Julia Dryas hops on a bus for a quick spin around the Indonesian capital, then bones up n the country’s culture in a brace of interesting museums before getting an organic rubdown.
Take the bus
Beat the city’s horrendous traffic and at the same time, take in some local sights – hop on a Trans Jakarta bus (also called “Busway”).
Your best bet is the line starting from Blok M terminal in south Jakarta to Kota (the old Batavia area), which travels on a special lane along the main thoroughfares of Jendral Sudirman and Thamrin marked by a procession of gleaming commercial towers and office blocks. The journey lasts about 45 minutes, which is impossible if one were to drive.
The culturally oriented should alight at the Monas bus stop and head for the newly renovated National Museum. Besides the regular displays of Indonesia’s best artifacts, the attraction often stages interestingly themed programmes.
Then cross the road to the National Monument, a towering torch with golden flame. Here you can either enter the attraction to view the dioramas depicting Indonesia’s struggle for independence, ride the lift to the top for a bird’s eye view of the metropolis or just stroll around the gardens lush with common and rare indigenous flora.
Back on the Trans Jakarta, ride until the Kota station, where several interesting museums such as the Jakarta History Museum, Ceramic Museum and Wayang Museum are within walking distance.
If you decide to stay put for the whole journey, expect to pay Rp 10,500 (US$1.16). Each stop you make is Rp 3,500 (US$0.40).
There’s no better place to come in from the urban cacophony for some liquid therapy than J-Lounge at the Gran Melia Jakarta (Jalan HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan, tel 62 21 527 3778). Its cosy, Mediterranean-inspired interiors will instantly calm frazzled nerves and there is a choice of indoor and outdoor seating. Probably the longest happy hours in town are to be found here, from 1600 to 2200, when beer and house pouring net a 50 percent discount. Lady patrons will find drinks free every Wednesday and Thursday until midnight.
This is a prime spot to hear the country’s top DJ mix their stuff.
Learn about the Betawi
Signs of Jakarta’s indigenous Betawi culture may be difficult to find in the current thick overlay of modernisation but that’s not to mean it has totally vanished. The Pusat Kebudayaan Betawi (Betawi Cultural Centre) in Situ (lake) Babakan, Jagakarsa, South Jakarta is an attempt to preserve a unique heritage.
The 289-hectare settlement area consists of some 70 buildings done in the traditional architecture and an open-air theatre for weekend folk performances such as a Gambang Kromong music concert (tel 62 21 786 2861 to check schedules).
The services of an English-speaking guide can be booked and the tour includes food and drink tastings and visits to home industry settings.
For a unique recharge experience, The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta’s menu deserves a try for its use of organic skincare products and business traveller-oriented therapies such as the 50-minute Gentlemen’s Time facial. The Recovery Massage targets those who’ve just stepped off a plane or come in from a whole day of table discussions. (Four Seasons Jakarta, Jalan HK Rasuna Said, Kuningan, tel 62 21 252 3456).
Make a souvenir
Instead of buying a souvenir, make one yourself! Sign up for short courses in batik painting at the Textile Museum (Jalan KS Tubun 2-4, Tanah Abang, tel 62 21 560 6613, open daily from 0900 to 1500, except Monday) or ceramics at Rumah Tanah Baru (Curug Agung No. 1, Tanah Baru, Beji, Depok, tel 62 21 775 7685).
Rumah Tanah Baru is the home of Indonesia’s famous ceramic artist, F Widayanto, and is open to the public on weekends for an entry fee of Rp 5,000 (US$0.55). It’s interesting to observe how he cleverly incorporated his talent into producing tiles, bathroom amenities, home décor and dinner sets among others. Guests can join a workshop (Rp 60,000/US$6.63 per person) and create their own pieces to take home. The less daring can simply browse in the shop and pick out one of the master’s works of art. Weekday visits can be arranged for a minimum of five people.
Warong Shanghai Blue 1920 (Jalan Kebon Sirih Raya 77-79, tel 62 21 391 8690) is the latest offering from the Tugu Hotels Group, which is also behind the uniquely conceived Lara Jonggrang and Dapur Babah restaurants as well as exquisite resorts in Malang, Blitar and Bali.
As with the first two restaurants, this one is also themed and recreates the famous Warong Shanghai in Sunda Kelapa (then the busy harbour area in north of Jakarta) run by Babah Chan Mo Song and his Betawi wife, Siti Djaenab in the 1920s. Interiors are authentically Shanghai art deco, while the food harks back to old tastes and flavours, a blend of Babah homecooking – which Chan’s missus learned from her mother-in-law – and her own Betawi cuisine.
The menu’s highlights include Sop Boentoet Betawi (Betawi oxtail soup), Sop 3 Sisters of Shanghai 1920 (Shanghai lion head soup created by Babah Chan’s mother), Telor Dadar Mpok Siti Djaenab (Siti Djaenab’s home-style omelette), Bayam Kukus Telor Asin (his mother’s steamed spinach with salted eggs) and Rijsttafel Bandar Soenda Kelapa (Sunda Kelapa complete lunch set menu). Prices range between Rp 28,000 (US$3.09) and Rp78,000 (US$8.62) per dish.?