The Big Durian: Why first-timers to Durians and Jakarta should be with supervision

The Big Durian: Why first-timers to Durians and Jakarta should be with supervision

Jakarta is the city known as The Big Durian. Just like its fruity namesake, Jakarta has the ability to repulse first-time tasters and have them running, swearing never to return.

I have tried durian a couple of times and I still haven’t acquired a taste for it. The last time I tried it made me gag, but I am still willing to give it another go. I have friends who love durian, and I want to know why. Are they crazy, or am I missing something?

That is how I feel about Jakarta as well. At first blush it appears ugly (especially coming from the airport), yet – like any city – I want to peel away the layers and see what this place has to offer. Jakarta and durians are also similar in that first-timers should be under supervision. Before I had moved to Asia I would not have known how to eat a durian. Do you peel it or cut it? Then do you just bite into, or cut it again? The same goes for Jakarta. Where do you start? And how the hell do you get around this city of ten million people with no metro system? If you are visiting for the first time I would recommend having someone show you around.

Jakarta - The Big Durian
[If a durian looked like a city, this is what you would see. Welcome to Jakarta.]

I first visited Jakarta in 2009 and I stayed in the backpacker street, Jalan Jaksa. I saw the highlights as highlighted in The Yellow Bible, like the National Monument and Kota (the old town area), but didn’t really experience the city beyond that.

On that first visit I met up with a Melbourne friend who had just moved to the city for work three days earlier. As Jakarta newbies, Treen and I were fairly clueless about what to do. I recall we went looking for dinner and ended up walking past a bunch of local restaurants before settling on an expat place with a western menu.

Four years later I returned to Jakarta while on my way to Pangandaran. My friend Treen is still working in Jakarta, and she is there with her sister Tasha. I have known Tasha since 1998, so hubbing through Jakarta was a good excuse for me to catch up with friends I rarely see. In the time that the May sisters have been there they have got to know the city well, and started the blog We Love Jakarta. They are becoming seasoned Jakartans, and having a resident show me around this crazy city made for a completely different experience over seeing it by myself. We went out for Padang food, a confusing meal in itself for the uninitiated, then on to some excellent cafes in the leafy neighbourhood of Kemang.

Padang food with Treen from
[Padang food with Treen from]

Social Jakarta

On this trip I also met up with my friends Adam and Susan. They live three hours away in Bandung, but visit Jakarta enough to be able to show me around. We met at a new cafe that I would never have found on my own, and got a fix of good espresso coffee (a rarity in Jakarta).

Through Adam I was invited to participate in a travel meetup put on by travel booking site, Wego. At this event a group of travel bloggers each did a three minute presentation on what it means to travel.

#WegoHangout - Jakarta

[#WegoHangout – Jakarta]

Meeting Jakartans

While I have an advantage of knowing travel bloggers and expats to make connections with when I visit a city, a regular traveller can still do the same. Even if you don’t know anyone in a new city, I would recommend getting on Twitter and tweet that you will be visiting and are looking for some travel tips.

According to one study 2.4% of world’s Twitter posts come from Jakarta. This seems like an unbelievable statistic but having now visited, Twitter is everywhere here. This may have been due to the fact that Blackberry has been the dominant phone brand in Indonesia, and Twitter is used as an IM service.

Jakartans are proud of their city and if you tweeted that you are coming to visit you will be sure to get some travel tips, and maybe an offer to meetup. I found so many people I met were thrilled that I had bothered to visit the city rather than making my way straight to Bali.

Jakarta Resources

We Love Jakarta by my previously mentioned Melburnian friends.

Jakarta by Train. One of the biggest complaints about Jakarta (by locals and visitors alike) is the terrible traffic. If you can’t bare to face that then this site has listed things you can do that are around Jakarta’s modest train system.

TravelFish for more Jakarta travel info.

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  1. Tech scene is crazy, I wouldn’t have predicted it coming into my first visit… looking forward to a second visit !

  2. We’re currently traveling around SE Asia, and Jakarta is one of the places we will probably visit, so your article is very timely. If it goes as well as my first taste of durian, then I will love the place. Durian is now my favorite fruit of all time. I just don’t understand why people don’t like it; even some Asians hate. What’s not to like about it?

  3. I only stopped through once and went straight to the airport at 4am after a shady night train.

    Maybe it’s time for a revisit, not sure what’s a bigger turn on – those plates in your photo or the tech scene.

  4. True or not, I love your correlation between Jakarta and durian. I still don’t like durian but I get what you mean for Jakarta.

    It’s heart warming to read about the good stuff on Jakarta. It’s true, it takes time to like the city a little bit. Most of us learn to live hear after the 3rd and 4th year, which probably is due to habit and adapting. Such a recommended read for Jakarta first timers.

  5. Jakarta is indeed full of surprises.
    I’ve lived in the city for years and years, still finding new stuff now and again, good and bad!

    Here’s one of our pieces on Jakarta, might help you guys discover the Big Durian next time πŸ˜€

  6. Oh by the way, I was at the Wego Hangout, too. Too bad we didn’t chat..

  7. Going to bookmark this article for our first visit to Jakarta. I love durians, I’m hopin’ Jakarta is the same for me πŸ™‚

  8. Widya Pra says

    I used to fans to durian, but it was stopped after I got ‘drunk’ and sick cos ate it too much. While my experience about Jakarta is seems goes to different way. For many years I used to kept myself saying to skip this big city from my favorite list. Last year (when I was 3 months away traveling and stayed in another place) for the first time after 3 years lives in Jakarta I said myself: I miss Jakarta!

    Do I love Jakarta now? I’m still unsure cos I still can’t deal with the traffic, flood, pollution, crime, and all those bad stories about metropolitan city. Last week when I was on Jakarta festival for 486th anniversary, I said myself again: I like this crowd!! Just learnt from my experience about durian: I should enjoy when I taste it a bit (1-2 seeds), but don’t take too much in once unless I want to get drunk and over again! πŸ™‚

  9. Great article James! I was in Jakarta years ago for just a few days, and it’s a city that I’ve really wanted to return to, in order to explore and eat. This article is making me want to go soon!

  10. Hi James, thank you for putting our website at this blog πŸ™‚

  11. It’s funny how most Jakartans also feel the same about the city. We complain about the traffic, pollution, filthy neighborhood everyday. Yet, this is the place where people can make an unimaginable fortune that can change their lives. This is truly a city people love to hate, and also hate to love.

  12. Nice write up! πŸ˜€ I loved reading this and I think it is now the time to taste durian again after 7 years (which was my first time). Like you, I think I’m missing something…

  13. Nice article.. πŸ™‚

    Even some of Indonesians like myself can’t stand to live in Jakarta too long, having lived there for few years and moved to somewhere else.. but somehow the city still attracts people to come & visit..

    • This seems to be the case with big capital cities around the world. Even if they are hard to live in people are still going to come for the economic opportunities.

  14. Man these pictures are awesome, and that food spread is impressive!


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