Jakarta isn’t a destination that immediately crops up when digital nomads are wondering whereabouts in Southeast Asia they should pitch up next. Let’s face it, the island paradise of Bali – with its rice paddy vistas, crystal clear oceans and chilled-out vibe – is a far more appealing version of Indonesia than the humid, concrete capital lying to the west on nearby Java.
It’s true that Jakarta is no oil painting; the ubiquitous concrete tower blocks, featureless high rises and persistently gridlocked streets pay testament to that. If you make even a small effort to look beneath the surface though, you’ll soon see that this heaving megalopolis of more than ten million souls has it’s own special kind of allure. While it doesn’t have enough in the way of monuments, sights and architecture to make it feel ’charming’, it does have a strange kind of intimacy that makes you feel, in the main, really quite safe and welcome; an unusual sensation to feel in such a large city. The fact that Jakarta’s crime rate is relatively low when compared to other world capitals, reinforces this strange juxtaposition, hinting that here in Jakarta at least, it is the super-friendly and ever-welcoming resident population – not the city streets and buildings - which makes the seething Indonesian capital such a worthy place to live and work in.
Of course, the noise, traffic, humidity and pollution aren’t for everyone. But, if you’re the kind of online worker who enjoys getting under the skin of a place then you’re likely to find Jakarta a very rewarding destination indeed.
Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Get Settled
There are only really a handful of ’traditional’ backpacker-type hostels in Jakarta, all of which provide pretty standard offerings (reliable Wi-Fi is a bonus). Although there is nothing wrong with Jakarta’s hostels, it can be much more rewarding to stay in a kos (local guesthouse with shared bathroom and dining facilities) when you first arrive as they tend to be very welcoming and afford you the chance to experience Indonesian hospitality right from the off. If you don’t mind living in communal environments then you could easily stay in a kos that suited your needs for the entirety of your stay (although it would most likely need to be located close to an Internet cafe/Wi-Fi spot). It is worth noting that some guesthouses are tucked away in some pretty hard to find places so you should not rely on guide book maps too much when trying to locate one!
If you’re looking to stay in town for a while and want a greater degree of privacy then you’ll probably want to look into renting a place of your own. Fortunately, there are lots of accommodation options availablle, ranging from small, basic flats and luxurious serviced apartments to villas with pools and houses with gardens. Apartments tend to be the most popular option amongst online workers as many of those available for rent in the expat neighbourhoods (although not all) come complete with free Wi-Fi.
In recent years, digital nomads and expats have tended to gravitate towards properties located in South and Central Jakarta as these areas have amenities nearby which can help make it easier to maintain a good work/socialising balance. Some of the more ’choice’ neighbourhoods in these areas are:
- Permata Hijau
- Pondok Indah
Finding suitable accommodation is pretty straightforward as the city’s reputation as a magnet for oil, gas and engineering expats ensures there are always plenty of properties being made available, both online at sites like airbnb and via local estate agents in the Central Business District. Furthermore, prices and fees remain very reasonable, tending to be significantly lower than comparable properties in other Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore. Most tenants can rent on a monthly basis although it normally works out cheaper to sign up for a longer period of time like six months to a year. Most landlords and letting agents will insist upon you paying your rent in advance.
Step 2: Get Around
It is fair to say that Jakarta is not the easiest city in Asia to get from A to B in. The overwhelming humidity, lack of decent pavements, chaotic roads and perpetual pollution all conspire to make walking (and cycling) a pretty unpleasant experience. The congested roads and incessantly high volume of traffic also makes driving a less-than-favourable proposition, unless of course you hail from a land where Frogger-like traffic is the norm. Hiring a car with a driver can be a good way to get around this; there are plenty of so-called “transport guys” to be found hanging out on Jl Jaksa who will gladly ferry you around for a relatively modest fee.
Although Jakarta is still without a fully functional metro system, it does have a very comprehensive, municipal bus network with numerous different transportation options ranging from TransJakarta buses (large, modern air-conditioned buses that have a fixed route through the city) to Koasi (very basic and often mechanically unsafe minivan-type vehicles that seem to have minds if their own). In between are Kopaja and Metromini; medium-sized buses with no air conditioning that stop any time someone wants to get on or off. By a million miles, the TransJakarta isthe best bus option in Jakarta.
If you want to get out into the suburbs (or beyond) then catching a train is always an option. Although the Commuterline trains can be (you guessed it) uncomfortably crowded during busy periods, travelling by train is much faster and significantly less stressful than fighting traffic on the heavily congested roads.
Taxi drivers in Jakarta have managed to gain a reputation for being quite pushy so-and-sos in recent years. Happily, this reputation only reflects the behaviour of a few rotten eggs and doesn’t apply to the industry as a whole. That being said, you should always make sure the meter is switched on whenever you catch a cab in Jakarta as you never know if you’re going to be driven by a decent grafter or an unscrupulous opportunist. It is good form to round a fare up to the nearest 1,000Rp and, although not obligatory, leave a tip. You should be aware that it is the passenger’s responsibility to pay any toll road charges and/or parking fees; there are lots of them so make sure you keep plenty of small notes to hand.
Objeks (motorcycle taxis) are pretty good options for short hops around the city as most drivers (pilots) are pretty clued up and have the advantage of being able to snake through congested traffic. If you’re really brave or love adrenaline sports then try catching a bajaj, a mutated orange scooter that carries passengers in a small cabin at the back like a Thai tuk-tuk. Journeys in these buzzing hornets can often be quite spiritual experiences...
Step 3: Get Wired
Although Internet reliability can be an issue at times (after storms for instance), getting online in Jakarta is pretty easy to do these days. As mentioned previously, many apartment blocks in or around the city centre now provide free Wi-Fi as standard. On top of this, the Jakarta local government has also introduced a communications scheme which provides free Wi-Fi along the city’s main streets and around busy municipal areas. When it’s also considered that free Wi-Fi is available throughout the city’s vast shopping malls (such as the Plaza Indonesia and the Grand Indonesia), and can be latched on to without any real fuss at all in bars, restaurants and lounges right across the city centre, it is clear to see that Jakarta is a city that is (finally) embracing the Digital Revolution with some gusto.
Jakarta is an exciting yet often overwhelming city which just so happens to be populated with some of the most engaging, friendly and optimistic people you’re ever likely to meet. This is evidenced in the way many of the city’s (often very poor) neighbourhoods have – and are happy to extend – a sense of community which is as unselfish as it is genuine. So, no; you’re not likely to fall in love with Jakarta in the same immediate way as you would somewhere like Venice, Prague or Rio. Yet, if you take the time to get under its skin and get to know it well, chances are you will quickly come to think of this great seething mass as home...warts and all.
Have you spent time living in Jakarta as an online worker? If so, why not share your thoughts and experiences with us by leaving a comment in the box below:
Image: author’s own photo