Jakarta Halal Travel Guide
Jakarta’s nickname among expats is the Big Durian, and like the fruit itself, it’s a shock at first sight (and smell): a sweltering, steaming, heaving mass of some 30 million people packed into a vast urban sprawl. The metropolitan area is a charm and melting pot for Indonesians, both as a business and a government center, and the most developed city in the country. But all of this comes at a cost: the city has been struggling very hard to keep up with the urban growth. Major roads are packed up during rush hours and weekends (sometimes all day during rainy season due to motorcyclists sheltering under the fly-over or the tunnel when it’s raining heavily, thus causing additional congestion), while the public transportation system has been unable to alleviate that much traffic. Housing the population has been a problem too and adding to that, the numerous people’s mentality are yet to make the city a great place to live in, as dreamed of.
All that said, while initially a bit overwhelming, if you can withstand the pollution and can afford to indulge in Jakarta’s charms, you can discover what is also one of Asia’s most exciting, most lively global cities. There is plenty to do in Jakarta, from green parks and historical centers, to cosmopolitan shopping, diverse Halal gourmet dishes.
History of Jakarta
The port of Sunda Kelapa dates to the 12th century, when it served the Sundanese kingdom of Pajajaran near present-day Bogor. The first Europeans to arrive were the Portuguese, who were given permission by the Hindu Kingdom of Pakuan Pajajaran to erect a godown (warehouse) in 1522. Control was still firmly in local hands, and in 1527 the city was conquered by Prince Fatahillah, a Muslim prince from Cirebon, who changed the name to Jayakarta.
By the early 17th century, however, the Dutch had pretty much taken over the port city, and the razing of a competing English fort in 1619 secured their hold on the island. Under the name Batavia, the new Dutch town became the capital of the Dutch East Indies and was known as the Queen of the East.
However, the Dutch made the mistake of attempting to replicate Holland by digging canals throughout the malarial swamps in the area, resulting in shockingly high death rates and earning the town the epithet White Man’s Graveyard. In the early 1800s most canals were filled in, the town was shifted 4 km inland and the Pearl of the Orient flourished once again.
In 1740, Chinese slaves rebelled against the Dutch. The rebellion was put down harshly with the massacre of thousands of Chinese slaves. The survivors were exiled to Sri Lanka.
In 1795, the Netherlands were invaded and occupied by France, and on March 17, 1798, the Batavian Republic, a satellite state of France, took over the VOC’s debts and assets. But on August 26, 1811, a British expedition led by Lord Minto defeated the French/Dutch troops in Jakarta, leading to a brief liberation and subsequent administration of Indonesia by the British (led by Sir Stamford Raffles of Singapore fame) in 1811-1816. In 1815, after the Congress of Vienna, Indonesia was handed over from the British to the Dutch government.
The name Jakarta was adopted as a short form of Jayakarta when the city was conquered by the Japanese in 1942. After the war, the Indonesian war of independence followed, with the capital briefly shifted to Yogyakarta after the Dutch attacked. The war lasted until 1949, four years after Indonesian Independence, when the Dutch accepted the independence and handed back the town, which became Indonesia’s capital again.
Since independence, Jakarta’s population has skyrocketed, thanks to migrants coming to the city from across the Indonesian archipelago. The entire Jabodetabek (Jakarta-Bogor-Depok-Tangerang-Bekasi) metropolitan region is estimated to have a population of about 30 million.
Jakarta, like the rest of Indonesia, is under the tropical climate classification. It has two distinct seasons, rainy and dry. It is hot and usually humid with little fluctuation in temperature throughout the year. The average temperature is about 28°C (82°F), hot compared to other cities across Indonesia, especially because of the absence of trees in many areas.
November to March is the peak of the rainy season, and floods and traffic chaos on many of the streets usually occur. At its worst, floods can result in standstill on the prone spots and takes a few days to subside; recent canal widening and cleanings have mitigated the effect substantially and for most major roads, a couple hours is all it takes for the standing water to be wiped out. Even in rainy seasons, the sun usually appears for hours each day. During the transition from rainy to dry season or vice versa (April-May & September-October), there is occasional rain. Sometimes it pours; other times it’s not a washout. The good thing is that it cools down the air after a sweltering hot day. The rain is almost always absent from June through August.
Despite being the melting pot of Indonesia, Jakarta’s indigenous tribe called the Betawi still stays proud of its culture. They are actually a unique assimilation of various domestic and international races from the Chinese to the Portuguese, which makes it distinct from other parts of Indonesia. The Lenong theatre performance is accompanied by the Gambang Kromong orchestra that consists of the Sundanese Gendang, the Javanese Gamelan, and the Chinese Kongahyan (its own version of violin). The Tanjidor trumpets are an influence from the Dutch, while the Portuguese bequeathed the Keroncong orchestra. At the anniversary of the city’s founding every 22 June, a distinctive piece of culture can be seen at your hotel: the infamous pair of Ondel-ondel puppets. The complete experience of the culture can be found at Setu Babakan, the village of Betawi culture (and fishing at its lake).
Cinemas are a more affordable escape at around Rp30,000 – 45,000 for a plush seat (Rp40,000 – 70,000 on the weekend, up to Rp150,000 if you watch in Premiere Class at XXI or Velvet Class at CGV Blitz) in any of the capital’s shopping malls. Beware of the heavy hand of the Indonesian censor though. The price of popcorn and drinks are exorbitant so you may wish to bring your own coming in. CGV Blitz cinemas will typically show movies in any foreign language other than English and the lesser ones also exhibit Indonesian B-Movies with erotic themes (still heavily censored). The largest chain of cinemas in Indonesia are the 21 Cineplex (branded as XXI in premium shopping malls) and CGV Blitz . IMAX theaters are only available at Gandaria City’s XXI theatre, Mal Kelapa Gading III’s theatre and Keong Mas in TMII, although the latter more often shows documentary than blockbuster films.
Performing arts festivals
Jakarta boasts some of the world’s largest music events, which may surprise you, and the many young fans have attracted artists all around the world to regularly stop by Jakarta as part of their world tour, from rock concerts to Korean pop. Perhaps the best known event is the annual Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival that takes place each March for 3 days, filled with over 40 international and local artists performing jazz, R&B and reggae songs. The Hammersonic is an annual metal music concert, while We The Fest boasts some of the performances from indie/pop artists in August since its first inception in 2014, Road to Soundrenaline takes you to the popular local indie/major label bands showcases, before it ends up in Bali for the main event with some of international artists performing there and the Djakarta Warehouse Project hosts world famous DJs to jam the start of the year-end holiday. For a street performance, the Sudirman-Thamrin strip is closed at night on 22 June and New Year’s Eve, when stages for musical performances are erected and cultural parades set up to usher in Jakarta’s founding anniversary and the New Year, respectively.
For some traditional and classical stuff, there are performances at Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, by indie, jazz, dance, and classical music orchestras. Taman Ismail Marzuki hosts mainly theatrical shows, although English shows might be rare. Erasmus Huis Hall by the Dutch embassy also regularly hosts classical music shows and photography exhibitions.
The sport scene in Jakarta is perhaps one of the most vibrant you’ll ever see in Asia. The Senayan sports complex still lives up to its name since the 1962 Asian Games, where archery and indoor shooting range are also publicly available to try. Soemantri-Brodjonegoro in Kuningan district also offers you many kinds of sport activities. If you like skateboarding, Kalijodo Skatepark is the best place to meet others.
Jakarta is perhaps the best city to play golf in Asia, thanks to the abundance of courses close to or even in the middle of the city, and relatively cheap prices compared to Western standards. Green fees can go as low as Rp70,000 on weekdays, although the better courses are twice that, and weekend rates are considerably steeper at Rp300,000 and more. Many golf courses are at South and East within the immediate suburbs of the city, much better in quality and quantity at the satellite cities.
Indonesia is one of the few lucky Asian countries where numerous European soccer teams, including from the prestigious British Premier League or the Italian League, play a trial game against the national team when the game itself is at break in Europe. The supporters between the national team and the Europeans at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium are even, yet even though for the most part Indonesia’s national team post losses, clashes do not seem to happen at least in a chaotic way. When the Europeans are back in season, numerous cafés and bars around town put up gigantic TV screens to let the enthusiasm erupt while having a drink at dawn.
Futsal is the indoor version of football, which has 5 players per team and more lax rules of play. Anytime after work or on the weekends, you can easily find crowds at the many indoor courts across the city. Outdoors, the dirt and grass makeshift fields are abundant in residential areas, crowded with players, spectators and vendors, typically on weekend afternoons. In these casual games, anyone can simply ask to jump in or relax.
As a badminton powerhouse, Jakarta has a multitude of badminton courts, ranging from the national venues at the Senayan Complex to the suburban halls which cater to both futsal and badminton. Most of them have wood-panel flooring and are maintained in reasonably good condition. Lighting is strictly functional and is below par in comparison with standard badminton halls. People play almost every evening – so, walk in, strike up a conversation with the group’s captain, and expect to blend in with their group for the session. If the captain refuses payment (usually less than Rp20,000), it is polite to buy the players a round of soft-drinks (teh-botol is a good choice). Be warned that it is common for Indonesians to eat, smoke, drink and nap by the side of the court: so watch your footing.
If you want to watch rather than to play, the Istora Senayan is packed every early June during the Indonesian Open Superseries, when Indonesia’s and the world’s top badminton players compete. The deafening cheers are chanted even beyond when the players hit the shuttlecock, an enthusiasm unmatched elsewhere in the world. It is advised to buy the tickets online (especially for the semifinals and final matches), otherwise you must choose between watching it on television or the big screen in Istora (think about Murray Mound/Henman Hill in Wimbledon).
You are in one of Asia’s big cities—karaoke is the norm, so sing your heart out! Most chain brands such as Inul Vizta, NAV, or DIVA can be found at the upscale shopping malls where the youngsters play. You’ll have your own lavish room with a wide span of libraries containing local, English, and East Asian songs, on a wide-screen TV while you can order a drink or food to be enjoyed while you wait your turn to sing. Rates can start from as low as Rp70,000 per room for a minimum of 6 people.
Cooking classes are held on Sundays at 10 AM by 99 Ranch Market at their branch in Pondok Indah for Rp200,000. There are also a few locations along Jalan Kemang that specifically cater to expats. Most offer pastry cooking classes.
Interestingly, you can learn about cultures from around the world in Jakarta. Many embassies have set up cultural centers where you can take world culture & language classes. Check these cultural centers for information: Korean Culture Center, Institut Francais, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Japan Foundation, Russian Culture Center, Goethe Institut.
Casual work in Jakarta is difficult to come by and Indonesian bureaucracy does not readily facilitate foreigners undertaking employment in Indonesia. As in the rest of Asia, teaching English is the best option, although salaries are poor (US$700–3000/month is typical, although accommodation may be provided) and the government only allows citizens of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA to work as teachers. Formal work visas, residency permits and registration with several government offices is necessary. Formal approval from the Department of Manpower and the provision of documentation and guarantees from an employing sponsor is required to engage in any form of employment in Jakarta or elsewhere in Indonesia. Business visas are available for the purposes of conducting business related activities in Jakarta or elsewhere in Indonesia, this class of visa has strict conditions and requires a local business to sponsor the applicant. A business visa does not permit the holder to undertake any form of employment.
More than 2.5 million foreign tourists and more than 30 million domestic tourists visit Jakarta every year. It’s a paradise for buying international brand-name garments (both genuine and fake).
If you’re stopping in Jakarta, consider buying an extra suitcase, because there are lots of good shopping opportunities. Good used suitcases can be bought at Surabaya street and vendors also sell antiques. However, note that although quality can be excellent, genuine branded goods or quality products are expensive.
Every year, the Provincial Government of Jakarta holds an annual Festival Jakarta Great Sale that takes place from Mid-June to Mid-July. Most markets, shopping malls, and department stores attend it and will give discounts on selected items, although the event itself might be barely noticeable aside from some banners. Some stores also run Midnight Sales, usually in the weekend. And most of the malls are open from 10:00-20:00 every day, except on Ied Day when they’re open 13:30-22:00.
Despite the crushing poverty exhibited in some parts of the city—mostly among migrant uneducated workers from other cities—In 2017, Jakarta has more than 170 giant, glittering malls (including trade centers and groceries centers) more than double of 70 at five years ago, more than other cities in the world, and far more than you’d expect as a newcomer. Note that for genuine imported goods from sole agents, prices are controlled to be roughly the same all over the world, so domestic tourists no longer need to look for bargains abroad, while some foreign tourists actually prefer to shop in Jakarta for more design options. Most of the shopping malls are located close to each other, so if you are unable to find what you need, just go next door.
Some of the most well known shopping complexes are at the heart of the city. Grand Indonesia and Plaza Indonesia are two upper-class malls next to each other on Jakarta’s busy Hotel Indonesia Roundabout. Plaza Senayan & Senayan City are also across each other and are both chic. Mal Taman Anggrek and Central Park at Jalan Letjen S. Parman are for all rounders.
Jalan Prof.Dr.Satrio is Jakarta’s answer to the famed Orchard Road in Singapore, Tokyo/Ginza in Tokyo and Fifth Avenue in New York. Four malls (namely ITC Mal Ambassador, Kuningan City, Ciputra World I, and a bit further off, Kota Kasablanka) and counting, catering to visitors of all budget levels. Kelapa Gading has a street with four malls on its side, and two other giant malls are located elsewhere in the region. Pluit and Pondok Indah hosts three malls located along a single strip.
Every shopping mall has at least one department store, alongside brands that have their own shops. Sogo has the most branches, followed by Metro & Centro. Galeries Lafayette can be found at Pacific Place while Seibu and Central are located at Grand Indonesia. Matahari also provides similar fashion usually for a lower price.
In addition to malls, there are also numerous extremely large shopping Centres, most of them within a complex, so if you are unable to find what you need at one mall, you can try again at the mall next door. Mangga Dua, Tanah Abang, and Pasar Baru are the best places in Jakarta to shop for fashion. In Mangga Dua area there are at least 3 shopping centers connected by bridges: ITC is for middle and upper middle class fashion, while the lower class is served by Pasar Pagi Mangga Dua, and Mangga Dua Mall is for gadget enthuasiasts. Tanah Abang is a wholesale market and the biggest in Southeast Asia, with delivery to Africa and other parts of the world. Tanah Abang is overcrowded, so Thamrin city next to Grand Indonesia (500 m from Tanah Abang) can serve as an alternative, mainly for Muslim wear and batik. Pasar Baru is not a shopping center, but more like a street with old retail shops; stamp collectors will be able to find Indonesian stamps at the front of many of these shops. Mangga Dua Square, as well as Glodok and Roxy, are places to find gadgets. WTC (Wholesale Trade Centre) Mangga Dua is now specialized in sell used cars, with more than 100 sold per day.
If you are looking for antique products such as local handicrafts, Indonesian traditional batik or wayang golek (Sundanese puppets), you can go to Jalan Surabaya in Central Jakarta. If you are looking for rare maps, prints or paintings, you can go to Kemang Raya, where there are many galleries including Bartele gallery and Hadi Prana. Pasaraya Grande shopping mall at Blok M, South Jakarta has one dedicated floor for Indonesian antiques and handicrafts. Pasar Seni at Ancol is the Centre of paintings and sculpture, including portrait pictures you can have done on the spot. Sarinah department store also has a vast section of traditional gifts.
Shopping at traditional markets may also be an exciting experience, where you can find exotic tropical fruits, traditional snacks, cheap fashion and novelty items. While most of them are far from tourist hot spots, Pasar Gondangdia across the namesake train station and the Fresh Market Pantai Indah Kapuk are the places that still offer such experience in a modern building while easily accessible.
Cash is still the most effective payment system for all transactions. A few established shops may accept payment with debit/credit card and electronic money.