Jakarta, Indonesia

Photo: Cjames Fotografia via flickr

Southeast Asia’s cities are intimidating. Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Singapore are among the largest cities in the world. But you’ve tackled each of them. You’ve navigated around the gridlocked traffic, the choking smog, and the in-your-face inequality to find the architecture, the history, and the food that makes each one unique. You haven’t attempted the largest city yet, though.

Jakarta is not only the largest city in Southeast Asia, but it’s also the second-largest metropolitan area in the world. By 2030, it’s expected to surpass Tokyo at the top of the list. Intimidating. No wonder you’ve always skipped over the Big Durian en route to Bali, Lombok, and Komodo.

You should really pause next time, though. Jakarta is a fascinating city. It lies on the northwest coast of Java, an island between the Indian Ocean and the Java Sea where 50 percent of Indonesia’s population lives. It was established as a port for the Sunda Kingdom in the 4th century. By the 12th century, China, India, and Japan were trading in Jakarta Bay. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, but it was the Dutch who colonized Batavia in the 17th century. Indonesians didn’t win their independence until 1945.

Photo: The Dharmawangsa Jakarta

Due to these distinct periods and influences, Jakarta feels like a true melting pot. Kota Tua, the city’s Old Town, was the heart of the Dutch colony. It’s where you’ll find museums (the Jakarta History Museum, the Wayang Museum) and Glodok (Chinatown). Merdeka Square is one of the largest squares in the world. Monas, the National Monument commemorating the country’s long struggle for independence, stands in the center of it, and Merdeka Palace, one of Indonesia’s six presidential palaces, sits on the north side. Taman Mini Indonesia Indah (a park that shows off Indonesia’s provinces), temples, mosques, and cathedrals spread out from there.

South Jakarta is a mixture of a business, shopping, dining, and nightlife district. Kebayoran Baru, the last residential area built by the Dutch, is here. The tree-lined neighborhood is home to Dharmawangsa Square, which is filled with hip boutiques, cafes, and yoga studios. It’s also home to the Dharmawangsa, an art-filled hotel.

The Dharmawangsa is an oasis. The rooms are elegant. They’re decorated with earth tones, wooden furniture, and pieces of art from all around the country. The pools are sanctuaries. The huge outdoor one is surrounded by frangipani trees. The restaurants are for foodies. They showcase flavors and techniques from around the world. While the service is impeccable. Butlers are available 24 hours a day so you never feel overwhelmed. It’s a perfect spot for a first-time visitor. All that’s missing is one of their signature chocolate martinis.

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