JAKARTA, Indonesia – If you’ve been considering a trip to Jakarta, the next few weeks provide 5 good reasons why you should quickly book that flight. An unusual confluence of events – something unlikely to happen again in the near future – means a trip to the Indonesia’s capital before the end of July offers travelers a unique peek into the culture of this country and what most tourists are after: shopping and R&R.
1. Shop during the Jakarta Great Sale: The city regularly holds a massive sale to celebrate its anniversary, but for Jakarta’s 487th birthday, the shopping spree promises to be bigger and longer. At least 75 malls are participating in this year’s Jakarta Great Sale – the most since it started in 2008. The festival will also last 6 weeks from June 7 to July 19 – longer than the usual one month – to coincide with the fasting month of Ramadan, when Indonesians receive their holiday bonus. Since Ramadan moves up the calendar each year, it’s likely next year’s sale will go back to the usual four-week length.
The Indonesian rupiah is also weak now – so your peso or dollar has more purchasing power. In January 2013, US$1 got you IDR9,630 and P100 got you IDR23,470. Today, US$1 will get you around IDR11,800 and P100 will get you IDR26,990.
2. Experience a different culture during Ramadan: Speaking of Ramadan, the largest Muslim population in the world will begin their month-long fast on June 28. Witnessing thousands of faithful Muslims pray in the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, Istiqlal Mosque, is a unique experience.
But Ramadan is not just about praying and avoiding food and drinks and other indulgences. The breaking of the fast every day at sun down for the entire month is a celebration known as iftar, a time for family and friends to get together. In fact, so much celebrating goes on that food consumption in Indonesia spikes during Ramadan. The fasting month is also the only time of year when takjil food stalls pop up throughout the streets of Jakarta to sell sweet drinks and snacks ideal for breaking the fast. To add to the festivities, hotels and restaurants also offer several discounts, buffets and other special packages.
3. Enjoy the World Cup fever: If you’re a football fan, then it’s a great time to be in Jakarta. Football is unarguably the most popular sport in the country, so it’s no surprise that the World Cup fever infects it once every 4 years. This leads to all sorts of World Cup-related merchandise and promotions, and spawns thousands of nonton bareng (group watching) events in bars, cafes and restaurants throughout the country, especially towards the finals in mid-July. You may not understand what the guy beside you is saying, but everyone understands the rowdy language of cheers and boos in sports.
4. Extend your summer: Though near each other, the Philippines and Indonesia don’t have the same weather patterns. As typhoon season dampens spirits in Manila, the sun is high and the streets are dry in Indonesia. So if you have an extra long vacation this year because of school calendar adjustments, then your summer fun can continue in Jakarta.
North of Jakarta, a 1-2 hour speedboat ride away from the capital, lies Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands). Unlike what the name implies, the district only consists of 128 islands, but some of them are home to resorts that make for excellent quick getaways from urban life. One of the more popular ones especially among foreigners is Pulau Macan, home to the Tiger Islands Village & Eco Resort.
If you’ve had enough of the beach, you can take a two-hour drive up to Puncak, a mountain-side resort town east of Jakarta known for its cool climate and rolling hills of tea plantations. It’s also home to the sprawling Taman Safari Indonesia zoo that lets you get up close and personal with animals, and it’s just a short drive away from the beautifully maintained Taman Bunga Nusantara gardens.
5. Witness the world’s third largest democracy choose a new leader: On July 9, about 180 million Indonesians will participate in what will only be their third democratic and free presidential election. Competing are two starkly different candidates: On one corner stands a candidate who has inspired Indonesia’s youth – Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a former furniture salesman who became a successful small-town mayor then rose to national fame as governor of Jakarta. On the other is Prabowo Subianto, a former military general with a checkered history under the late dictator Suharto who now promises to give Indonesia the strong presidency it needs to move forward.
There’s a lot at stake for Indonesia, and Indonesians – many of whom are fiercely nationalistic – are interested and invested. The next few weeks leading up to the election will see campaigning intensify – campaign ads will decorate the city and taxi drivers and store clerks will happily tell why their candidate should lead the fourth most populous country in the world and the largest economy in Southeast Asia over the next five years.
It’s a great opportunity to get to know what this country and its people are about. – Rappler.com
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