Jakarta in a day

You can’t see everything in Jakarta in just one day. But if that’s all you have, this tour will take you across the city to sample its offerings in history, culture, and food:

8:00 am – Breakfast and Pasar Baru

Catch breakfast at Bakso Rusuk Samanhudi, where their specialties are traditional Indonesian bakso (meatballs) and rusuk (braised ribs). Spoil yourself and get both in menu item #1 (Bakso Urat + bakso Kecil + Rusuk) because you’re going to be doing a lot of walking before lunch. And if you loved it, come back here any time; the restaurant is open 24 hours.

After breakfast, walk down Pasar Baru and watch the market wake up (it officially opens at 9:00 am). Here you’ll find food stalls, clothing and fabric stores, shoe shops, and all sorts of other odds and ends. Watch out for the occasional ojek (motorbike) careening down the street.

Bakso Rusuk Samanhudi storefront. “Buka 24 Jam” means “Open 24 hours”.
The tender, fall-apart-at-a-touch rusuk (rib meat).

10:00 am – The Mosque and Cathedral

Wander south and you’ll encounter Istiqlal Mosque, Indonesia’s national mosque and the largest in Southeast Asia. Dress modestly and register with the front desk, and you’re free to admire the architecture inside. Across the street you’ll find the St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, the seat of Catholic worship in Indonesia. Again, dress modestly and you’re free to look around and admire the gothic architecture. Given the conflict in the rest of the world, the peaceful coexistence of these two houses of worship so close together is inspiring.

Watching the traffic on a rainy day in front of the Istiqlal Mosque.

11:00 am – National Monument (Monas)

Southwest of the mosque and cathedral is the Monument Naisonal (National Monument), also known as Monas. Housed in a massive park, the tower holds a gold-leaf flame atop to symbolize the struggle for Indonesian independence. Reliefs depicting the fight for independence surround the tower’s base, and during business hours you can ascend to the top (though the wait can be long and the elevators crowded). The surrounding park affords a relaxing walk and souvenir vendors, but it can be hard to find your way in and out as the park only has entrances at each of its four corners.

The National Monument (Monas), with the dome of the Istiqlal Mosque in the background (lower left).

12:30 pm – Lunch on Agus Salim Street

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head south to Agus Salim Street, which is famous for its street food. Grab a quick nasi goreng with telur (egg) or ayam (chicken), or get a bowl of mie (soupy noodles) with chopped meat and veggies. You won’t find many English speakers here, so brush up on your Indonesian foods and come armed with a smile and some patience. Eat quickly if it’s a Thursday and you want to catch the guided English-language tour at the National Museum.

Mie ayam (noodles and diced chicken) from Agus Salim street.

1:30 pm – National Museum

Hurry back up the street to the National Museum, where on Thursdays you can catch an English-language tour by the Indonesian Heritage Society at 1:30 pm (double check tour times at the link). If it’s not Thursday, explore on your own. The museum houses thousands of artifacts illustrating Indonesia’s diverse history and culture, so it’s best to choose a couple of exhibits rather than cover the whole museum.

The National Museum building, as seen from the courtyard/garden in front of it.

3:30 pm – Shopping mall stroll

After visiting the National Museum, it’s time to indulge in some consumerism at the massive mall plazas that sprawl just to the south of the National Monument Park. Catch bus line 1 south from the Monumen Nasional stop in front of the museum and take it three stops to Busway Bundaran Hotel Indonesia. Cross the street and you’ll find yourself between the Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, two enormous, multi-story malls. Complete with themed food courts, international brands, and batik boutiques, you could literally and figuratively get lost in these malls for hours. This is a good chance to stock up on a quality batik scarf of dress, indulge in a quality coffee, or just marvel at the difference in development and income between these malls and the Pasar Baru Market only a couple of miles away.

A fountain at the Grand Indonesia
A nautically-themed restaurant, complete with a faux sailboat dining area, light house, and painted blue sky.

6:00 pm – Explore and dine at Blok M

Catch bus line 1 south again and ride 30 minutes (10 stops) to the end of the line at Blok M. If you’re worn out from the consumerism, get some fresh air by wandering the streets around Blok M station or head to Martha Tiahahu park for some greenery. Blok M also hosts a plethora of stores for gemstones, secondhand books, and records if you’re not done with shopping. You can also get an early drink here at a bar, but careful of what you order as we’ve heard there can be hidden charges.

A man makes nasi goreng (fried rice) on the street near Blok M.

Once darkness falls and the shops of Blok M shutter, head to the Blok M Square for the nightly food market that sprouts up on the sidewalk outside. You’ll find a panoply of traditional Indonesian food on offer, but to sample the greatest variety get some padang—look for a long table with dozens of dishes on it. Get a plate of rice from the vendor and then load it down with whatever catches your fancy – I’d recommend the quail eggs on skewers, fried egg, braised eggplant in sauce, and sweet gudeg. Pay at the end based on how many dishes you got and doff your shoes to take a seat at one of the low tables nearby. When you’re done, indulge in dessert with an STMJ – a local drink made with milk, spicy ginger syrup, honey, and egg, topped with a thick froth and caramelized with a blowtorch.

A padang vendor at the Blok M food market.
Our padang plate: rice, braised eggplant, green beans, gudeg, and quail eggs.
The Blok M market STMJ, with extra ginger concoction on the side for more spiciness (clear glass).

Buses run until 11:00 pm, so when you’re done you can catch one back to your hotel/hostel. Or if you want an all-nighter, you can stay until 3:00 am, when the food stalls pack up for the night to make way for the 5:00 am bulk goods market.

Jakarta: Photos from around

Night traffic in Jakarta

Jakarta is a sprawling megacity, with 10 million people crammed into an area smaller than New York City. The people here come from a kaleidoscope of cultures and faiths; dozens of Indonesian ethnic groups rub elbows and the majority Muslim community lives alongside communities of Buddhists, Christians, Catholics, and Hindus. It’s business as usual for the thousand year-old seaport, which has seen waves of nearly all the world’s religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity) carried on the tides of trade routes.

Indonesia’s wealth has increased in the past decade, but with it has come rising income inequality that is etched into Jakarta’s cityscape. We’re staying in Glodok, an industrial area near the seaport characterized by corrugated aluminum roofing, wooden market stalls, and open sewers in the streets. But take a bus thirty minutes south and you’ll find yourself in Central Jakarta neighborhoods like Menteng, surrounded by walled mansions and multi-story malls with marble floors pushing the latest luxury brands, where doors are opened for you by bellhops who speak perfectly unaccented English. The economic disparity in the city is jarring—residents of Glodok and Menteng may share a city, but they live in different worlds.

In spite of the wealth gap, nearly everyone we meet in Jakarta is happy to see us. Any smile from us is immediately returned by a passing person. On the bus and around town, people who speak English ask us about our travels and translate our responses for excited relatives. Gaggles of schoolchildren approach you at tourist attractions, tasked by their teachers to interview tourists as English homework, and in nervous giggles ask about your favorite Indonesian food. I’ve never felt more welcome in a country where I don’t speak the language. It’s as if the entire country is excitedly curious about you, reaching out to embrace you in every act.

Jakarta rush hour seen from Glodok, where five rows of cars fit into four lanes and sometimes the motorbikes skip traffic via the bus lane (right).


The square in front of the Jakarta History Museum in Kota Tua.


Stoytcho tries a hot bowl of wedang ronde, a local sweet snack.


A variety of dishes offered at a padang stall in the Blok M food market.


People watch rainy-day traffic in front of the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. Across the street is the Jakarta Cathedral; both houses of worship have coexisted on this street for decades.


Two girls, one with a headscarf, walk together in front of the Jakarta History Museum in Kota Tua.


A puppet made for Wayang, the traditional Indonesian shadow puppet theater.


A nasi goreng (fried rice) stall on the street.


The narrow, makeshift market-crammed streets of Chinatown, near Glodok.


Pipes empty into a streetside open sewer in Glodok.


A fountain in the Grand Indonesia Mall.


The National Monument (Monas), commemorating the country’s fight for independence.


A woman and her child in an ojek (motorbike) parking lot.


We take a selfie with Indonesian students that interviewed us for their English class.

Cusco: First Impressions

The rainy season’s clouds settle over Cusco

Country number six: Peru. After a few flights and a terrible layover, we landed in Cusco around 10 am. We were exhausted, but managed to find the correct bus to our hostel, accidentally got off a stop too early, and then trudged uphill to our hostel. Maybe it was the week of pampering on the Galapagos, or maybe it was the thin air, but these first stairs in Cusco were some of the hardest I’ve climbed. One hostel bed and a blessed nap later, we left to explore the city.

Sitting at nearly 3,400 meters above sea level (more than 11,000 feet), Cusco is a high-altitude city normally populated by posh tourists, adventurous thrill-seekers, and local Peruvians trying to make a living. But because we arrived in the low (rainy) season, the narrow cobblestone streets of the city were decidedly quiet, while the sky alternated between bright blue and threats of rain. Here’s our first impression in photos:

An empty street in Cusco’s hills
Women selling tours gather to chat in Plaza de Armas
A thrill-seeker rides his bicycle down the steep steps in a hillside neighborhood
A signpost explains the layout of Prehispanic Cusco; the original city was laid in the shape of a jaguar along cardinal directions of Mayan myth
A family relaxes at a park overlooking Cusco
A mural on the wall in a restaurant and bar
Vendor shops in an alcove near Plaza de Armas
Construction workers demonstrate in the street at dusk

An alternate view of Cusco, not unlike the one you might experience while fainting from the thin air here (just kidding — playing with new photo angles)