Southeast Asia is a region of the world that is rich with people, culture, and adventure. Home to its bustling capital city of Jakarta and the popular tourist destination Bali, Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,000 islands scattered over the Indian and Pacific Oceans. My first week in Jakarta has been eventful but there certainly will be more adventures to come and stories to tell as I continue to explore this vast landscape.
Below are some lessons/facts I have learned about this capital city in my first week…
1. Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.
Jakarta is infamous for its constant traffic jams. No matter where you go, there is almost always traffic on the roads of Jakarta, whether it’s morning, afternoon, or evening. Stay calm, be patient, and always plan extra time to go anywhere at any time of day.
2. Cultural richness.
Indonesian culture and history has traces of influences from various countries and religions, including (but not restricted to) Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Though not a Muslim country by law, Indonesia has the greatest population of Muslims in the world. At the same time, islands like Bali are 90% Hindu, while many Christians are present in the provinces of Papua and Sulawesi. Check out some pics below featuring Indonesia’s diversity…
3. The importance of language.
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language spoken all over Indonesia and contrary to popular belief, many people in Jakarta do not speak English. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Bahasa is a mix of many different languages, including English, Sanskrit, Malay, and even Spanish (especially in terms of pronunciation)! But don’t be fooled – this language is harder to learn than you think!
4. Try to use local lingo/terminology when possible.
In light of number 3 above, it might be wise to learn a few words and terms to get around the city comfortably, particularly to tourist attractions. For example, there is a National Monument (very similar to that of Washington DC) in Central Jakarta which is a popular tourist attraction. However, it is likely that taxi drivers will not understand you if you tell them you want to go to the monument. If you say “Monas”, they will immediately know where to take you. Similarly, the National Museum of Indonesia is known to taxi drivers as Museum Gajah because of the elephant statue in front of the building. (Note: In Sanskrit and Bahasa, “Gajah” means elephant – you can see similarities between the two languages).
5. Cross the street like you own it.
Those of you who have travelled to/lived in India will understand what I mean with this one. Crossing the street in Jakarta is typically not a huge issue because of the flyover walkways above main roads and highways. When these don’t exist, however, crossing can be a big challenge (see #1 above). Don’t bother waiting around for a gap in traffic because there won’t be one and you’ll be left waiting forever. Walk with confidence (and safety, of course) and the drivers on Jakarta’s roads will most likely stop for you as you cross.
6. Taxi tips.
While buses also exist, the main form of public transport in Jakarta is taxi (Taksi in Bahasa), of which there are three tiers: blue bird, silver bird, and golden bird. All cars are air-conditioned, and fares run based on meter. There is a minimum fee and likely a long wait if you call for a taxi from your hotel so save money and time by hailing it from the main road – they are readily available. General tip: unless you want a premium expensive Mercedes Benz (silver bird) or limousine (golden bird) experience, always take blue bird – it’s very reasonable and great value for money. There are also motorcycle taxis for single passengers!
7. People are very kind and apologetic.
Even if you don’t know Bahasa, Indonesian people are very nice and willing to help you. Interestingly, they are also super apologetic (perhaps a cultural behavior characteristic of this region?) You may hear them apologize before repeating your order back to you at a restaurant or even for things that may not be in their control, like the weather (this was the case with one particular tour guide I had recently). In any case, the hospitality and kind-hearted nature of Indonesian people here have made Jakarta a very pleasant experience thus far.
For those of you who follow my blog for Bollywood things, here’s another tidbit thrown in just for you:
8. Taxi drivers know about India and Bollywood.
On our way to the Embassy of India, my mother and I were trying to explain/figure out the location for the building. Out of the blue, our taxi driver casually threw out names like “Shah Rukh Khan” and “Kajol” and even mentioned that he saw Dilwale because his wife is a Kajol fan. Needless to say, they loved the film! (Missed my review of Dilwale? Click here to read it!)
Tune in next week for more updates from my travel adventures!