When I first arrived in Jakarta I was completely unprepared. I knew Jakarta was an enormous city, but I had no idea just how difficult it would be to navigate the ins and outs of this city. And being a woman made living and traveling around Jakarta especially intimidating.
I might live here with my boyfriend but when I’m out in the city I’m almost always by myself. Take it from me, Jakarta can be a daunting place for a woman. But it honestly doesn’t have to be. After living here for almost a year, I’ve thought a lot about just how scary Jakarta must be for female travelers, whether they’re traveling solo or with friends. After all, I was intimidated as hell as a newbie female expat.
I’ll admit that it took time, but I’ve now become incredibly comfortable gallivanting around Jakarta all by my lonesome. So for all you ladies who are a bit nervous about your big trip to Java, here is a mini-guide to traveling to Jakarta.
A Girl’s Survival Guide to Traveling to Jakarta!
How to dress:
It’s important to remember that Indonesia is a big and diverse country. And Jakarta is way different than Bali when it comes to both culture and religion. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear sundresses and tank tops in Bali, but that’s not really the case in Jakarta.
The island of Java is very traditionally Muslim. You can expect to hear the call to prayer five times a day and see women walking around in headscarves. That being said, as a foreigner you’re not expected to wear a headscarf but you should dress modestly.
How you should dress depends on which part of the city you’re visiting and where exactly you’re going. If you’re sightseeing around town or visiting a kampung make sure your shoulders and knees are covered. I usually wear long pants and a t-shirt.
But if you’re visiting one of Jakarta’s mega malls, international restaurants or nightclubs, you can let loose a little bit (or a lot).
The safest way for women to get around Jakarta:
Like I said, I am constantly traveling around the city alone. If you’re spending a few days in Jakarta you will be taking taxis or ojeks (moto-taxis) to get around the city. Jakarta is huge and not at all pedestrian friendly, so there’s really no other way. After I had a really scary taxi experience when I first moved to Jakarta, I realized that by taking a few simple precautions I felt much more at ease.
- Get a SIM card at the airport: Internet is really cheap in Jakarta and generally reliable. I pay Rp 100,000 ($8 USD) for 30 days of phone and internet coverage. It’s well worth investing in. If you’re just going to be traveling in Jakarta, XL is the best company to use. If you’re going to be traveling around Indonesia (especially Bali) go for Telkomsel (that’s what I use). Being able to track your destination on Google Maps will make you feel so much more at ease while taking taxis around Jakarta. You’ll also be able to call your hotel if you get lost. Another perk is that you can use Google Translate to help you communicate with drivers, as most don’t speak English.
- Only take Blue Bird taxis: Jakarta’s taxi drivers get a bad rap for a reason. Getting ripped of and taken on the “scenic route” happens to locals and foreigners alike. But if you ask me, being a foreigner and a woman will make you a bigger target. When I first moved to Jakarta I had numerous Indonesian women tell me that Blue Bird was the safest option, so that’s the only company I use. Blue Birds are everywhere and they are always metered so they really are your best bet. Rates start at Rp 7,500 (USD $0.50) and tick up slightly every kilometer.
- Get the Blue Bird app: This app rocks and it’s totally free. Just put in the address of where you are, place an order and you can track the taxi to see where it is. This is awesome for solo female travelers in Jakarta because you’ll have info on your driver in case you need to report any problems. The wait time is generally 5-10 minutes and they will call your cell when they arrive. (Download the Blue Bird app: Android / IOS.)
- Ojek it the safe way: Jakarta has a huge ojek (moto-taxi) culture. Using an ojek is a quicker way to get around traffic-riddled Jakarta. When you’re walking around you will likely be approached by men on their motorbikes asking where you want to go. This is totally normal. Only in Jakarta do I actually feel safe hopping on a strange man’s bike. However, if it’s your first time in Jakarta and you’re a little wary of taking an ojek, then hire a Go-Jek. This is a reputable new company that dispatches its own pre-screened drivers. Similar to Blue Bird, you can just download their app, place an order and you’ll be picked up anywhere in the city. You can track drivers and the rates are posted so there’s no bargaining and no getting ripped off. (Download the Go-Jek app Android / IOS.)
Where to stay:
When I was traveling in Jakarta (before I moved here) I stayed in the main “backpacker” area of Jalan Jaksa. I can’t say I was all that impressed by what ended up being a seemingly deserted alleyway, but if you’re traveling to Jakarta alone, it is probably your best bet for meeting fellow travelers. It’s also centrally located and the city’s main tourist sites (Monas, Pasar Baru, the Istiqlal Mosque, etc.) are a very short cab ride away.
I have heard that the dorms and hotels in that area are a bit dodgy (my hotel was overpriced and awful). If you’re looking for a hotel in Central Jakarta I highly recommend the Artotel. I haven’t stayed there myself but I’ve heard rave reviews. It’s centrally located (near Jalan Jaksa), within walking distance of street food, bars and restaurants. It also has my favorite rooftop bar in the city, BART. The coolest part is that each room is uniquely decorated by one of Jakarta’s street artists. At roughly $45 a night on Agoda it’s a steal for Jakarta and it is definitely a nice, clean and safe option for female travelers who are a bit concerned about finding a safe hotel to stay at in Jakarta.
How to greet people:
This is something I wish I’d known before I moved here. As a woman you will greet both men and women by air kissing both cheeks (left then right). The first time a woman greeted me I wasn’t sure what was happening. At first I thought she wanted to shake my hand and then I thought she was going to give me a hug. Let’s just say it was very awkward! But after I realized that the double kiss was the norm, I got the hang of it very quickly.
What to expect when walking around:
- You will be called bule: As a foreigner you’ll quickly start to wonder why everyone is calling you bule. It basically means foreigner or Caucasian. It’s not meant to be hostile so just smile and wave.
- You will be stared at: As a woman (or man) just realize that people are going to stare – this means men, women and children. Every time I leave the house I’m stared at. It’s something you will get used to (kind of). I’ve even had little kids stop dead in their tracks staring at me like they’ve seen a ghost. And I always catch teenage girls watching me from across the room. It’s kind of funny because I’m truly not that interesting!
- You will receive random comments from strangers: I’ve had strangers ask me about my skin regimen, saying my skin is so beautiful. This is not something I’ve really ever been complimented on before. I’ve been called Miss America by the super sweet girls who work at my apartment building (I’m no Miss America!). I’m now referred to as blondie by the guy who works at my laundromat even though my hair is the darkest of brown. And I’m referred to as tall (at 5’3” I have never been referred to as tall before). Expect that you’ll be peppered with all sorts of compliments, comments and curious questions from people while traveling in Jakarta. Luckily Jakartans really are the nicest people and it’s actually fun when strangers strike up random conversations with you!