safely say that they were nowhere as near as what I’ve experienced in this vibrant city.

Selamat datang monument Jakarta
Selamat datang monument in Jakarta

It was Sunday morning when my body finally acclimatized itself to 5-hour time difference, so after a full-scale breakfast I went for a walk. Luckily enough, every Sunday morning 2 main roads that reach through the heart of Jakarta’s business district are closed for car traffic, which gave a promising opportunity to explore the surroundings.

Locals use this time to do sports, such as running and riding bicycles, or just spend time with family or friends. Everywhere there are people having fun and cheering and numerous street vendors selling all kinds of goods along the road: drinks, food, accessories, clothes and more. Altogether, colors and happy faces create an impression of a mini-carnival taking place between series of skyscrapers.

Empty jalan sudirman jakarta
Jalan Sudirman – busiest street in Jakarta – is empty on Sunday morning

Due to the lack of experience I started late and soon enough cars and motorbikes filled the road, vendors had to relocate to smaller streets and the atmosphere completely changed.

Jalan Sudirman Jakarta
The street quickly became busy, as I started quite late

Speaking of smaller streets – you need to make only one turn from the main road to find yourself in a place that does not resemble a business district at all, or turn your head and you see local mini-restaurants located near skyscrapers with office buildings. The saying “city of contrast” can definitely be used here.

Contrasts in Jakarta
Contrasts are everywhere in Jakarta
Contrasts in Jakarta street market
Only a glance away from the main streets and skyscrapers are markets like these, selling fruits

All in all I am a big fan of walking, but at this point the hotness and the lack of proper pedestrian sidewalks started to get annoying, so I decided to take a taxi to speed things up.

The 10-minute ride to the National Monument (MONAS) in an air-conditioned taxi was quite cheap and refreshing. However, after taking several steps away from the car the hot and humid air of Jakarta quickly reminded me of being close to the equator.

MONAS is one of the most touristic places in Jakarta, gathering many people every day. However, as the park around the monument is very big, it does not look crowded at first.

Monas Jakarta
MONAS is the main place of interest for visitors

The park is full of merchants ready to sell you anything. As you get closer to the monument, they become more and more insistent, but the prices significantly drop (even though they are shouted randomly in the first place). As already experienced, goods portfolio range covers full spectre of tourist’s demand – from clothes to food and refreshments.

Busy market monas Jakarta
MONAS is considered a main attraction in Jakarta, so be prepared for a lot of people trying to sell you stuff
Street vendor monas Jakarta
There are plenty of street vendors selling ice tea and other goodies at the MONAS
Monas Jakarta market
Not all street vendors are eager to sell you things, though

There are many tourists around the monument and something is always happening – looks like it is never quiet there. What struck me the most is how many people wanted to take a picture with me – children, older people, even families. And it is amazing how much joy and excitement it brings to them after having the picture taken. This excitement can be compared, probably, to that of a boy getting a photo with Ronaldo, or something similar to that. Funny thing, those that are not that confident to approach and ask directly will either a) follow and giggle, or b) just try to film or take a photo of you. After certain amount of fame my only goal was to reach the top of the monument and see the city from above.

Even though I came late (you can get to the top only before 15:00), it looks like in Jakarta most of the issues are negotiable, or there is always a “friend” who wants to help you if you say it’s your last day here. The impression was that there are many people knowing about this workaround, because it took me around 30 minutes of waiting in line and a quick elevator ride to get to the top. It was totally worth it, as a view on the city is indeed marvelous.

Jakarta skyline from monas
Jakarta looks even larger when viewed from above
Jakarta skyline view
Jakarta and smog are almost synonyms – very rarely you can see far into the distance without a small haze
Jakarta city skyline
Skyscrapers, skyscrapers everywhere
Jakarta mosque from above
Istiqlal mosque is located just behing MONAS and is the biggest mosque in Asia. Worth a visit as well, while you’re there

Overall, the atmosphere and the people are absolutely different than I have experienced anywhere else. Even though at first everything feels as being too much, people are warm and friendly, especially to foreigners. And if such welcoming people are around you, what else is needed?

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