Tips for First-time Visitors to Jakarta

Jakarta can be a bit intimidating for the first-time visitor.  Its reputation precedes it as a big industrial city with few concessions made for tourists.  It’s hot, dirty, smelly, polluted, busy, anarchic.  When you land there, you’ll find it’s not quite as bad as you thought.  Sure, it’s all those negative things, but not as badly as other cities I’ve been to: for ‘hot’ try Dubai; dirty – London; smelly – Bankok; polluted – Santiago; busy – Tokyo; anarchic – Caracas.  Even so, it’s a bit overwhelming to deal with all that AND an unfamiliar culture too.  So here are my basic tips.  In no particular order of importance.  I intend to add to them in future as I think of more:

1. Have the Right Attitude  Patience, calm, humour.  You’ll need these virtues in spades. You will be tested by misunderstandings, people promising and not delivering, services not being available when you want them, the heat and humidity.  It’s considered very poor form to show anger.  Actually, it’s considered poor form to show any emotion at all.  Indonesians work hard to maintain a calm atmosphere, you will lose face if you disrupt their calm.  Anger can get results, but it can easily destroy relationships.  Relationships are the basis of business here.

2.  Changing Money  Credit cards are useful up to a point.  You’ll need cash at least for the taxis and most entertainments.  Change a small amount at the airport in the arrivals hall, enough for a couple of days until you can get to a money changer.  I normally use the money changer in Gedung Setia Budi Building as it’s central. There’s also a good one in Pasar Raya Blok M.  The rates in Jakarta are the best in the country, so if you’re in transit to an outer island, change as much as you’re going to need in Jakarta.  It’s also a nice feeling to have millions in your pocket (even if it’s only rupiah).  Those rupiah aren’t worth much outside Indonesia.  After you leave, you may be able to change them at Changi Airport if you have a connecting flight there.

3  Carry your Passport at All Times  Everyone carries an ID card and the police don’t make an exception for you.  They often set up roadblocks and they will want to check your ID.  If you don’t have it on you, you will have to pay a small ‘fine’.  A photocopy will not be sufficient.  Bring a photocopy in your luggage in case the original gets stolen, but carry the original with you.  Don’t put it in your shirt pocket, find a safe place for it. 

4. Don’t do Anything you’d be Ashamed to do at Home  You’ll get plenty of opportunities to do stupid things.  Try not to do them.  Don’t pick a fight with the scrawny annoying kid who sells cigarettes around the corner from your hotel.  Yes, you will beat him up.  Yes, 20 of his friends will be waiting for you tomorrow night as you walk back from the pub.  They will likely have machetes, but they probably won’t kill you.

5. Don’t bother Bargaining for Small Things  In Bali you bargain for everything.  Jakarta is more businesslike.  People here don’t have much time  for bargaining and prices are generally as low as the merchant can offer.  Most middle class Indonesians don’t bother bargaining for small purchases.  As a foreigner, you’re considered at least middle class, regardless of how wealthy you actually think you are.  You’re rich compared to most Indonesians.  You can bargain clothes and souvenirs – clothes are usually fixed price, but it’s worth asking.  There’s sometimes a big mark up on souvenirs, and they’re more expensive here than Bali, so give it a try.

6. Read My Post about Taxis  In the ‘Transport’ category.

There’s a lot more, I’ll add more as I think of them.


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2 Responses to “Tips for First-time Visitors to Jakarta”

  1. roche Says:

    Thanks for the post. I have some question

    Do you recommend street food?.

    Around the world taxi drivers are difficult people, is better not argue if someone overcharge? is it safe to take any cab?

    About English in the street I guess it is similar as in my country younger people speak well but should be difficult communicate in the street with people not involved in business or transnational co.

    • aboutindo Says:

      Good questions, I’ll add the answers to my list later. But briefly, I would say:
      I do recommend street food. Some of the stalls are famous for providing the best of a certain dish that you will find in Jakarta. If you’re experimenting, just apply common sense – only eat from stalls that are busy; avoid seafood and shellfish unless a local person recommends it; check the vendor and stall for acceptable level of cleanliness.
      Taxis are generally safe, but try to use only bluebirds/silverbirds until you have a feel for where places are and how to pronounce the place names. If you don’t have your own car and driver, you really can’t avoid using the taxis. They will generally use a meter. If they refuse to start the meter – tell them to stop and change cabs, you can always find another one. Carry plenty of change as the drivers don’t like to give money back. Never argue over small amounts, it isn’t worth it and you won’t win.
      People in the street generally can’t speak English, but they are good communicators so you can usually get your transaction done. In general they are friendly. Be respectful to everyone, even the few beggars and salesmen you might come across.

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