Jakarta may not feature on most people’s travel list, especially if you have small children in tow, but for broadcast journalist Rebecca Henschke, it’s a city she’s proud to call home.
Rebecca arrived in Jakarta solo, thinking she would stay for one year and return to ‘normal’ life in Sydney, Australia. Seven years later she’s still there, now living in a house of boys including Andaru, 4 and Emilio, 1. Here she shares with us her top spots for hanging with the little people in Indonesia’s capital.
What do you love most about Jakarta as a place to spend time with children?
Jakarta is often described as the Big Durian. A durian is a fruit that has a horrible smell, but once you get past that, it tastes delicious. Many parts of Indonesia are naturally stunning…but Jakarta is not. So save your nature adventures for before, or after, visiting Jakarta.
What Jakarta has is great food, shopping and most of all great people. It’s a bustling, thriving city at the moment: as Indonesia’s economy booms most of the money is in Jakarta. New rooftop bars and hip hotels are opening overnight and the place has an energy of ‘change’ and possibility that few cities can beat.
The best thing about coming to Jakarta with children is that Indonesians LOVE children. Your children will not be able to do anything wrong while they are here. Screaming babies on planes are taken care of, not given annoyed looks. Rebellious toddlers are always cute. Your young children will be played with and carried around wherever you go…..leaving you to finish your meal, try on some clothes or just have a mini break. And Jakarta is an extremely safe city for children.
What are your top spots in Jakarta to take your little ones?
- Every Sunday morning there is car-free day in the centre of Jakarta. The six lane strip that runs from Monas Park to Senayan Park becomes a sea of bicycles, runners, skaters and rollerskaters. There are music stages and food stalls all along the road. You can hire a bike with child seats from Pasar Rumput market and join the crowds, or walking around is also fun. There are lots of modified bikes …. from 1920s gems to punk hipster style low riders on show. Get there early before 9 am to beat the heat. Once you have had enough, go to Social House for breakfast/brunch. It’s in Grand Indonesia shopping mall, and you can look out over the bikes. They have a kid’s menu and a small play area.
- Visit the Old City in the afternoon when it’s cooler. This is the Dutch part of town. In Old Batavia, the Fatahillah square is full of life and there are no cars. There are also bike taxis that you can go on. Then have afternoon tea at Café Batavia (Jalan Pintu Besar Utara 14) which is in a beautiful 1920s building on the square: my children like climbing up and down the giant staircase. Across the way is Museum Wayang (Jalan Pintu Besar Utara 27), which is worth a short visit to check out the traditional shadow puppets (they have free performances every Sunday morning at 10am).
- Catch a Bajaj anywhere. Children seem to love these little Indian three wheel vehicles. Take one to Jalan Surabaya in Menteng, Central Java, to check out the antique markets which are open every day till 5pm. Anywhere else in the world, children and antiques don’t go together, but my kids love going here to look at all the puppets, masks and old boat equipment. The shop owners are very relaxed about children looking and touching their stuff. Have a cool drink at a great coffee shop on that street called Giayanti Coffee Roasting (Jl. Surabaya 20) which is right behind a Vietnamese sandwich shop. They have great Indonesian coffee (not to mention babycinos) and a nice courtyard with toys for children.
- Malls, Malls, Malls….there are Malls everywhere in Jakarta. They are an essential part of Jakarta so you need to visit at least one. There is Grand Indonesia, Plaza Indonesia in Central Jakarta, or Epicentrum, Lotte Mall and Pacific Place in the south. All have huge toy stores and quite amazing indoor play parks. In Pacific Place mall you will find the incredible world of KidZania, a kid-sized replica of a real city, with streets, buildings, retail and different vehicles going around the City. Here, children play adult roles and they learn how to be a doctor, a pilot, a construction worker, a private detective, an archeologist, an F1 driver and over 100 other professions. It’s very commercialised, with each profession sponsored by a company – ie. pilot training by AirAsia – but fun for an afternoon.
- It’s hot in Jakarta so water activities are good. In Kemang – an ‘expat’ area of the city – Playground has a great water play area and also a nice garden to play in. There is also Waterbom a huge water park that is very well designed with lots of free slides for the whole family.
- Take the train up to the Bogor Botanical Gardens which has fabulous orchids and the huge, stinky Rafflesia flower (not to mention about 17,000 other species of plants). It’s a 30 minute train ride from Cikini or Gambir train station. The gardens are beautiful for a picnic and there is a pleasant Dutch-style café in the centre. Alternatively, head across the road to the Salak Heritage Hotel which is famous for their lunchtime sop buntut, the traditional Indonesian oxtail soup.
Where do you recommend visiting friends and their children stay?
- Morrissey Boutique Apartments These serviced apartments have a cool, Manhattan-loft-style feel; think antique typewriters meets raw concrete. There’s also a lovely deck with pool and gym, plus the highly recommended Klasse Cafe. And the location is superb!
- Cemara 6 Art Gallery Homestay This intimate homestay is tucked in the back of the Cemara 6 gallery which is in a restored Dutch colonial-era mansion in Menteng. The homestay is a comfortable and well-located alternative to nearby hotels. There’s also a great courtyard cafe.
What Indonesian foods (and drinks) are your children’s favourites?
- Tempe/tofu goreng (fried tofu and fried soya bean) – you get it everywhere: on the streets or in fancy restaurants.
- Nasi goreng or mie goreng (fried rice/noodles).
- Ayam sate (chicken kebabs with peanut sauce and rice).
- Fresh juices…strawberry, mango…you can also get these everywhere.
Where do you like to eat with little ones in Jakarta?
You can get great food from around the world in Jakarta but here are my favourite kid-friendly Indonesian restaurants:
- Payon Restaurant (Jl. Kemang Raya 17) Traditional Javanese style restaurant with a great garden for running around in.
- Lara Djonggrang (Jl. Teuku Cik Di Tiro 4 Menteng) Magical place that my children love exploring. Incredibly atmospheric, weird and wonderful artefacts, and delicious imperial Indonesian fare.
What would you recommend travellers to Jakarta to bring – and leave behind at home – when travelling there with children?
Leave the pram at home. Sadly it’s no use unless you’re in a mall, and most malls rent out /give-for-free prams. Instead bring a baby/child carrier. Bring or buy hand sanitiser that you can use to clean your little one’s hands before they eat on the run.
Jakarta’s traffic is notorious, so what’s the best way to get around the city with children?
- Don’t try to do too much in one day, particularly with children. If you’re brave, the best way to get about is on motorbike taxi…but they rarely have children’s size helmets, so we carry our own or use bike helmets for our boys.
- Otherwise Bajajs (little three-wheeled vehicles) are fun for short trips. The trains are also not too bad and you can catch then to the Old City, there’s also the Bus Way that’s good for going down to the Old City.
What would you suggest families avoid in Jakarta?
Jakarta’s not always an easy city to visit. Don’t bother with the main tourist attraction, Monas (a 132m tower in the middle of Merdeka Square, also known as the ‘National Monument’), in Central Jakarta: it’s hot and there is not much to see. Take it slowly with children and just do one thing a day. Don’t feel bad about heading into malls when you need a break from the heat and the pollution.
If you were to ask your children to name their favourite things about Jakarta, what would they be?
- Andaru – Riding motorbikes and bajajs.
- Emilio – Playgrounds, parks and swimming.
If you need a quick and easy escape from the city where do you head with the kids?
- Little Tiger Island which is one of the thousand islands off the coast of Java. It’s about 2 hour speed boat trip away and is paradise. My boys love it there and the four-year-old calls it his ‘pirate island.’
- Ekologika Organic Farm in Sukabumi. You can reach this farm getaway by train from Jakarta. It’s a beautiful place and very child- friendly. There is a children’s playground and the food is amazing.
And finally, you have a lovely babysitter for the evening. What does your perfect date-night consist of in Jakarta?
SKYE Bar is always good for a sunset drink as it has amazing views over the city. Another good rooftop bar is Lucy in the Sky where you can have dinner downstairs and The Goods Department —which also has good Indonesian designers’ clothes on sale.