Cheap eats: street food stalls (AFP/Getty) / AFP/Getty

The bustling Indonesian capital is back on the map for British travellers – flights from Gatwick started again this month. Cal Flyn reports on its culture, cuisine and characterful chaos

Travel essentials

Why go now?

This bustling south Asian megalopolis is back on the radar, with Garuda Indonesia (0871 744 0190; garudaindonesia.co.uk) returning to Gatwick – services via Amsterdam began this month. The Indonesian capital is notorious for hectic activity and gridlocked streets, but a bit of further investigation reveals there's plenty more to Jakarta than traffic jams. The fifth biennial Salihara festival (00 62 21 789 1202; salihara.org), a highlight of Jakarta's busy arts calendar, at Komunitas Salihara (1), Jalan Salihara 16, runs from now until 22 October. International acts will brush shoulders with a host of local dancers, musicians, actors, artists and comedians at this impressive venue.

Touch down

Soekarno-Hatta airport is 20km west of the city centre. Buses shuttle into the city every 15 to 30 minutes and cost 30,000Rp (£1.50), but most travellers will take a taxi direct to their destination. Ignore the clamour of touts at the exit and head straight to the Bluebird taxi rank: it's the safest and most reliable of the many cab firms. The journey into the city will cost around 250,000Rp (£12.50) and take around an hour, depending on the traffic.

Get your bearings

The historic old city (known as Kota, or Old Batavia) sits along the southern edge of Jakarta Bay, close to the port. Medan Merdeka (Freedom Square), four miles inland, is considered the centre of the modern city. The tourist office (2) is nearby, in the Jakarta Theatre building, Jalan MH, at Thamrin No 9 (00 62 21 314 2067; jakarta-tourism.go.id). The well-to-do suburbs, Menteng and Kuningan, sit just to the south of the city centre while trendy Kemang and Blok M, further south and south west respectively, offer an array of bars, clubs and restaurants. In town, bajaj (motor-rickshaws) and ojek (motorbike taxis) are the fastest way to get around, but make sure you negotiate your fare before getting in. Alternatively, the rapid-transit busway system runs 12 routes across the city and costs a flat 7,500Rp (40p) fare. Train fares vary by the distance travelled; get a pay-as-you go railcard to skip the ticket office queues.

 

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Bay watch: the historic old city of Kota sits on the water (Getty)

Check in

The recently opened Neo Hotel Cideng (3) at Jalan Cideng Timur 58 (00 62 21 3483 4933; neohotels.com) is a good budget option. It's clean and centrally located. Doubles cost 450,000Rp per night (£23.40), room only.

The Kemang Icon design hotel (4) at Jalan Kemang Raya 1 (00 62 21 719 7989; alilahotels.com/kemangicon) is fantastic value. It has 12 chic suites starting from 1,442,000Rp (£75) a night, including breakfast. There's a rooftop restaurant and an infinity pool, while the yoga studio downstairs has a stunning 360-degree view of the city skyline.

If you fancy full five-star opulence, try The Dharmawangsa (5) at Jalan Brawijaya Raya 26 (00 62 21 725 8181; the-dharmawangsa.com). This 100-room mansion, decorated in classical Javanese style, has a poolside bar, tennis courts and a 24-hour butler service. Doubles cost $326 (£195) a night, including breakfast.

Day one

Take a view

Head to Monas (6), a 132-metre obelisk at the centre of Medan Merdeka, topped by a golden flame. It was built in the 1960s to commemorate the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Dutch between 1945 and 1949. The viewing platform at the monument's tip is accessed through the small museum at its base (00 62 21 70649 354; 8.30am-5pm, closed last Monday of the month; 5,000Rp/25p). On a clear day you can see Mount Salak, a dormant volcano 60km south.

Take a hike

From Monas, wander south through the leafy square along Silang Merdeka Tenggara. Look out for the spotted deer which live in an enclosure in the square's south-east corner. Leave through the nearby gate and turn left up Medan Merdeka Timur past the National Gallery of Indonesia (7) before taking a right on to Perwira and the next left on to Banteng Barat. You'll pass between Masjid Istiqlal (8), Indonesia's largest mosque, and Gereja Katedral (9), a neo-gothic cathedral built in 1901. Their proximity is usually cited as a good example of Indonesia's religious tolerance; they're said to share car parks on occasion.

Cross the Ciliwung Canal before following it around to the right until you come upon the Gurdwara Sikh Temple (10). Follow Jalan Gang Kelinci Raya for five blocks to find Pasar Baru (11), a covered market where the stall- holders hawk a motley selection of clothing, shoes and fruit. Cross back over the canal and turn right along Jalan Pos to see the Gedung Kesenian (12) – the colonial-era concert hall.

jakarta map

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Lunch on the run

There's a selection of restaurants and street food stalls along Veteran 1. Pick up a plate of spicy chicken satay cooked over hot coals and served with sliced apple for around 20,000Rp (£1) then drop by Rasuna Es Italia (13) to try their durian ice cream (17,000Rp/85p).

Cultural afternoon

Follow the perimeter of Medan Merdeka, where you'll find the National Museum (14) at Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat 12 (00 62 21 386 8172; museumnasional.or.id; 8am-4pm, closed Mondays; 10,000Rp/50p). The sprawling permanent exhibition provides an excellent overview of the myriad indigenous cultures that populate the Indonesian archipelago. Mid-week visitors can join the free English-language tour run by the Indonesian Heritage Society that meets in the entrance hall at 10.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

An aperitif

There are plenty of bars and restaurants along nearby Jalan Jaksa and its surrounds. Melly's Garden (15) at 37-39 Kebon Sirih Timur Dalam (00 62 21 9127 5753; mellysgarden.com) is nicest by far. A bottle of Bintang beer in the peaceful courtyard will set you back 36,000Rp (£1.85). Open daily from 11am until late.

Dining with the locals

Wander through the charming residential lanes south of Kebon Sirih to an alley which is known as the Culinary Centre (16), but is actually a row of foodstalls and folding tables that offer cheap, freshly cooked food from across the region. Nasi goreng – a tasting plate of rice and curries – will cost you from between 15,000Rp and 20,000Rp (80p to £1).

If you want something a bit more formal, you can jump in a bajaj to Lara Djonggrang (17) at Jalan Teuku Cik Di Tiro 4 (00 62 21 315 3252; bit.ly/Djonggrang), and ask for a table in the atmospheric, temple-like back room.

The excellent squid satay, which is stewed in coconut milk and served in an enormous conch shell, is priced at 58,000Rp (£3).

Day two

Out to brunch

Social House (18) on the first floor of the Grand Indonesia mall on Plaza Indonesia (00 62 21 2358 1818; bit.ly/SocHouse) is popular among expatriates on lazy Sunday mornings. Try the ricotta hotcakes with crisp honeycomb and banana (85,000Rp, £4.40). Open 8am until late.

A walk in the park

From Plaza Indonesia head east into upmarket Menteng, which has wide, tree-lined streets and a smattering of small parks. Barack Obama was a pupil at nearby SDN Menteng 01 elementary school (19) as a 10-year-old. Sirupati Park (20), at the southern end of Teuku Umar, features reflexology paths for barefoot walking and occasionally hosts small string orchestras. Also charming is Situ Lembang Park (21), a block further east, which is taken up by an enormous lily pond. Locals fish in its (rather murky) waters.

Window shopping

Find delicately-cut shadow puppets, carved wooden masks and an array of chandeliers, silks and metalwork miscellany at the antiques market along the length of Jalan Surabaya (22), a five-minute walk away. Prices vary considerably according to quality, condition and your haggling prowess – aim for half the initial price.

 

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No strings: Wood carved shadow puppets (Gett)

Take a ride

Catch a northbound train from nearby Cikini station (23) to Kota, for 2,500Rp (15p), to see the grand colonial architecture in and around Fatahillah Square. Two museums are close at hand and worth a look. The first is the Maritime Museum (24) which is sited in a former Dutch East India Company warehouse at Jalan Pasar Ikan 1 (00 62 21 669 3406; museumbahari.org; daily 9am-3pm, closed Mondays). The other is the Shadow Puppet Museum (25) at Pintu Besar Utara Street 27 (00 62 21 6292 9560; daily 9am-3pm, closed Mondays). Busway route 1 will take you back to the city centre.

Sunday evening: go to church

The dark-domed Immanuel Church (26) at Jalan Merdeka Timur 10 (00 62 21 344 0747) might be faded but it is grand. The Flentrop pipe organ dates from 1843. English language services are held at 5pm Sundays.

Icing on the cake

Scattered across Jakarta Bay,the Thousand Islands have silver beaches and clear water that's perfect for snorkelling, they make for a refreshing day trip. Ferries leave Muara Angke fishing port (27) for Tidung island at 7am daily (33,000Rp/£1.70). Or charter a boat for the day from Ancol Marina (28) for 2,500,000 (£130).

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