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Part 2: Jakarta

16.8: Jakarta
Hotel HARRIS Suites fx Sudirman, Jakarta.
Weather: sunny, blue and hazy sky the whole day. A bit windy. No rain.

In the morning I take a taxi to the Grand Indonesia mall, where I will meet Pratolo, my Indonesian friend. The trip (about 3km, 17000 IDR by Blue Bird taxi) takes only about 15 minutes, less than what I was expecting given what I had heard about the Jakarta traffic.

The Grand Indonesia mall is a huge and modern mall full of shops selling expensive branded western goods (Gucci and similar luxury stuff). I'm being told later that there are 40 more malls like this one in Jakarta and over 100 malls in total here. Jakarta, the mall city.

Since it's still early I walk around a bit, exploring the mall. Quite interesting and flashy place, lots of restaurant on the 3rd floor, although you can see that the mall isn't brand new.

At 12pm noon I meet Pratolo. We have a lunch together until 1:30pm, then we take his car with driver and start the tour of Jakarta. Very friendly and hospitable person, Pratolo has taken half a day off his job to show me Jakarta.

Shortly after 2pm we visit the National Museum near Merdeka square. The ticket is very cheap (7500 IDR). Very interesting museum with many artifacts of different periods of the Indonesian history and of different locations in Indonesia.

This museum gives you a glimpse of the incredibly wealthy cultural heritage of Indonesia. Lots of different people, each with its own language and culture. The only problem is that most places in Indonesia, except for a few, are difficult and expensive to reach, due to the inadequate tourist infrastructure.

At 3pm we drive to the giant Merdeka square, which is now fenced and sealed off because supposedly it was a popular place where to stage demonstrations. In the middle of this square is the independence monument.

We don't spend much time here and after 20 minutes continue the visit of Jakarta to the old harbour (stopping briefly at the Jakarta cathedral). Anchored in the harbour are several boats built in somehow traditional style. Pratolo explains that these are used for fishing, but also for tourist trips.

Pratolo mentions the 1000 islands (Pulau Seribu etc.) which are not far from Jakarta and have nice beaches. Later in the evening I find out that accomodation there is expensive (one million IDR and higher).

We then drive to the historic area of Jakarta, where the house of the Dutch governor is located and a few other old buildings. Very nice setup, with souvenir stalls and street artists. Holiday feeling. But this area is quite small. I hear that many colonial era buildings were razed to the ground in the 1970s to make place for modern buildings. Really a pity, Jakarta must have lost a lot of its heritage back then.

It's almost 5pm when we drive back to the Grand Indonesia mall. The idea would be to go on the roof on the 56th floor to the Skye pub where there is a nice view of Jakarta. We manage to get there, but then I'm denied entry due to the dress code. I'm wearing shorts and slippers, both not allowed in this chic place. Really a pity because the view from the top must be nice.

By the way, lots of elegant and stylish women in this mall at this time of the day. Also quite a few pretty ones. Generally speaking, there a lots of pretty women in Jakarta.

We have a light dinner somewhere else and around 8pm Pratolo brings me back to the hotel.

17.8: Jakarta
Hotel HARRIS Suites fx Sudirman, Jakarta.
Weather: sunny, blue and hazy sky the whole day. Quite hot at noon, more fresh in the evening. No rain.

Shortly after 8am I meet the driver for the trip to Bandung. The car is a Toyota Avanza. The cost of the trip will be 550000 IDR + the petrol + the road tolls. According to the plan it should take two hours to get to Bandung, then we would visit the nearby volcano and the hot spring. The trip will likely take the whole day.

We leave Jakarta and initially everything proceeds well. I can't talk to the driver because he can't speak English, but when Pratolo calls to check how the trip is going, I learn that we are going to take the mountain road via Bogor, not the direct motorway. This is because the driver is estimating that the motorway will be completely locked up with traffic.

However after about one hour, when we reach the end of the motorway and start using the mountain road, we get stuck in a horrible traffic jam. The average speed drops to perhaps 20km/hour, in a permanent stop-and-go mode. Like this we'll never reach Bandung, or maybe will only reach Bandung in the afternoon or evening.

It seems that the entire Indonesia is on the streets today. In fact my wife had told me the previous days that we are at the beginning of the Hari Raya (or other Islamic holiday) and lots of people will be on the move. In addition today is a public holiday (independence day in Indonesia), so many Indonesians probably will use the long weekend to go somewhere.

Anyway it turns out to be a very dumb idea to go somewhere out of Jakarta by car today. All the traffic is flowing out of Jakarta, in the opposite direction (i.e. into Jakarta) the traffic is very moderate.

After another half an hour, when the hope that the traffic jam might vanish disappears, I tell the driver to stop driving to Bandung and to return to Jakarta. I'll visit the Taman Mini Indonesia open air museum instead.

In the meantime Pratolo calls again and suggests to visit a safari park (national park) not far from where we are. So we drive there. Once there, surprise surprise the people at the counter want to charge me 345000 IDR to get in. That corresponds to 30 Euro and is three times more what a ticket to the zoo in Munich costs.

Really weird that in a country with low salaries where everything should be cheaper, things are more expensive that in high-income Germany. Really very strange. It must cost a fortune for the average Indonesian to visit these places.

In any case, since I'm not in the mode to spend three times the German price for  zoo, I tell the driver to simply go back and drive to Taman Mini. Call me stingy, but the fact is that everything has a price and something should not cost three times this price.

By the way, at the entrance to the safari park there are a group of Indonesians with instruments, dressed like American cowboys, singing country music songs. What a contrast - totally Americanised locals (or are they perhaps Filipinos?).

It's 11:30am when we finally reach the Taman Mini Indonesia. The ticket costs a fraction of the zoo ticket (28000 IDR).

Taman Mini Indonesia is an open air museum with replicas of traditional houses of a number of ethnic groups living in Indonesia (Sumatra, Riau, Kalimantan, Maluku and more). It's quite scenic and interesting, but I have to mention here that these houses are not built using original materials. Some of these houses have been reconstructed using cement (for the pillars and the frame for instance) and plastics (for the roof). So it's all a bit artificial regrettably.

In the middle of this park there is also a replica of the Disneyland fairytale castle with an adiacent children playground. Also elsewhere in this Taman Mini there are children playgrounds. Good if you travel with kids, but not so original.

By contrast, the Sarawak Cultural village near Kuching (Malaysia) has houses built with true, original materials and is staffed by real people of the variuous ethnic groups of Sarawak, and there is no Disneyland stuff next to it.

In the Taman Mini compound there are several museums and even a couple of small zoos, charging additional fees ranging between 2000 and 10000 IDR. In the Komodo dragon place there is a large salt water crocodile confined to a smallish cage in which this crocodile can barely move.

I take the cablecar which hovers above the Taman Mini park for some views from above (ticket is 25000 IDR).

At 2pm we start driving back to the hotel. There is nothing else which we might visit today and I'm tired of so much walking under the strong sun.

After a couple of photo stops along the way we reach the hotel shortly after 3pm.I retire to the room and take a rest for a couple of hours.

At 5pm I dress up, wearing long trousers and real shoes (in order not to fail again the dress code test), then take a taxi to the Grand Indonesia mall. The idea would be to go to this cafe on the 56th floor and take some pictures of Jakarta.

I take a taxi, walk through the mall and by 5:30pm I'm at the first checkpoint (the elevator at the third floor). In front of me there is a small group of two elderly women and a man who are trying to get in but apparently are not allowed to. They are wearing long trousers and real shoes but apparently either they are too ugly or not dressed nicely enough because they are not allowed to get into the elevator.

It seems today I'm dressed stylish enough because I'm allowed to get into the elevator and then on the 56th floor I pass the second checkpoint and am allowed on the terrace. Feels a bit like the 'look' check at the discotheques when I was a teenager.

So here I am on this terrace. Nice setup and atmosphere. Quite a few young people, girls posing with the Jakarta skyline background. Some guys wearing jeans... weren't you supposed to be nicely dressed and fashionable? A European guy with a local girl - either the girlfriend or a chicken.

I need to get a good compact for use in places where "professional" cameras are not allowed. After taking a shot with the DSLR I'm immediately approached by a clerk who tells me that DSLRs are not allowed and points to a board where is written that "professional cameras are not allowed...".

In other words you are not allowed to take a photo of the view of Jakarta from this cafe if you are using a "professional" camera. This is a bit funny because nowadays using a good compact camera you can get images which are good enough for many professional uses.

And in low light you can use a small mirrorless camera with a large sensor (for instance the newer m4/3 models or a Sony NEX) with a pancake lens which looks like a compact fun camera, but  in reality is capable of high ISO and has IS. But hey, DSLRs are not allowed...

By the way, in this cafe there is one guy who is standing on the terrace and is constantly checking the situation, to make sure that nobody uses a DLSR. Basically this cafe is paying one person just to enforce the no-DSLR rule.

Anyway, I order a drink and some snack and after about 45 minutes when the sun has set, I leave this place and head to the food court on the third floor where I have some light dinner. Then I take a taxi back to the hotel.

It's unclear what I will do tomorrow, whether I'll meet again Pratolo or if I'll do some more sightseeing of Jakarta.

18.8: Jakarta -> Kota Kinabalu
Century hotel, Kota Kinabalu. RM 80 for a basic and small room with one double bed and not much other space. Has adjustable A/C, TV, phone, free WLAN, a small table, chair, simple cupboard and not much else. Attached bathroom with good hot shower. The room is nothing special but at least it is clean and not noisy. No bed bugs as one could fear for a hotel in this class.
Weather: same weather as the last few days in Jakarta: hot, sunny, dry, no rain. No clouds in the sky. Lots of haze. No wind today.
Some rain in Kota Kinabalu when we arrive.

I'm woken up at 9am by Pratolo who wants to discuss the plan for today. He'll pick me up at 12pm at the hotel. Later we change this plan and agree to meet at 1pm at the national museum.

I try to continue sleeping but can't and shortly after get up and pack my stuff. At 11am I check out and take a taxi to the national museum.

Today the streets in Jakarta are quite empty and it takes only 15 minutes to reach the national museum. Some misunderstanding with the taxi driver who brings me to the national monument even if I told him to bring me to the national museum. Either he has hearing problems or did it on purpose to increase the taxi bill.

So I'm there in the national museum and see the exhibits. Suddenly at 11:45am Pratolo shows up with his sons. Surprise, surprise he came early. Apparently he wants to show the museum to his sons who have never been here. It seems that Indonesians do not visit museums. In fact the museum is half empty and there are more foreign tourists than local Indonesians.

I visit a number of halls which I had missed the other day. Some of these halls have A/C and contain exhibits protected by glass cabinets. These exhibits are all from Indonesia and are from all time periods, with the earliest ones from the first millenium AD. I can't remember seeing many older exhibits even if Indonesia has been settled for tens of thousands of years.

At 1pm I meet Pratolo and his sons again in the entrance of the museum. We then drive to the national monument. It's actually just opposite the street, but to get there by car from the national museum the driver makes a big round, probably to reach a parking. This is a general problem with Jakarta: the spaces are big, the city is designed to be big, so there are big blocks around which you have to drive, resulting in more distance which needs to be covered.

At 1:20pm we are at the national monument. The idea would be to get to the top for the view of the city. The only problem is that there is a huge crowd queueing up and all want to get on top. Given that the monument closes at 2pm, most likely there is no chance to get on top if we queue up now.

So we simply skip the national monument and drive to the nearby Istiqlal mosque which is not far from the national monument. The Istiqlal mosque is the biggest mosque in southeast Asia, with a capacity of 200000 people, based on what I'm being told. This mosque is not really pretty. No beautiful decorations, no amazing Islamic patterns. For a mosque it is actually pretty ugly.

Pratolo and his kids don't want to get in (and have in fact never been inside), so I walk in alone. I have to take off the shoes and immediately I'm directed to a room for foreigners. There a guy passes me a coat because I'm wearing shorts and a T-shirt and instructs me to get to the second floor, one floor above the prayer hall. Apparently I'm not allowed to walk into the prayer hall, but may take photos from the second floor.

In fact from this second floor you have a good view of the great prayer hall. But personally I have some doubt that 200000 people can fit into this hall. It's big, but not that big.

The hall is very spartan. At its centre there are 12 pillars with a metallic surface. The walls are open, i.e. consist of a metallic grid, so that air can flow into the prayer hall. Given that there is no A/C, free circulation of air is essential. No decorations whatsoever in this hall.

After half an hour in this mosque I get out and meet Pratolo again. It's now 2:05pm and we drive to the Seneyan shopping mall, which we reach after 35 minutes of driving.  Here we have a long lunch, lasting until after 4pm. After lunch Pratolo drives me to the hotel and we split.

Shortly before 5pm I then fetch a taxi to the airport. It takes less than half an hour to get there (toll road fees totalling 12000 IDR) and the taxi costs only 100000 IDR. It seems that the airport guy who sold me the limo service for 170000 IDR when I arrived to Jakarta lied to me when he told me that a metered taxi would cost 170000-200000 IDR for the trip to the hotel.

It's about 5:20pm and I proceed to the check-in counter. Surprise, I have to pay 150000 IDR airport tax. Apparently this was not included in the ticket price. This is cheating, because the plane ticket price should include all taxes and fees. Here Airasia has promoted a wrong ticket price - not inclusive of all taxes and fees.

Then I get through immigration and security and proceed to the gate area. Here I'll have to wait for a long time, because the flight is delayed by 1:20 hours. The departure was scheduled for 8:20pm but the plane will only take off at 9:40pm.

The plane is full of people. In fact there is not a single empty seat. Airbus A320, "southeast Asian version" with very limited leg space. When the woman in front throws back the armrest it hits my leg and my legs touch the seat in front of me.

At 1am we land in KK. Getting through immigration and retrieving the luggage is speedy, by 1:25am I'm at the airport taxi counter.

Huge rip-off as the taxis are now charging 45 RM for the trip to the city. Less than 7km according to Google Maps, the trip by taxi takes only five minutes. It's a shame and there nothing which justifies these 45 RM for this short distance, even the late hour is no justification for this price which is a multiple of what Malaysian taxis usually charge. But what can one do at 1:25am when the taxi is the only way to get into town? The taxi drivers could increase the rate to 100, 200 or 500 RM and travellers would have no choice other than pay unless they want to spend the night in the airport. There must be a way to complain with the local tourist office about this situation.
I end up sleeping at 2:20am.

Copyright 2012 Alfred Molon