Last updated on August 13th, 2018 at 09:16 am
Whenever I talk with other travellers about Asia there is little mention about the Indonesian Capital. And in some respects, it’s a pity because there are plenty of things to do in Jakarta.
So, what to do in Jakarta for 2 days? I was in Jakarta for 3 nights and I was intrigued to see the city for the second time in my life.
Because last time was 15 years ago and I did expect so many changes, an almost unrecognisable city.
Well, not quite so. I actually recognised some of the places I visited, especially in the old part of the city.
I have visited most, if not all, of the Asian capital cities.
Jakarta is still my favourite for the friendliness of the local population. Quite amazing for a capital of over 10 million citizens, or 30 million including the outskirts of Jakarta.
So many people have started a conversation with me just to practice their English. So many youngsters, and not only, have approached me to take a picture together, and I am definitely not a TV star! I felt more as in a village than in a city.
What did I see in my 3 days in Jakarta?
I have visited a few places, some iconic destinations and a couple of malls (I was looking for some gear I needed for my camera and tablet, I found much more than that!!).
I have spent almost a day on a tour to the Bogor Botanical Garden, about 60km south of Jakarta.
And I visited one of the most famous massage centers in Jakarta, a maze of rooms. It was definitely my most unbelievable massage experience in my life
You can fit most of it in 2 full days or you can take it a bit easier and add a 3rd day as I did.
I also suggest a read to the Jakarta Post in preparation to the trip. It’s a local newspaper in English where you can find also a list of the daily events
I will add more on this subject later, however take in consideration the transfer time. Jakarta is a capital city with a huge population and it may take a while to go from A to B, as in most of the countries.
This is the area I started my city visit. This is a must in your bucket list for the things to do in Jakarta.
The capital has still some lovely buildings from the Dutch era and they are mostly in Kota Tua, also known as Batavia in the colonial era.
To my biggest surprise, I found also a typical wood made bridge equipped with leverages as you would expect in Amsterdam. It’s called Kota Intan Bridge.
Where is it?
Have a check down to the map at the end of this post 😉 I have included also an itinerary of a Jakarta city tour
Kota Tua main square is probably the most preserved part of this area of Jakarta and the most beautiful to walk around. I was there on Indonesia Independence day and it was literally packed with locals.
So many people asked me to be in their photo that I almost felt like a celebrity. That gave me also the possibility to have a talk with few Indonesians about Kota Tua.
As suspected, I got confirmation that this square is very popular in the weekends with locals going there for some easy time.
Have a look also at the formal post office, still working (there is also a toilette you can access there).
There are two museums in the square, the Fine Art and Ceramic Museum and the Jakarta History Museum. Unfortunately, my time was a bit limited, which was a pity, and I had to give a miss….next time
My only suggestion here is to avoid visiting Kota Tua at noon as it can be quite hot. I personally don’t mind the hot weather but I could see some tourists suffering from the high temperature.
You can read more about Kota Tua on this beautiful page.
Also known as Chinatown, Glodok is a great must visit area of Jakarta. I spent there at least half a day and honestly I could stay more.
What is great for?
If you are into photography, this area is an heaven, so many opportunities for interesting portraits not to mention the busy local markets in the small lanes and the temples nested and hidden between small houses.
If photography is not your main thing, Glodok is a great area to taste any kind of food, to immerse yourself in the local markets, to have some rest in one of the many temples and finally to buy any kind of thing you can think of.
When you enter in Glodok is like suddenly stepping into a village with the own traditions and architecture.
The small lanes are sometime so tiny that only bicycles and scooter can enter.
I met only another tourist around and I was really surprised. To me Glodok was definitely one of the highlights of Jakarta. I really wonder if it is the most kept secret in the capital LOL
If you are organising an itinerary of Jakarta city, make sure to include Glodok
I also came across the Glodok Plaza, a shopping mall dedicated to the high tech market. More on this later
In the map below I added my walk through Glodok.
I was really impressed by the Vihara Dharma Bhakti, a 366 years old temple built to honour Buddhist priest Guan Yin. This is the busiest temple in the city, especially in the Chinese New Year week (not to be missed if you are around).
In 2015 unfortunately the fire had gutted part of the building and you can still see the sign of that around the temple. When you go inside, walk till the bottom end where gigantic candles are positioned in a grid. On the right side there is a small door that takes to a sideyard where you can find a working furnace
Another temple I would suggest to visit is the Vihara Dharma Jaya Toasebio. Smaller scale however as interesting as the previous one. I would call it a boutique temple
This is rated as one the most interesting museum in Jakarta and, in some respect, one of the most complete of South East Asia.
If you want to visit just one museum in Jakarta, than make it the National Museum.
There are 3 main sections. The one facing the main entrance, with a huge inner courtyard that reminded me of a Greek style temple. Here you will find the largest exhibition of Hindu-Buddhist art of ancient Indonesia
The section one the right includes an ethnography collection with objects that are, or were, part of the Indonesian daily life. I found really interesting the Indonesia map showing how the country is organised from a political prospective. Always good to have a bit of background
The third section is the treasure rooms
How long can take a visit?
It’s quite subjective of course. I would probably budget from one to three hours based on your interests
This is the second area, after Kota Tua, where locals tend to go on weekends or public holiday. It’s a huge green space with a 132 meter tower right in the centre.
There is an observation deck that should not be missed in any trip to Jakarta. It gives a great view of the city.
I went up there 15 years ago and I still have the view in my memory. Visibility is usually better early in the morning (opening time is 8:30am)
Situated just north of the National Monument, the Istiqlal Mosque is a unique building.
It is the the largest mosque in Southeast Asia with a capacity of over 120,000 people. This number gives only a small idea of the size. On my visit I was open mouth for most of my time. Just outstanding.
I walked up to the first floor and from the balcony, around the praying area, I really understood the humongous dimension of this building.
I believe I was there for over an hour, maybe even two and honestly I could have stayed for even longer.
People inside were extremely friendly and guided me through some interesting corners.
I don’t think I will ever forget this mosque
An interesting anecdote is that the architect of the Istiqlal Mosque was Christian
The most interesting part of the Jakarta Cathedral is its location, just in front of the Mosque.
Actually, if you are in the Mosque inner courtyard, right in the corner opposite the entrance, you have an amazing view of the minaret and the cathedral at the same time.
Interesting that during the Christmas time the parking area of the Mosque is used by the Catholics attending the mess.
Definitely a fantastic example of religions integration
The inside of the cathedral is very reach and reminded me of many European Cathedrals. Definitely worth a visit!
I was unsure if I should have gone to the Galeri Nasional of Indonesia. I was with a group of people and we had the choice to attend, or not.
At the end I decided to go. I thought it was more of a painting exhibition and after a long day of sightseeing I was a bit exhausted.
We were however very lucky because the director of the exhibition guided us through the many works of art.
Why did I like it?
Because it is actually more of an Indonesia history gallery. The paintings are used as photos to describe the last 100 years of the country past.
I will remember for ever two paints of the same Dutch/Indonesia history event. Although it is the same subject, the two painters (a Dutch and an Indonesian) have a completely different interpretation. Probably one of the first form of information manipulation. I am still not sure which interpretation is correct though. I would tend to go for the Indonesian one.
If you think you need a break after a long walking day, well probably it’s time to visit a body massage shop.
The biggest question is which one
Here is the answer.
I was taken there with a group of 30 people and I was sceptical on the capacity of this massage centre, especially considering the small front area.
Once in, I could not believe to my eyes. It was a real maze of massage rooms, I guess the biggest massage centre of Jakarta. The service was awesome and I got really regenerated.
One hour of massage costs around $10 and, based on my experience, it is a real bargain.
I am not sure how, but I ended up in the cinema room for my massage and for the first time in my life I had a masseur working on my body with the Batman return movie in the background, probably not the most relaxing sound, especially considering it was the German version with English subtitles. I know everything happens to me!!
The Bogor Botanical Garden is probably the most relaxing place you can find in the Jakarta area.
It’s only 60km from the city and, by bus, took me around 1 hour and a half. You can also take the train from the old station of Kota Tua (service every hour).
I easily spent half a day walking in the botanical garden and I believe I just scratched the surface.
The size of it is quite remarkable, 87 hectares!!
I did not find any particular highlight. It’s more about spending a relaxing day wondering around the many species of trees and plants, over 15,000 of them.
It’s definitely an heaven for some cool photography, better if you have someone to add into your photo, to give an idea of the size of this verdant wonderland.
It was the case of this gigantic bamboo, never seen anything like that in my life!
Photography in Jakarta is a real delight. The area I liked the most was Glodok, for the multicultural community, for the small alleys that can take you to some beautiful corners of the city and for the many temples, great subject for any travel photography.
I never experienced a problem taking portrait of people. My approach is usually “face to face”. I start talking with the person, a couple of words on where I come from and I show the camera asking to take a photo. I was always said yes, no worries. I would show the photo to the person and give my email in case they would like to have a copy.
What it surprised me the most was the way kids approached me to have a picture of them and I couldn’t say no. I usually never take photos of children unless they have the parents around and I ask their permission explaining what I do. However in Jakarta, and Indonesia, it was impossible not to. They really wanted to see their pictures on my camera monitor.
For some architectural photography I would suggest a walk in Kota Tua, direction to the Kota Intan Bridge. You will find some amazing buildings from the Dutch era. A few of them are in desperate need of refurbishment, which is a pity. Check below the map with the itinerary for a Jakarta city tour
About the gear and setting I mostly used.
I had with me a Nikon D600 with two lenses. A 50mm f/1.8 which I used in all the markets and whenever I was focusing on people portrait. I also had a 24-120mm to cover most of the other cases.
Honestly I hardly used any focal length above 50mm which is why I would suggest to take with you only a wide angle and a 50mm. No need of a zoom in the city.
If you are still in the process to buy a travel camera you may want to have a look to the most updated review of the Best Travel Cameras currently in the market.
The camera and lenses I had with me were a bit too heavy for my like. I believe a mirrorless would have worked much better
I mostly shot in Manual mode with few times in Aperture mode.
On my first day in Jakarta I had a typical white blown out sky. In that case I went to Manual mode, I shot few photos to establish the best exposure and I used it all the day through. I changed to Aperture mode when the light was not anymore consistent
I organised some spare time to look for a couple of things for my camera and my tablet. I am not sure how better are the prices, probably they are, however I needed these things anyway.
The first shopping mall I visited was the Glodok Plaza. Unfortunately I could not find anything for my camera. The shops seemed to have mostly equipment for audio, sometime in huge size. I eventually found a shop in the basement that sold anything you could need for your laptop and mobile. I bought a waterproof bag for my mobile which I later used during my rafting in Bali.
It costed me $2!! Great buy however I would probably not use this bag during snorkeling 😉
The other shopping mall I visited was the ITC Manga Dua. This is a 5 floors malls specialised mostly in clothes and bags. It can be slightly overhelming due to the huge amount of shops offering similar, if not the same, articles. I had to take a picture of this place. I just found it amazing. I felt like being in a footbal stadium.
The camera shops are on the right wing, on the 2nd floor. The choice was not as wide as I expected. I found however some new gear for my tablet 😉
If you are after any kind of clothes, at any quality and price, than the ITC shopping mall is definitely a destination not to be missed.
I know, so many things to do in Jakarta that 2 days will be just full of activities, which is great
I changed two hotels in Jakarta. The main reason was that I really wanted to take a night photo from the top of the Takes Hotel. This accommodation is organised in two buildings and, on both of them, you can find a swimming pool with an amazing view to the city. My room was really big and clean. It’s not a luxury hotel however they provide a good service and extensive breakfast. All I needed really.
My second hotel was the Mercure Sabang, very close to Takes and meters away from the Monumen and Museum Nasional. Definitely a great hotel with a beautiful swimming pool in the inner courtyard. Rooms are just fabulous and the breakfast choice will probably help you to go through the day without lunch!! An hotel I would suggest without hesitation.
On the first day I was on my own and I decided to use Uber Motorbike. That was the best choice of the day. For $1-2 I could go everywhere and by motorbike I took half of the time, if not less, than by car or bus. There is obviously a risk of riding a motorbike with a driver you do not really know.
I had 3 rides and they were all without any trouble. I definitely noticed how the riders were driving very carefully, I guess because of me, which I really appreciated.
There are another two local operators, called Grab and Go-Jek. You just need to download the app.
There were so many motorbike drivers that the pickup time in all occasions was below 5 minutes. I received the number plate and I just waited for it.
The other days I used the bus together with a group of people and although more practical it took more time.
Because of the importance to have first-hand experience, I accepted in this trip the assistance of Travel Indonesia, however I never promised a positive coverage, just my honest experience.
Stef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.
Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry.
Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world.