Our towns: Jakarta

What can we say about Jakarta? It's crowded, the traffic's terrible, it has a traffic management system that so confuses so many people they don't know if they are allowed to drive on any given day, the city often grinds to a halt because of political marches.. and despite all of this it remains one of the world's great cities. We almost never stop smiling every time we go and we wish it was far more often. Also it's just the other side of the equator for most of our delegates so for fun you can watch the water go down the plug-hole creating a "back to front" vortex. Why wouldn't you want to come to Jakarta with us?

Sometimes, when we hold events in Jakarta, we hold them at the airport hotel. It's easy for visitors, especially in the rainy season when the main road between the city and the airport can be a problem and it's easy for Jakarta-based delegates because they don't have to deal with Jakarta traffic to get there. We always hold one day events near the airport.

Other times, we go right into the city centre where the venues are smarter and, for multi-day events, we and delegates have access to Jakarta's superb restaurant and entertainment scene.

We hear you: how much trouble can I get into? The answer is lots but we're not going to help you. Like any big city, there are fleshpots and places it's not a great idea to go. However, with sense and care, you will find Jakarta is a wonderful place to go for a stroll, pick up some food from food stalls (if you are squeamish, check what you are ordering: parson's noses on a stick are a particular local favourite but don't look like they do when they are attached to a chicken!).

One of Jakarta's delights is eating in proper restaurants - the sort that have tablecloths and everything - that serve good food at remarkably low prices. Delegates from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are often surprised by the relative cost for similar quality food and surroundings.

Getting around

Jakarta can be a traffic nightmare and while there are commuter trains to the suburbs, there is no intra-city railway. Buses are almost mythical. So that throws you the default setting of taxis.

Before looking for a taxi - check if your hotel has an airport shuttle and if it does, always, always use it, even if you have to wait for it to arrive and/or it will arrive at the airport a while before you need to check in.

If you use a taxi, use Bluebird or Silverbird: this is not an advertisement - it's that they are well maintained taxis from reputable companies and use the meter without argument. You absolutely DO NOT want to get into any kind of unregulated car.

DO NOT use a freelance motorcycle taxi: it's a lottery both as to charge and whether you actually get to where you are going safely or at all.

You can also book a taxi on-line via Grab - see https://www.grab.com/id/en/taxi/ . We use Grab all over Asia so we are happy to mention it - not an advert or an endorsement.

Airport

Soekarno–Hatta International Airport : CODE CDK (be careful: don't accidentally buy a ticket to Paris!!)
Web: http://soekarnohatta-airport.co.id/en/home

All major carriers plus many low cost airlines.

Airport special features: it's almost impossible to get an alcoholic drink inside the airport. Duty free alcohol is available at the Lotte Duty Free shop in terminal D2 (departures - we cannot speak as to arrivals).

We absolutely love the architecture of CDK: it reminds us of Thunderbirds - it's a perfect 1970s idea of what a tropical building should be. Take time to look around.

Changes to the visa system mean no more USD25 per arrival, page filling visa for holders of more than 100 passports. But that doesn't mean you don't have to queue at immigration. You will. But it's no worse than Hong Kong, for example. Those attending a seminar or conference are tourists for immigration purposes.

Journey time to/from the city. In the dry: about 45 minutes to an hour. In the rainy season: if the road floods, it's impossible to say (four hours is not unknown), but ground and draining works have improved the situation in recent years.

The City-Airport Rail Link is due to be completed this year (2017). We wait with bated breath. When it launches, it is expected that the one-way fare will be IDR100,000

When you drive into the city, look out of the car: you will drive through large shanty town areas which are the reason no one knows how many people live in Jakarta.

Food and Drink

Indonesia is a largely Musim country; Jakarta is very cosmopolitan. There are restaurants catering to all tastes and religious requirements and many serving halal food serve beer and wine. Some, of course, do not, so if you want a beer with your curry, check before you sit down.

In bars, cocktails are often made with local liquor some of which is fire-water. Check what you are ordering and what you are going to get. Jakarta has, we are told, some incredibly smart bars that would grace London, Paris or Milan. Maybe we need to get out more when we are there and do our own research!

Local beer is pretty good - it's all lager. Bintang ("Star"), is a very European style drink and relative to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur surprisingly inexpensive. Wine is not a particularly popular drink: selections in most restaurants will be limited, if any and while for run-of-the mill wines it's not expensive, once you start to get into vintage, you will run up a sizeable bill. So stick with house red and white to keep your overheads down :)

Clubs

Jakarta has long has a reputation as wild party city but there have been closures of some of the more, shall we say, dodgy places and, because of trouble in some of them, that's generally been a good thing. The best thing to do for out of towners is to ask a local you trust. Honestly, we don't know: we aren't clubbers and wouldn't have a clue where to go if we were.

Shopping

Lots of opportunities present themselves in large airconditioned shopping centres. In central Jakarta, there are not many shopping districts that you can simply browse about - which is one of the reasons there is so much traffic - residents have to drive here, there and everywhere just to do routine shopping that in many cities residents walk to do. Clothing is particularly well represented in some of the larger shopping areas and for men, so long as you are not European size, the quality and price compares well with KL and SIN, for example.

Language

The official language is Bahasa Indonesia, a form of Malay. But pretty much everyone you come into contact with will speak English, some to almost native standards. Malaysians and Singaporeans using their own versions of English will need to speak a little slowly. Jakarta has a significant American and Australian population and so those versions of English are widely spoken. Also, Jakarta has a history of both the British and the Dutch so "proper" English is quite ingrained, too.

Mobile Phones

Whatever you use at home will work in Jakarta, unless you are still using 800 band GSM: that's being phased out, as in many other countries. Having said that, internet, both mobile and land-line, is often slow and often flaky. It's not because the telcos aren't trying - it's because demand outstrips supply every time improvements are made and, with a massive population, especially one that is young and mobile internet dependent, the demand is stupidly high. Even so, the situation is far better than, say, five years ago where comms would simply give up all hope of working as the capacity of the system was overwhelmed. We've not had reports of that situation for a while.

Currency

Get ready for some mental gymnastics. Remember that IDR100,000 train ticket? At the time of writing (July 2017), that's just under GBP6. When we go to Indonesia, it reminds us of travelling to Italy before the Euro, where the price of cars would be written on boards wider than the car itself (usually to attract attention). Indonesians abbreviate the price of things all the time, sometimes by knocking off three zeros but often by giving the chop to six or even nine. They follow the American definition of billion, using it to mean 1,000 million. Calculating the price in of anything in one's own domestic currency is a major headache. For pounds, we tend to take it to the nearest of 15,000 or 20,000 to the pound and divide accordingly. Dividing by 17.something, as it would be today, is just too much effort.

We'll leave it to you to look at your own conversion rate but here's a word of warning: the long numbers give one a feeling that everything is expensive. Check before having apoplexy: a massage and a room service meal including beer can, in a four star hotel, still cost less than GBP30 in total.

Talking of massage: most hotel massage is well behaved, especially in better class hotels - just ask a local contact if you want a spa day because many locals have sheafs of special offer vouchers from this or that spa and often just throw them away.

WARNING: DRUGS

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES import or attempt to export any narcotics including "weed." The penalties for small quantities are severe and even those can be considered "for distribution" in some cases. "For distribution" convictions often mean the death penalty or a long period in an Indonesian jail and trust us when we say you really, really do not want that. Consular assistance is tolerated in drugs cases but not welcomed. Consular assistance cannot get your charges dismissed if the process of law is properly followed and it almost always is. You no doubt hear stories about people holidaying in parts of Indonesia with magic mushrooms, weed and even tablets or paper slips of this and that. Don't even think about it. Once you are in the sink-hole of Indonesia's drugs enforcement regime, you are unlikely to get out again.

So, that's it - our town of Jakarta. It's wonderful. Join us when we have an event there, especially a multi-day event, and you won't be disaapointed by the city.