Ten keys to enjoying the exciting chaos that is Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.
1) Eat Street Food – This is the always the tastiest option and the price is right. If you never bother with a formal restaurant, you’ll be better off.
2) Ride in a Tuk-Tuk – These are the best transport throughout the city (though motorbike taxis work great if you’re solo, too). They’re not allowed in all areas, but tuk-tuks are fun, comfortable and affordable (negotiate your price first), and their pilots are some of the best drivers you’ll find anywhere. Some call the drivers crazy, but they really just know what they’re doing.
3) Take the Train – The train system within Jakarta is smooth, easy and very clean. More than once we’ve seen them cleaning the floors as the train was moving. Just mind the step in and out, it’s a doozy.
4) Take Pictures with Locals – Whenever we’ve been at a tourist site, we’ve been asked to take pictures with people. The requests are always so good natured that we wouldn’t consider refusing. We get to meet a bunch of nice people, too.
5) Meet the Challenge that are Jakarta’s Sidewalks – Uneven, broken and missing tiles, gaps and drainage areas that would swallow a lesser human, busted curbs and wild growing shrubberies that encroach on an already too narrow space. And then there are the areas where food carts and mini-shops take over the space or the sidewalk is completely missing due to construction. All of these things make for an obstacle course worthy of any reality game show. Then try doing it while legally blind, at night, when you’re hungry. Sometimes it’s just better to walk in the street.
6) Master Crossing Jakarta’s Lawless Streets – There are very few traffic signals in Jakarta, but there are LOTS of vehicles. The traffic is continuous. Gaps in the flow are rare and even if you find zebra stripes (a crosswalk) the traffic doesn’t stop for you. A local told us the secret. When you see a good opportunity, you put your hand out, with a little downward wave, and start across. Don’t run. Keep a steady pace and let traffic flow around you. Yes, it can be nerve racking at first, but you get used to it. It’s all about trust – a key feature on these little regulated streets.
7) Sweat – It’s humid, and hot. You’re going to sweat. Get used to it. (Hint: You will.)
8) Order Food You Can’t Identify – Don’t worry if you don’t know what you’re ordering, odds are it’ll taste good. You might even discover that something you didn’t like before is delicious here. Try everything.
9) Go to the Wayang Puppet Museum – In an old, Dutch colonial area called Kota, this museum is a delightful display of craftsmanship and creativity. While the focus is on Javan puppetry, usually revolving around the story of the Mahabarata, there are puppets from other Indonesian islands as well as England, France and Italy. After the tour you might be offered the opportunity to visit the puppet maker’s workshop for a demonstration and a short show. Don’t worry when you’re being led down and around the corner, through some construction, squeezing between k-rails, around the back, down an alley…it’s legit.
10) Relax and Take it in Stride – Jakarta is a busy, bustling city that is sometimes challenging and often wonderful, where the simplest task can turn into an adventure. Accept it for what it is and experience a different way of life.