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A weekend in Jakarta

After my exhilarating first taste of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, which is located on Java (the largest of 18,307 islands in the Indonesian archipelago), I found the city to be full of surprises.

Admittedly, I was initially hesitant to visit. I had heard about the sweltering heat, the bombardment of exhaust from vehicles channelling themselves from twelve lanes into four, as well as the unpleasant number of tourists in the city. But, be that as it may, I soon got used to the chaotic lifestyle and found myself enjoying the Indonesian culture.

The only negative memory I have was the infamous traffic. A journey from the airport which should have taken 30 minutes, took around two hours. Not ideal after having already spent the day on two planes. Never the less, it was a journey that was worth the wait.

Once we finally arrived at the The Millennium Hotel Sirih, located right in the heart of Jakarta, we relaxed and started to enjoy the buzzing surroundings. Not only were we upgraded to club level rooms, but the hotel staff were really friendly and attended to our every need.

The following morning, we headed down for some breakfast. The buffet appeared to be a typical Indonesian selection of curries, meats and rice. In that way it was very similar to some local Thai dishes.

With a little help and advice from the hotel staff, we made our way to the famous local Tanah Abang Textile Market. It was a large indoor market of local clothing and jewellery, mostly aimed towards women. You could find just about anything, although it was evident that we were the only tourists there.

We then took a long walk along on the western side of Merdeka Square, where the National Museum, built in 1862, is located. This museum is definitely the one museum in the city that’s an essential visit.

The neo-classical colonial structure has an enormous collection. Around the open courtyard is some magnificent statuary including a colossal 4.5m stone image of a Bhairawa king from Rambahan in Sumatra, who is shown trampling on human skulls.

As we walked through the ethnology section, we were blown away by the impressive delicacies on display. There was a collection of Dayak puppets and wooden statues from Nias bearing beards (a sign of wisdom) as well as some beautiful textiles. The collection of Balinese tribal masks and jewellery were stunning, and the museum included historical fascinating information to go along with it. It left me wanting to see more of Indonesia in general. Over in the spacious new wing there are four floors with sections devoted to the origin of mankind in Indonesia. I was particularly impressed with the display of gold treasures from Candi Brahu in Central Java, which featured unique glittering necklaces, armbands and other authentic jewels.

Along with the swanky shopping malls scattered around the city, there were also local boutiques located on every corner. Here you could find handmade dresses for women and shirts for men, all beautifully designed. It seemed very clear, that despite the heavy traffic and chaos, there were hidden gems all over the city.

On our last day, we decided to drive two and a half hours out of the city and head to Bandung, the capital of West Java. The city lies on a river basin surrounded by volcanic mountains. We drove to Kawah Putih, a striking crater lake and tourist spot in a volcanic crater about 50km south of Bandung. The lake is 2,430 metres above sea level so the local climate is often quite chilly, which made a brisk change from the humidity of Jakarta.

We drove through the mountains and discovered pleasant local villages, as well as beautiful tea and rice farms. The views were magnificent and it was a delightful break from the crowds of the city. On our way back, we stopped off at a local restaurant which was a family run business. They served us an array of local Indonesian delicacies, including rice surrounded by meat and vegetables and chicken and beef curries. I found Jakarta was full of friendly optimistic faces, fascinating historical landmarks and it was a great weekend destination. From the vibrant colourful food, to the positive people, to the markets, there were plenty of enjoyable things to do.

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