As a long time reader of this site, one of the things I find surprising is the minimal amount of print Indonesia gets. You can run into to occasional post comparing Thailand (and its women) to Philippines, but so far, not much has been written about Indonesia (maybe one or two articles in recent memory). I traveled to Indonesia as many times as I have to Thailand, and I found the country is undeservedly overlooked. I'm trying to correct that, hence this post. I will be talking about my first trip to Jakarta here.
I arrived at the Soekarno-Hatta airport in the Indonesian capital. To all those bitching about Suvarnabhumi, S-H doesn't even come close; it was built in the 70's and it shows, air-con is quasi inexistent as the airport relies on its architecture (walls open at the top allowing the wind inside, in the style of a traditional Indonesian house) for cooling. The immigration took forever. There were only 2 officers on duty, and a large number of Middle Eastern gentlemen with their assorted wives (but apparently without the papers filled out right) ensured that my wait in line took over one hour. The taxi ride to Jakarta took another two excruciating hours (one thing that is worse in Jakarta than in Bangkok is the traffic jams; they are truly awful).
Jakarta itself, despite the horrendous scores it gets in the expat quality of life rankings, is an interesting city. Not all that different from Bangkok, it suffers from the lack of a BTS-type of transportation. Apparently, it has been planned for some 15-odd years, but Indonesia's endemic corruption (so I hear) made it so that the project never got off the ground. But I understand work is finally supposed to start soon.
It is a huge city, with an impressive skyline; slums are interspersed with posh shopping malls and shiny skyscrapers. I stayed in the artsy section called Kemang, where a lot of expats tend to live. It is a place with a lot of small art galleries, coffee shops, funky restaurants, and such. As opposed to most of Jakarta, it is a place where you can actually walk. It felt very safe, but I understand other sections of Jakarta are less so. However, at no point during any of my stays there did I feel threatened or sense any danger – the city's central areas have a massive police and private security presence in malls and hotels due to the bombings from a few years ago.
By the time I checked into my hotel (posh, and reasonably priced – about 25% cheaper than a comparable Bangkok hotel), showered, and changed, one of the girls I used to chat prior to the trip had already texted me. She came to the hotel to pick me up with two friends.
This girl was 27 years old, Javanese / Muslim, originally from a town in Central Java. She used to live in Japan as a hostess or something, and now is back in Indonesia, getting her degree in marketing and 'modeling' on the side (more on this later). I have to say she is an absolute knock-out – 5'7" tall, perhaps 110 lbs (if that), hourglass-shaped, with long flowing, thick dark hair and big black eyes, and a skin complexion that is the right amount of mocha and milk; in fact there is a word in Indonesian denoting this perfect skin tone – 'langsat'. As many Javanese, she only uses one name. She truly is one of the most gorgeous women I have seen in my life; her two friends were a Chinese Indonesian and another Javanese who had been featured in the Indonesian Playboy. They were not nearly as gorgeous as her, but both were really attractive in their own way – the Playboy gal sporting a remarkable chest (Indonesian girls tend to be very shapely), and all three wearing super mini skirts with plunging neck lines and high heels. What was their game, I wondered?
So all four of us went to Shangri La, one of Jakarta's nicest hotels, quite famous with the expats for BATS – the bar that 'caters to a foreign, male, after-work audience' as the Jakarta guides euphemistically put it. BATS was wall to wall full of girls, some out for a night on the town, most with more business-like designs on their minds. I was not sure what to expect of my host – I had chatted with her many times before, but I don't put any faith in Internet liaisons, so what was going to happen was totally open ended as far as I was concerned. I was happy to be hanging out with three smoking hot Indonesian babes, while learning what the city had to offer. Sure, I picked up the tab for some of the drinks but they were very cheap so that was not an issue.
A couple of drinks later and the centerfold suggested that she could 'use' 800,000 rupiah, and was prepared to do certain things to get the amount. That was at the time US$80. I was more interested in my host, so I focused on her – however, after many drinks were downed, chemistry didn't happen and for some reason she gave me the cold shoulder (quite openly, she said 'sorry I can't sleep with you tonight'), but it was all good as I was concerned – they dropped me back at my hotel which was just as teeming with talent as Shangri La had been, and where enthusiastic new friends could easily be met.
The next day I met another of my chat friends – this girl, I found out, was a hi-so who showed up in a chauffeured car. Mid 20's, not quite as stunning as the model but much more friendly, she still was one of the most exotic women I had seen in my life: huge eyes, hair so black it was almost tinged blue. She works for her father's company, and the diamond rings on her fingers suggest more than a basic level of comfort. I spent a lot of time with her in the next couple of weeks and found that she is a really great girl – spoiled for sure, but very smart and funny, well-traveled, and very foreigner-friendly.
So for the next couple of weeks I led a double life – going to nice restaurants and museums with my hi so friend, and occasionally encountering other 'models' in the early hours. I have to say all pretty Jakarta girls I have met (except the hi-sos) were 'models' of some kind of another, having been featured in one of Jakarta's many glossies, been on TV shows, etc. In fact, on countless occasions I saw people on TV listed as 'selebriti'; apparently it's quite easy to achieve that status, and my friends would point out various 'personalities' in many of the bars we went to. The thing being, all these 'celebrities' can be 'met' for the right price: sometimes it takes more than just money (e.g., having the right introduction), but most of the single girls you meet on the social circuit (models, TV actresses, dangdut stars, etc.) who aren't independently wealthy are available.
As to the city itself – it feels exactly like what it is, a place that took off in the 70's, only to crash hard a decade ago, and now is trying to take off again. Indonesia has been doing surprisingly well under the current president (who has just been re-elected), and is actually holding up very well in the current crisis.
Here are some differences between Bangkok and Jakarta:
* Indonesian girls are gorgeous. Certainly, not all; and an average Thai will be more pretty than an average Indonesian. But a cute, girl-next-door Indonesian will be more attractive, to me, than a cute Thai; they just have more curvaceous bodies, and seem more elegant / poised. They have a beautiful skin tone, beautiful big eyes, and the most gorgeous hair you will ever see. They are not as sanuk as Thais, that is for sure. But that might be OK; less childish, more reserved, and less in need of constant entertainment. I find myself tired at times of the constant rattle coming from a 20-some Bangkokian. With an Indonesian, you can keep quiet for hours and she will just let you be;
* the 'scene' is less in your face. You just won't see dodgy foreigners pawing their rent-a-girlfriends on Jakarta's main thoroughfares. Which is fine by me – just walk into any nightclub and you will find your share of available girls: many, many, many of them. In fact I find 'normal' Indonesian girls more approachable than their Thai counterparts; they seem to speak more English, and are genuinely friendly to foreigners (the fact that the country is 3 – 4 times bigger than Thailand and gets 1/10 of the foreigners certainly has something to do with it);
* yes there is a kind of local Nana – it's called Blok M, but for the reason mentioned in the previous bullet, I had no need to go there; the local bar where expats from naughty to famous hang out is called BuGils, and its owner, a Dutch guy, is somewhat of a local celebrity;
* as mentioned, the city is less easy to get around, and less 'welcoming' in some ways than Bangkok. However I found Indonesians genuinely nice people, and much less nationalistic than Thais;
* food, if that is a consideration, isn't nearly as great as it is in Thailand; I am a chicken satay addict, but other than that, nasi goreng, bakso, ayam bubur, sop buntun are all rather forgettable (and not spicy, although some outer islands cuisines can be spicy); Jakarta, however, has a huge variety of international dining options, so you can find your som tam fix should you need it;
* Indonesia is a hugely diverse country; from Papua to Sumatra, there are several thousand tropical islands (17,000 I seem to remember) to choose from. The culture in Indonesia is remarkable, very varied from island to island, quite different from Thailand in that aspect which is comparatively mono-cultural. Sure, perhaps most of these places will be off limits for naughty travelers, as they are heavily Muslim, but most should be perfectly fine for normal tourists.
Speaking of Muslims, religion does interfere with daily life every now and then, things are definitely less in your face than in Bangkok, but not as much as you would think; most Indonesians, even strict believers, are quite tolerant, and many aren't too strict in their beliefs. In the major cities you will have a hard time finding veiled ladies.
As far as specifics of Jakarta nightlife, this would take an entire post, but other than the BATS and Blok M already mentioned, if you travel there you should do your research on Red Square, CJ's, and Stadium. There is another type of joint I haven't been to, but to which Indonesian friends alluded to, some kind of gogo place with full nudity, but for obvious reasons (again, this being a Muslim country) it is not that easy to find and somewhat restricted to local businessmen (and friends). If you want to give it a try, you may want to read "Jakarta Undercover" by Moammar Emka, which is a thinly veiled description of Jakarta's naughty nightlife. Even as a visitor I was able to identify some of the places mentioned in the book, so a knowledgeable local would have no problems in identifying every type of establishment mentioned in the book.
So – if you feel a very little bit adventurous, definitely do give Indonesia a try. The country might impress you, and its ladies certainly will.
Indonesia seems to be the big secret of South-East Asia. The most populous country in the region and 4th most populous on the planet, this should not be the case, but it is. If there's one country in the region I want to check out, Indonesia is it!