Cool bars that stay open late, eye-popping modern art, uber fashion, masses of shopping, hot, hot food. And traffic hell, smog and slums. Welcome to Jakarta. The capital of Indonesia and Canberra have a, well, complex neighbourly relationship. We share highly combustible issues such as people smuggling, drug smuggling and terrorism. Despite that, Australia and Indonesia do robust trade and legendary Bali remains the third top holiday destination for Aussies. Jakarta, not so much.
First, the facts:
- Indonesia’s population is about 240 million and is the world’s most populous Muslim nation
- There are more people connected to social media than in other any nation on earth
- Many Indonesians live below the poverty line
- Jakarta’s population is close to 11 million, making it the largest city in South-East Asia
- It covers 661 square kilometres
- Established in the 4th Century, it became the capital of the Dutch West Indies, known as Batavia, from the 1600s until 1942 when the Indonesians kicked the Dutch out and renamed it Jakarta
I’m Jakarta for just a few days, where modern and traditional jostle for attention. Like other big Asian cities, the rush to modernise towers over the traditional, but the essence of the culture still permeates down. Mega mall monoliths have arrived and Indonesians love to shop. They’re extremely friendly and helpful to visitors. English is more widely spoken than I imagine and people go out of their way to point you in the right direction.
All the world’s big name hotels are here and The Pullman Jakarta Central Park Hotel is the newest five-star establishment. This is where I am a guest. It looks more like a funky pop-art museum than it does a hotel. Cutting edge design at its most hip, and at its most whimsical.
It’s about 30 minutes from Seokarno-Hatta International Airport (depending on the traffic) and 15 minutes (ditto the traffic) from the Sudiman Central Business District. All 317 rooms feature the contemporary art style, with 24-hour in-room wi-fi and floor to ceiling views of the Jakarta skyline.
I arrive on a Sunday night which is quiet for the hotel. There seem to be more smiling staff standing to attention than there are guests. Check-in is smooth – I’m offered a cold drink while I wait and have barely time for a sip before I’m given my swipe cards – and my bags are delivered to my room. The lobby’s modern minimalist design, in 50 shades of grey, is called “industrial raw” and your eye is diverted almost immediately by the art installations and attention to detail – from the pop art chair coverings to the sculptures of lower torso and legs adjacent to the bar. A vivid, almost neon bead curtain separates this from the lobby area. Sculptures of skipping babies, on the way to the elevators, are as amusing as they are visually arresting.
The Collage restaurant comprises a veritable United Nations of food islands where you can elegantly eat your way around the world. Mini kitchens are set up within the islands to cook you a la carte. Spicy Indonesian food is there too. The wine selection is eclectic. It feels wrong to settle for a chilled Bintang, but I often think tasting the local beer is a good way to orientate. I have the best fettucini I’ve ever tasted and the elegant panna cotta dessert is under 200 calories. The dessert is part of a five-course lunch menu for under 1,000 calories. For breakfast I can’t face a large group of strangers, and prefer the cozier atmosphere of the business lounge dining room on the 12th floor, where fruit, pastry, a quiet read of the newspaper and two cups of coffee are my apres tai chi rewards.
The pool at the Pullman on the upper first floor is outside under the gaze of adjacent apartment buildings, so there’s a good chance you’ll be splashing around with an audience. Access to the pool isn’t straight forward – you have to find the sign, go along a corridor and down a flight of stairs.
The Fit and Spa lounge, now open 24 hours, has a gym with all the usual equipment. The 24/7 is a good idea for guests with jet lag who can’t sleep. I’m averse to gyms, I prefer to walk as much as possible when I travel, so I do an 8am tai chi class on the hotel roof’ garden instead. A zen way to start the day. Spa treatments are inexpensive by Western standards, and I have a body scrub followed by a yogurt rinse, and then a mini-facial which is just over $A60 for almost two hours in total. My skin is baby soft and I leave a good tip.
The hotel has huge conference rooms and four ballrooms. One appears to be the size of Antarctica. It’s actually 4586 sq m and caters for up to 5000 guests. There’s also a Business Centre service, with wi-fi in meeting rooms and the public area.
The ground floor bar, Bunk, is groovy. The barmen will make you any cocktail under the sun or help you concoct your own. Their Bloody Mary is an art form. Literally. I made my own up, called Jakarta Jump (top picture, glass on the left). Recipe in another post. Ditto on shopping. Patience is a virtue.
I’ll go back to visit again, fingers and legs crossed. My overwhelming impression: Jakarta is funky. Who knew?