The first things that come to mind about Indonesia’s Jakarta ‒ one of the world’s biggest and most chaotic cities ‒ may be traffic jams and floods.
But try conquering the clubs, restaurants and colonial heritage buildings in the capital of the world’s most populous Muslim country and you might change your views on “the Big Durian” ‒ named after a pungent fruit that is divine to locals.
How to make the most of your time in the Indonesian capital:
6 pm: Most Jakartans will head home at this time or go for coffee to pep themselves up for a big night. For a happy hour drink, head to the wood-panelled Facebar near the central Plaza Indonesia roundabout, where you can down the local Bintang beer or lychee martinis on daybeds.
8 pm: Head to the north of the city and the colonial area to sample Peranakan cuisine, a fusion created by 19th century Chinese immigrants to Dutch-ruled Java. Restaurant Dapur Babah serves up dishes such as potato and crab croquettes and stingray cooked in ginger, in a refurbished shop of dark colours and antique statues.
11 pm: The night beckons at the Stadium club in the old town area. The pride of Jakarta clubbers, the four-floor venue is so dark you wouldn’t recognise your twin dancing next to you to the blast of techno and house tunes.
9 am: The best way to get around is to hire a car or a Bluebird taxi, unless you’re game for an “ojek” motorbike taxi. Go for a stroll in Monas, a green central square full of families flying kites and dominated by a gold-topped obelisk. On a clear day, you can see Java’s central volcanic highlands. On the west side is the National Museum.
10.30 am: Head back to the north to see the Dutch capital Batavia, now called “kota” or city, by daylight. On the way, stop for a wander around the modern Istiqlal mosque.
11 am: Through the crumbling white streets of the old town, find Taman Fatahillah square, a popular hangout for students strumming guitars. Check out the quirky puppetry gallery and other museums, or head further north to the Sunda Kelapa port where old schooner sailing ships line up as far as the eye can see to collect sacks of goods, a throwback to medieval days.
1 pm: At Taman Fatahillah, go to Cafe Batavia to grab Western or Chinese food. Neither is top notch, but the upper floor overlooks the square.
3 pm: Head back to the city centre. If you still have energy, join the locals to jostle and haggle for clothes, computers, or just about anything at Ambassador Mall in the Mega Kuningan business area.
Or try an Indonesian massage in one of many luxury hotel spas, such as the central Four Seasons or the Dharmawangsa hotel in southern Jakarta.
7 pm: Challenge your chili limits at Beautika for cuisine from Manado in north Sulawesi island, the hottest in Indonesia, such as cumi woku blanga, or squid curried in chilies, lemongrass, lime leaves, basil and more chilies.
9 pm: Southern suburb Kemang, full of boutique shops and restaurants, is also for bar hopping. Try Tipsy lounge, Nu China or Second Floor. If there’s a tropical downpour, it might be better to avoid the risk of getting stuck in Kemang’s narrow, crowded streets. The more central Senayan Arcadia building has Red Square, with a colourfully lit table that some mistake for the dance floor after a few vodkas.
8 am: Go for Sunday breakfast at Social House, at Grand Indonesia mall, for an eggs benedict or pancakes, overlooking the Hotel Indonesia roundabout made famous by the film “The Year of Living Dangerously.”
9.30 am: Head to Alun Alun in the mall for gifts, from Javanese silk scarves to bold mother-of-pearl jewellery and Papuan totem poles, and a good selection of English language books.
10 am: Take a stroll into colonial suburb Menteng, now a leafy diplomatic enclave and home to the families of former presidents Suharto and Megawati. You’ll need to first cross the main Thamrin road. It’s closed to traffic twice a month on Sunday mornings, when it is filled with trendy crowds showing off their colourful and brakeless fixed-gear bicycles or “fixies.”
In Menteng, you can walk past the modest school on Jalan Besuki that US President Barack Obama attended during his childhood years in Jakarta, and which has a statue of him as a boy. Or shop for top quality batiks in Bin House at Jalan Purworejo, where designer Obin can teach you about the cloth.
12 pm: By now, you’ll need refuelling and to escape the heat. Try imperial Javanese cuisine at Lara Djonggrang, set in a former Chinese temple and serving fish satay in giant shells or beef curried with the spices from the Spice Islands.
4 pm: Pack your bags and head north, en route to the airport, and relax with a drink ‒ a Coriander Martini maybe ‒ as the sun sets at the Segarra restaurant, overlooking Jakarta Bay.