Updated: Oct 15
I spent just over five weeks in this amazing country early in 2019, four in the bustling capital, Jakarta, a relaxing weekend on the island of Bali and a very interesting final week in the mountain city of Bandung.
Jakarta is a large, noisy, busy city with high pollution and clammy humidity, but it’s also a city with very friendly people, plenty of shopping malls and shiny buildings and good places to eat and visit. My flight was a little bit eventful, in that the Gatwick to Dubai flight had to divert to Dubai’s domestic airport (about 30 miles away from Dubai international) due to poor weather which made a lot of people miss their connections. Not me, luckily, as I had a four-hour connection time so I made my flight to Jakarta quite easily. On arrival in Jakarta I experienced the slickest and best-organised immigration I think I've ever known.
My hotel, the Aryaduta, was very comfortable with a plush lobby and very good staff, all extremely friendly and happy to help. My room had a terrace, a gate from which led straight out to a large, clean and often empty (of people) swimming pool. I had a few excursions - first to the national monument and its park, then the Catholic cathedral (where there was a wedding taken place including music by John Rutter…) and also the old city where all the Dutch colonial buildings are.
There I went around the Jakarta history museum and had lunch in Cafe Batavia which is quite famous and where notable Europeans who have visited Jakarta over the years have gone - there are pictures of everyone from Gielgud to Vera Lynn on the walls. Evening meals were usually in shopping malls as they had a good selection of restaurants, though we did find hidden-away restaurants and street food outlets with delicious fare.
Taxi rides around the city reveal huge roundabouts with fountains and statues in the middle, mostly celebrating Indonesia’s independence (which they gained on August 17th 1945). Affluence and poverty are side-by-side - giant sprawling designer malls sit next to residential districts full of shacks and dirty streets and canals snake around. The traffic in Jakarta is unbelievable, particularly motorbikes and tuk-tuks which swarm all over the road. No one gives way to anyone but it all seems to work through gentle pushing-in and liberal use of the horn. Crossing the road is ‘fun’. You just step out with your arm raised and the cars, bikes and buses happily swerve around you.
I came back from the shops in a tuk-tuk the other day for the experience of it - had to haggle the price... went something like this:
"Tuk-tuk Mister?’. I deliberately look cautious. ‘Tuk-tuk Boss? Where you go Ba?” (Ba is Indonesian for Mister or Sir).
"Aryaduta Tugu-tani (the name of the monument by my hotel). How much?”
Four fingers come up.
“No. 40 thousand too much. I give you 20 thousand”.
“No Ba. Tugu-tani 40”.
“Thank you, no”. I start to walk away.
“Ok Boss”. Three fingers.
“20 thousand” I say.
“No Ba. Three. Three”.
“Too much” I say, and walk a little further away. The guy is now out of his tuk-tuk and running after me.
“Twenty fifth Boss. You come in?”
“Ok, 25, thank you”. Massive grin, shows me his Man Utd jacket. “Where you from? English?”
I gave him 30,000 in the end. Realised as we were weaving through the traffic that I’d haggled him down a grand total of 80p.
One weekend I got a very late Friday flight after work to Bali - a two-hour flight which was delayed, meaning I didn’t get to the hotel until 2 am. I was at a beach resort in Sanur, south of Denpasar, a lovely big hotel with fantastic pool and private beach.
I decided to plump for Bali on my only clear weekend off and I’m glad I did - it was lovely relaxing under the coconut trees and generally getting the pollution of Jakarta out of the system.
Went for sea-food on the Saturday evening. The restaurant was on the beach edge and all the food was cooked on a barbecue over smouldering coconut shells. We had sea-bass, clams, prawns and squid. It was really tasty and rather nice with the breeze off the sea fanning the mosquitos around our legs. A four-piece acoustic band worked the tables singing Beatles and Abba songs.
You don’t realise what a huge country Indonesia is until you get there; everything is a big journey away so although there’s a must-see place called Ubud in Bali with wonderful temples, and another place in Java called Borobudur which is well worth a visit, I didn't have enough successive free days to accommodate the journey to any of them, sadly.
We did drive through Kuta, kind of the Ibiza of Bali and full of back-packers and night clubs. That’s where the bombs were and there’s a huge and poignant memorial in the centre. Even the drive back from the restaurant to the hotel took 90 minutes due to the traffic and the most horrendous thunderstorm that turned the roads into rivers. Hopefully I’ll get back to Indonesia again and have work in other areas so I can see more of the country.
The train journey from Jakarta's Gambir station to Bandung took about three hours, and rose steadily through suburban sprawls, trackside villages, paddy fields and terraced hillsides with impressively engineered bridges and tunnels along the way. The city of Bandung is a little calmer than Jakarta but no less busy - it was a tad cooler though, being 750 m above sea level. Most of my time there was working but a National holiday allowed me time to explore the colonial part of the city, and contract food poisoning which made the final few days of the tour a little uncomfortable!