Asian Adventure: Jakarta – A Capital With Heart and Traffic

The second destination of the South-East Asia tour after Singapore was Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Thunderstorms, Tropical Rain and White Light

The flight from Singapore to Jakarta takes about 2 hours. I flew with AirAsia in one of their brandnew Airbus A319/320. The space on the plane was similarly to Ryanair quite tight, however, you could buy a variety of warm food on the flight.

Street vendor selling fruit in Jakarta, Indonesia

Street vendor selling fruit in Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian capital greeted me with thunderstorm and heavy, tropical rain. It was as if you put the shower on. The humidity was at 100%. Another thing I noticed from the car when leaving the airport: The lights you see are different from Europe. Mostly fluorescent neon lights are used that put everything into a cold, white/blueish light.

Not A Tourist City, Yet Much To Experience

Jakarta is not a tourist city. During the entire stay of about a week, I saw only a handful of visitors in some shopping malls. Jakarta is huge. More than 10 Million people live in this metropolis. What is interesting though, is that the Jakarta is divided into “cities within the city”. In European cities, you often have to go to the other end of the town to get something done. In Jakarta, everything you need is availably within your immediate area.

Flooded highway on the way from the airport into Jakarta

Flooded highway on the way from the airport into Jakarta

The huge amount of people also means that there is a lot of traffic. There is no subway system, hence everybody is using their car or a motorcycle to get from A to B. There is also an express bus system where the buses have their own lanes. Cars and motorcycles must not use the bus lanes, however, nobody seems to care and not even physical barriers seem to hinder cars driving there.

In addition to the sheer amount of cars, the traffic is also very dense. I was very suprised that I did not see any accident, especially since the motorcycles constantly overtake the cars. Timewise, it is quite usual to be 30 minutes in a traffic jam to drive 7 kilometers of road.

Everything Under 30 degrees Is Cold

In contrast to Singapore, many buildings in Jakarta are not fully air conditioned. The installed air conditioning vents make it just “less hot”. It also seems to me that Indonesians have a different sense of temperature: Everything below 30 degrees Celsius is perceived as “cold”.

Traffic in Jakarta - Bus express lane on the right

Traffic in Jakarta – Bus express lane on the right

Many things are less organized (or not organized at all) than in European cities. For example, there is a constant smell of fire in the air because there is always somebody burning something somewhere. Add to that the exhaust from the cars, the chemicals against the Dengue mosquitoes and the humidity and it feels “as if you are breathing cloth” as somebody said. However, I found the air to be not that bad, I had more problems with the heat.

City of Contrasts

Jakarta is also a city of contrasts. While on the one side you can see big luxorious villas with expensive cars parking there, you see on the other side also slums where people live in small hats by a river that carries the sewage water. On some highway entry roads, you also see day laborers waiting to get work for the day.

In other areas, Jakarta can easily match up with other big capitals. There are many restaurants and an extremely well-organized take away service. You can just call and after about 30 minutes someone comes and brings you the food right to your doorstep. Jakarta has also numerous shopping malls and they are top-notch, just like in Singapore or in the US. Prices for luxury goods are of course cheaper than in other cities, but still they cost money.

Another good point: I bought a 3G SIM card for my iPad to surf on the Internet. 3G was often faster than the Wifi offered in restaurants or domestic connections. I could even use it to call home with Skype.