#1. The traffic jam in Jakarta can get really, really bad.
Please, do not, at any one time underestimate the traffic. It can literally halt into a standstill, with zero space on the road for motorcyclists to weave through. And when it rains, good luck trying to find a Go-Jek too (you will find none).
My advice especially if you are visiting the “it” mall of Jakarta - Grand Indonesia:
Avoid staying near Grand Indonesia/Plaza Indonesia/Thamrin City, unless you’re here for work and all your meetings are in that area. There’s a jam almost throughout the day.
Avoid leaving Grand Indonesia, and PIK (Pantai Indah Kapuk) area at peak hour timings 5pm - 8pm
And if you ever get caught in a jam near Grand Indonesia (highly likely), you can consider getting off at UOB* just at the corner and walk inside yourself.
UOB Address: Jl. M.H. Thamrin No.Kav 8-10, RT.14/RW.20, Kb. Melati, Tanah Abang, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10230
#2. You MUST plan your activities by location.
For e.g., in Jakarta, 4km on the map 40mins (average traffic), or more (if there’s a jam). Hence, Jakarta is not the place where you can be spontaneous, google and then take off to any place you fancy. The traffic jam will kill your wanderlust vibes. So yes, plan. in. advance. So I’d usually group activities for the day that is within 1 location, for e.g. Day 1 - Senopati area, Day 2 - SCBD area etc..
#3. Track where your driver is going using Google Maps.
Not because they will bring you to some secluded place and kidnap you, no - Jakarta is a relatively safe place, and their grab / go-jek drivers perform their work with pride.
So, there are some Grab-car / Go-jek / Bluebird taxi drivers who perhaps do not have data on their mobile/ do not know how to follow a map/ pride themselves in knowing every corner of Jakarta but they don’t. Those aren’t the majority, but neither are they a small minority. It happens from time to time, and they might just take the wrong routes, thus delaying your travel.
If you absolutely do not know any word of Bahasa Indonesia, I strong suggest you read my blog post under “Life Hacks” —> Bahasa Language Cheat Sheet (Learn this first). You should at least know how to say “turn right, turn left, here”. I survived guiding an elderly taxi driver do did not know how to read e-maps from the airport just using this 3 phrases all the way to my home (45 mins journey, mind you).
So, I’m sorry, but for the first half of your ride, please stay awake. You will know by then if your driver knows his way around or not.
Also note that due to the way the government plans their road system, the time taken to go to a destination (A to B) is not the same as time taken to head back (B to A), because it may be a completely different route.
#4. There aren’t much decent pavements around (except for CBD area), so it’s not a place where you can do much walking.
Or if you do decide to walk from point to point, wear comfortable shoes - shoes which you don’t mind dirtying. The pavements are usually uneven, so for your safety do not look at the phone while walking, you will very likely trip over protruding bricks or something.
#5. Unless you are going to religious sites/kampung or “local-ish” areas, Jakarta is a modern city, it’s OK to show some skin*!
You know those days where asian parents would advise you to cover yourself when heading to Jakarta, “no sleeveless, no shorts..”?? This is far from the Jakarta I know! Nowadays when shopping in malls, it is a common sight to see millennials wearing sleeveless tops, or even short skirts (above knee length). Heck, I wear skorts covering only half my thigh and take go-jeks to mall! And yea, I haven’t even mentioned how the ladies dress when they head to a bar.
*note that by “showing skin” I do not mean that it is ok to walk around with daisy dukes showing your buttock cheeks, not wearing bra, showing ample cleavage… you get the idea.
Salutations for the clueless:
#6. Follow these few salutations:
So, I have verified this with the locals:
You may address service staff (note: whom you do not know) “mba”, pronounced as “mm-bah”. For e.g. “Mba, bill please?” Do not use mba for people whom you are familiar with, because this is mainly used for people who are servicing you, and may sound condescending to the recipient.
The uncles who are street side hawkers selling bakso/food, are usually addressed as “bang” or “ah bang”, which means “brother”. For the uninitiated, it’s pronounced as “bah-ng”, like in bah bah black sheep, not bang like the Big Bang Theory.
For everything else, if you are unsure and do not want be offensive, it is always safe and respectful to call a lady “ibu” and a gentleman “pak”, regardless of seniority/age. You will never go wrong addressing anyone “ibu” or “pak”!
#7. Tap water is NOT drinkable here in Jakarta.
Water is safe to bath, to gargle, but not for consumption.
#8. Toilet Manners: do not flush toilet paper down the WC.
Throw it in the bins which they will provide beside the the toilet.
#9. Bring masks; Jakarta is one of the most polluted cities in the world.
If you are going to be ferried around in a car, and go to air-conditioned places every where, then you do not need to heed this advice. But if you do expect to do some walking, or take a go-jek, do bring along a mask for health reasons. You can also check the PSI index before coming to Jakarta.
#10. Do not be alarmed if you hear loud speakers suddenly blaring in the dead of the night (430am). It’s just the daily routine muslim calls to prayer.
It’s just muslim prayers, there are 5-6 timings throughout the day. They can be really loud and might disrupt your sleep. You can google Islamic prayer times, if you want to know the exact timing, which varies slightly everyday depending on the sun.
#11. Jakarta’s weather is either sunny or rainy.
The 1st half of the year tends to be more rainy, maybe every 2 days, and the 2nd half is mostly sunny. Sounds pretty much like the weather in Singapore, but it is much less humid in Jakarta. To be sure, just check the weather forecast.
All the national tourist spots like the National Monument, Museum Bank Indonesia, Fatahillah Square, Kota Tua, Museum Wayang, Ancol Park, or even the zoo are often located at areas in Jakarta where traffic is very heavy. My childhood friend and her husband were stuck in a 8 hour traffic and they didn’t even get to go to the zoo! (they decided to make a U-turn after being stuck for 4 hours and got stuck for a further 4 hours).
So unless you have an intense hunger to understand the country’s history through its museums and landmarks, you might really want to reconsider going to these places.
Jakarta is known more for its hipster cafe/food/arts/music/bar/club scene, to “eat”, “shop” and “party”.
I have a couple of posts under my “FOODING” section, on the must-go places in Jakarta, which I have grouped them by locations, for your ease. Do check it out!