Our overnight Qatar Airways flight had arrived into Jakarta’s new Terminal 3 which was spacious and very easy to navigate. Immigration was a speedy process as hardly any other passengers appeared to require the same queue but we did have to wait what seemed like ages for our luggage to appear with our two suitcases being one of the last ones onto the conveyor belt. It was then just a quick walk through Customs where we handed in the completed cards we’d been given on the plane. Quite a lot of passengers seemed to be diverted to a different lane to have their luggage checked but thankfully we had no such problems.
Our next task was to obtain some Indonesian Rupiah from an ATM and for those of you unfamiliar with this currency the numbers are mind boggling and it feels like Monopoly money. The maximum we were able to withdraw was IDR 1.25m which was just under £69 and this comprised 25 IDR 50,000 notes (£2.75) each so our purses were bursting at the seams before even leaving the airport.
We then followed signs to the Sky Train which was free to ride and transported us to the railway station. From a machine we bought tickets to Duri Station and paid for these using our credit card, each ticket IDR 70,000 (£3.87 each). It was 20 minutes until the next departure so we waited in the booking hall until our train appeared. Our journey was on board a modern air conditioned train which had ample luggage storage space and few passengers. There were just a few stops along the way and I spent the time gazing through the windows as we passed ramshackle track-side buildings and dozens of scooters waiting at level crossings for our train to pass.
There was step free access at Duri Station which looked very new and sparkling clean. This was the nearest station to our hotel but as Google maps indicated it would take 35 minutes to walk from there we decided to order a Grab car.
From the station forecourt we managed to latch onto the free Wi-Fi to arrange our transport. Our instructions were to wait across the road which was easier said than done as it was complete mayhem with a lack of pavements and cars and scooters weaving around all over the place, not stopping to let us cross. Somehow we made it across in one piece and within a few minutes a large white taxi appeared with a helpful driver who assisted us with our luggage.
The taxi wound its way through the traffic choked streets eventually depositing us safely at the door of the Novotel Gajah Mada, our home for the next three nights. Our Grab taxi cost IDR 16,000 (80p) and unlike Uber, we needed to pay the driver in cash. It was still only 9.30 a.m. when we checked in and the friendly receptionist informed us that our room would be ready within an hour. To pass the time, we relaxed in the hotel bar on the first floor, where we enjoyed some complimentary welcome hot drinks.
Earlier than promised, the efficient receptionist popped up to the bar with our room keys and explained that she’d already arranged for our luggage to be delivered. Our room was on the 18th of 23 floors and boasted large windows to one side with views of toy sized vehicles moving slowly along the major road below.
As is often the custom in Asian hotels, the bathroom had a glass wall separating it from the bedroom. At first we thought there wasn’t a privacy blind but then located a switch which controlled an electric blind between the double glazing. After quickly unpacking. taking a shower and drinking a cup of tea we felt re-energised and ready to start exploring the Indonesian capital.
Adjacent to the hotel and dwarfed by the high rise buildings surrounding it stands a small heritage 18th century building known as Candra Naya which was originally home to the Khouw family of Tamboen. This listed building is thought to be one of the most beautiful colonial residences in the capital and has been protected by heritage laws.
The building features a traditional Chinese curved roof and a main reception hall with several other small buildings separated from each other by inner courtyards. It looked rather out of place nestled beneath a large office block and the Novotel.
From the hotel foyer we order another Grab car to take us to the edge of the pedestrianised colonial district which marks the historical centre of Jakarta old town. Our Grab car arrived promptly and the fare was just the same as on our earlier journey IDR 16,000 (80p).
Our first stop was to Fatahillah Square which is a large open space surrounded by historic buildings. The square was bustling with activity with school groups, tourists and locals taking in the sights. We hadn’t been there more than a few minutes when a group of secondary school children approached and politely enquired if we could assist them with their English project so we of course obliged.
Four boys each asked us a question whilst a fifth filmed the interview for their school. The boys told us that they were from an Islamic school on the outskirts of the city and none of them had ever visited Great Britain but they did know quite a lot about Liverpool and Manchester United football teams!
Continuing on our way, we took a look inside the beautiful Fine Art and Ceramics Museum on the east side of the square. The building was completed in 1870 and was originally used as a Court of Justice under Dutch rule. After a variety of uses it took on its present role as a museum in 1976. Entrance to the museum was only IDR 5,000 (27p) each and we enjoyed viewing its displays of national handicrafts, paintings, fine art and ceramics despite much of the signage only being in Indonesian.
From there, our next stop was at the Jakarta History Museum which dominates the south side of the square. This building was constructed in 1710 as the City Hall (Stadhuis under Dutch rule). It opened as a museum in 1974 with standard entrance also IDR 5,000 (27p).
The collection includes objects from the Dutch East Indies Company and displays are divided between several galleries from prehistoric to more recent times. As with the Fine Art Museum only a few of the exhibits were labelled in English but it was still interesting to learn something about the country’s Dutch heritage. The layout is very dated and it felt as if it needed modernising to make it more appealing to visitors, especially children.
Leaving the museum my attention was drawn to an old wooden post box in the centre of the square and after examining it we watched people enjoying rides on cycles which were for hire. Unusually, these came equipped with fancy straw hats matching the colour of the bicycles rather than helmets for safety.
Our self guided walking tour of the Dutch colonial district then took us to the Museum Bank Indonesia which was located across a busy main road a short distance away that was exceedingly difficult to cross. Entrance fee IDR 5,000 (27p). This was by far our favourite of the three museums we’d visited during the day. It’s housed in a heritage building which had formerly been the first headquarters of the Central Bank of the East Indies. The bank was nationalised in 1953 after the country gained independence.
In 1863 a new central bank headquarters was opened and after leaving the old building to deteriorate it was finally restored and opened as a museum in 2006. I suggest allowing at least an hour to cover the exhibits which are laid out in an engaging manner taking visitors through the old banking halls, board rooms and offices. Other galleries covered currency, role of the national bank today, etc. with all signage being in English making it easy to understand.
Three museums in one day was quite enough and we were beginning to tire so we tried without success to connect to a Wi-Fi network to arrange a taxi back to our hotel. Almost giving up hope, we spotted a branch of KFC so we called in there and after ordering bowls of chicken soup we used their Wi-Fi to pick up a Grab car back to the hotel, again IDR 16,000 (80p) so I think it must be a flat rate fare for short journeys.
Back at the hotel we relaxed in the sauna and had this to ourselves which was a bonus. After our overnight flight and the five hour time difference, we were starting to feel tired so we chose to eat in one of the small restaurants in the historic area behind the hotel. Rather than sit inside, we chose to sit outdoors as the temperature had dropped slightly feeling quite pleasant.
The menu was only in Indonesian and the staff didn’t speak English but we somehow managed to share butter chicken and beef with green pepper dishes which were served with rice and salad, tasting delicious and not too spicy. These were inexpensive at only IDR 90,000 (£5) for both dishes. Afterwards, we had a short walk familiarising ourselves with the neighbourhood before calling it a day, returning to our room at 10.00 p.m. and falling asleep within seconds.
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