Archive for the ‘Travel tips’ Category

Get there Quick by Motorcycle Taxi

May 9, 2010

First time visitors to Jakarta should generally restrict themselves to travelling by taxi if they don’t have a friend to help them get around.  I’ve written about taxis before on this blog.  As an all purpose mode of transport, the taxi is the best, but there are situations which call for alternative means, one of these is the motorcycle taxi, or ‘ojek’.

I usually take an ojek if I need to travel a short distance.  Walking during the daytime causes excessive sweating.  Taxis usually resent giving customers short rides.  I would understand that if I was calling one off a rank, but even the ones you hail from the street don’t like taking short distance fares.  The ojek is ideal for residential back streets.  I try to avoid taking one on the main roads as it can be quite hair-raising and dangerous in heavy traffic, you will also get coated by diesel fumes.  The ojek can also squeeze through traffic jams – while cars are gridlocked, the motorbike can still get through.

The other reason for using ojek is when you’re in a real hurry.  If you really have to get somewhere fast, a taxi isn’t going to do it, especially during rush hour or when it rains.  You will have to accept the additional danger, dirt and discomfort, but if you survive you will have turned a 2 hour trip into 20 minutes.

Finding an ojek is quite easy.  There is generally a designated area at the back exits of major buildings, near pedestrian bridges, neighourhood watch posts and the places where buses tend to stop (notice I didn’t say ‘bus stops’ – buses stop where they feel like stopping).  Just look for a cluster of parked motorbikes.  Sometimes the ojek will find you.  A guy will stand up and raise his finger and you confirm by saying ‘ojek’.  It also works if you can’t spot the ojek rank – just call out ‘ojek!’ and chances are one will come.

One thing to do before you call an ojek is to have an idea of how much it will cost.  It’s best to ask a local person to estimate the likely fare for you.  You will need to do this so you know how much to offer the ojek at the end of the ride.  I’ve found the ojek drivers to be surprisingly honest, so somehow it doesn’t feel right to negotiate the price before the trip.  When I arrive at my destination, I tender the amount I think is right for that distance.  If the ojek looks disappointed then I offer a few thousand rupiah more until we settle on a fair amount.  You will, of course, want to negotiate the price beforehand if you are taking a long distance ride.

Jakarta is the only urban centre in Indonesia where I know they have ojeks.  Places like Yogya and Surabaya still have becaks (pedicabs).  The other place to find ojeks is in the villages.

Tips for First-time Visitors to Jakarta

April 25, 2010

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.