On the surface, Jakarta may seem like an unappealing sprawl of high-rises, slums and gridlocked streets, but this is a city of many faces and endless surprises. From the steamy, richly scented streets of Chinatown to the city’s riotous, decadent nightlife, Jakarta is filled with unexpected corners. Here it’s possible to rub shoulders with Indonesia’s future leaders, artists, thinkers, movers and shakers in a bohemian cafe or a sleek lounge bar, and go clubbing till dawn (and beyond). So if you really want to get under the skin of Indonesia, a visit to this mammoth metropolis is essential.
Jakarta certainly isn’t a primary tourist destination, but parts of the atmospheric old city (Kota) offer an interesting insight into the capital’s long history. There's also a handful of good museums and dozens of swanky shopping malls.
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On the western side of Merdeka Sq, the Museum Nasional, built in 1862, is the best of its kind in Indonesia and one of the finest in Southeast Asia. It has an enormous collection of cultural objects of the various ethnic groups around the country - costumes, musical instruments, model houses and so on - and numerous fine bronzes from the Hindu-Javanese period, as well as many interesting stone pieces salvaged from the Central Javanese and other temples.
Indonesian Heritage Society
The Indonesian Heritage Society organises free English tours of the National Museum at 09:
30 every Tuesday and Thursday and 10:30 every second Saturday and last Sunday in the month; French tours take place at 09:30 every third Wednesday of the month.
Ingloriously dubbed ‘Sukarno’s final erection’, this 132m-high national monument, towering over Merdeka Sq, is both Jakarta’s principal landmark and the most famous architectural extravagance of the former president. Begun in 1961, this typically masculine column was not completed until 1975, when it was officially opened by Suharto. The monument is constructed from Italian marble, and is topped with a sculpted flame, gilded with 35kg of gold leaf.
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