At first Jakarta appears to be a bustling packed city that is bursting at the seems with traffic, pollution and population problems. However, after locking ourselves in the first dank and depressing hotel room in central Jakarta for a day watching sponge bob square pants in Indonesian, we decided to venture out into the big smoke. We found ourselves surrounded by nothing but a shell gas station and sad after sad little stained buildings. It wasn’t until after a little research we discovered that there are a few little gems in this megatropolis.
Our advise to backpackers is head straight to Jalan Jaksa. Being “the backpacking strip” I must say it was a slight disappointment, certainly doesn’t compare to Chao San Road in Bangkok, but it is cheaper than other areas. Unlike Kuta in Bali the strip hasn’t been assimilated to cater to tourists, but you will still find most things you need. There are about 10 hotels and backpackers along this little street with accommodation rates ranging from 80,000rp (about $9AUS) per night and upwards. Affordable, yes, but they are very basic dwellings with only your essentials- cold shower, small fan, toilet and a bed. Of course you can splurge a little more and get Aircon and other extras.
If you are ever on this street an awesome place to eat is Oche and Belle. Its on the corner of Jalan Jaksa on the left hand side. Perfect for the backpacker who wants to treat themselves. It’s a 5 star great service restaurant with prices ranging for mains from: 90,000rp to 150,000rp, but are worth it. Great atmosphere with wealthy indo business men and dolled up women. It has a great outside garden with walls of trees that block off the noise from the busy street. It’s a great way to de-stress after strolling the hectic streets. They also have a special deal for only 120,000rp (excluding 25% and a small additional fee) called “bella executive” during the week from 11am till 2pm where you get unlimited salad, iced teas and appetizers with your main meal as well as getting a lovely dessert! Yum!
On our way to find a laundry one day we stumbled across a labyrinth of small alley ways, locally known as “gangs.” The locals live in small “cracks in the wall” type dwellings. There were warungs, little mini shops, even a wedding dress shop in there. Hanging from the walls were speakers blasting prayers from the local mosque. Although, the locals were polite you couldn’t help feel like you had invaded their private sanctuary hidden so nosy tourists couldn’t take it away from them. We were so amazed at the amount of life amongst these walls.
In bali and Lombok the impression you get from locals are how terrible the Javanese are, but contrary to viscious rumour the people here, from our experience, are lovely and completely willing to help. A little bit of Indonesian will go a long way here as unlike Bali not many people speak English.
Where to stay:
Anywhere on Jalan Jaksa. We stayed at Memories café which was very reasonably priced at 80,000rp per night. Very basic. Just a bed fan and a cold shower but we had access to the wifi from the café downstairs which was a perk.
Where not to stay:
D’Bamboo Hotel. It is right near the airport and was our first taste of Jakarta which left us with a initial bad impression. We paid 190,000rp for a “villa” which was just a detached room from the rest of the “hotel” with tacky furnishings and a small disgusting bathroom with no toilet paper. The staff spoke minimal English. Worst of all there was suspicious stains on the bed and rubbish around showing that they didn’t clean up after the last guests. Also because of the location you would be woken up every 20mins to the airplanes flying low overhead. There was no wifi but the limited perks were T.V. and aircon.
Hotel Menteng. This was our second night of accommodation in Jakarta, although it was slightly better than our first choice it was still less than average. Costing 250,000rp per night it was quite expensive for what it was. It had supposed wifi which didn’t work, bad food (definitely don’t order the pasta) and a bad location right next to the train line so the trains keep you up all night. The bleak surroundings are bound to give you a feeling of melancholy when you are forced to stay in your room all day and night.
Pulau Tidung A must see place and a great way to relax and get away from the big city smoke! It’s part of the 1000 islands, which is actually just 110 islands, off the coast of Jakarta. There is a range of different islands to suite everyone’s tastes and budgets from fishing village islands to islands that are dedicated just for resorts. We choose Pulau Tidung because it was one of the cheapest islands, however, the main tourists on the island are Indonesians.
The island is very quiet during the week and when we went we were the only western people on the island and one of only three groups of tourists that were there. The people there are all very friendly but most are not used to western tourists so be prepared to attract many stares. The majority of the local’s English is limited to “hello mister” with which they say to both the males and females, but they are all more than happy to play a little charades to help you with anything you need.
As beautiful and picturesque as this island is, it has a certain “ghost town” feel to it. Maybe it was because we were there on Monday and Tuesday, when the weekend is the busiest. Unlike Gilli Trawangan in Lombok and Koh Phangan in Thailand (two of the more famous Asian islands) it lacks a night life and doesn’t cater to tourists as much. But maybe that is the charm of the Pulau Tidung; a real untouched island where you can see the locals live day to day without any touristy theatrics getting in the way.
What to do on the island: Pulau Tidung is actually 2 islands that are connected by a long bridge called “the love bridge” which is about 1km long. It is especially beautiful at sunset or sunrise and there is great snorkeling out from either starts of the bridge.
When we crossed the bridge we found kitten that had fallen in the water. After many attempts to get it out we were successful.
You can hire a bike for around 15,000rp for the day and it takes around 1 hour to go from either end of the island. The island is very narrow so the beach is never far away. Head to the end of the island opposite to the bridge of love for a nice less polluted and more secluded swim. You can also hire snorkeling gear for around 35,000rp for the day and discover some of the amazing reef and array of fish. There are also banana boats for hire and jet skis. You can also hire charter boats to the other islands but the public boat also goes to a select few, for ticketing go to the office (the big white building) at the harbor on pulau tidung at 8am. If you do indeed want to charter a boat I hear that you can hire a boat for the day for 500,000rp and they can also take you to great snorkeling spots.
Food on the island: There are no restaurants who cater directly for tourists, rather there are many warungs (small cafes) with various fired goods for sale that have been sitting in the cabinet all day. The safest food is probably nasi goreng or me goreng as they are made fresh. Meal prices ranging from 3,000rp for a simple cup-a-noodle to 20,00rp for a decent serve of nasi goring. But just to be careful make sure you bring some immoduim tablets or gastrolites.
How to get there:
You can get there by a fancy fast boat for 200,000rp (about $25AUD) each way and takes about 1 and a half to 2 hours to get the island or you can get the local boat. The local boat is only 40,000 (about $5AUD) each way and takes about 2 to 2 and a half hours, as it stops off at some of the other islands on the way. Both of the boats can be organized at Ancol marina (all taxi drivers will know this destination) and ask the guys sitting around near pier 21 (towards the very end of the pier) for tickets. We both preferred the public boat as the fast boat we toke kept breaking down in the middle of the ocean and as it was a smaller boat you were more prone to sea sicknesses, whereas the public boat was slightly bigger and you get a little travel snack pack as well which was a nice touch.
Accommodation: It is best to organize an island trip with a group of people as you can get better deals with accommodation. A homestay can be as cheap as 150,000rp ($18AUD) for the whole house with aircon and four double mattresses so you could fit up to 8 people. Unfortunately in our accommodation we woke to see about 6 large cockroaches crawling around our bed during the night, which meant a very sleepless night from then on. That is an unfortunate problem of the island and is not limited to the accommodation we were staying at. What we found was a good way of keeping them away was to leave the light on and wrap ourselves up in sarongs so they couldn’t crawl on us during the night.
Another thing we wished we did was camp. Even though you wont have a toilet, bed or security for your possessions this really is a great way to explore the island. There are great areas to camp and you can buy a tent for around 150,000rp as we saw at the supermarket in Mangga Dua in Ancol. On our bike ride to the quiet end of the island we saw a beautiful shady spot underneath a wise old tree covered in winding vines right near your very own peace of sparkling, crystal blue, postcard paradise.
What to bring: Sunscreen is definitely a must. I searched all around the island for some and was unsuccessful so ended up being a tomato.The electricity on the island is run by a generator so the power doesn’t always work, so don’t bring any electricals that rely on power. However, when we were there the power ran smoothly the whole time. And for the girls, it is a largely Muslim populated island that don’t see many foreign tourists so cover up!