A steamy, raw, chaotic place that puts all five senses in overdrive, Jakarta is not for the faint-hearted. Founded more than 1,500 years ago and forging ahead at a dizzying pace, Jakarta feels both old and new. From sleek high-rise hotels to gritty nightclubs to the National Monument, where children fly kites and adults swell with patriotic pride, Jakarta is everything at once. Yes, the traffic is terrible and the poverty is heartbreaking, but Jakarta thrives in spite of itself. Its energizing vibe will beguile you.
Get a feel for the country's traditional architecture in a stroll around the provincial houses of the Taman Mini Indonesia cultural park -- note the sweep of the massive roofs and the pointed peaks. Sunda Kelapa, the old port, is the place to gaze at the colorful old-time schooners, a direct link to Jakarta's maritime past. Browse the ethnic costumes, Hindu artifacts and bronze statutory at the National Museum. Take the lift to the top of the National Monument and scan the sprawling metropolis from 400 feet up.
Jakarta's Western-style shopping malls have a following that borders on religious. Ride the gleaming escalators in the Grand Indonesia mall to shop in stores like Giorgio Armani and Topshop. The world's most prestigious brands reside here and at Plaza Indonesia, Senayan City and Pacific Place, in the city center. Drive a hard bargain in the shop stalls of Antique Alley in Jalan Surabaya -- filled to the brim with Indonesian collectibles from shadow puppets to Chinese-style Javanese porcelain. Scan the racks for local looks at the Umang Batik Boutique.