Colonial-style hotels, fine fare and dragons make up Jakarta's best, says Jamie James
1 The Dharmawangsa
The premier traveller's address in Jakarta, the Dharmawangsa is an inspired blend of colonial-style comfort and classical Javanese civilisation, with a museum-quality collection of art and antiques on display in its cool, hushed halls and lounges. Guest rooms are the biggest in the city, with private balconies and 24-hour butler service that is more than a catchphrase.
Managed by Rosewood, the top American hotel firm which runs Dallas' famed Mansion on Turtle Creek, the Dharmawangsa feels more like a luxurious private club than a public hostelry. Guests have the run of facilities at the Grha Bimasena, a club catering to Jakarta's oil-and-gas elite. In a city starved of green space, the hotel's spacious grounds and lush gardens give a lift to the soul, much needed after a day of rushing around this most hectic of cities (Jalan Brawijaya Raya 26, Kebayoran Baru, tel:  21 725 8181, www.dharmawangsa.com).
2 Cafe Batavia
The most popular and dependable international restaurant in Jakarta, open 24 hours, this handsome establishment is decorated from floor to high ceilings with framed period photographs of film stars that double as menus. The fare comprises Chinese, Indonesian and continental cuisine, well cooked and elegantly presented (if on the pricey side for Indonesia).
Superbly located on Taman Fatahillah, a generously proportioned plaza that was the centre of old Batavia, the Dutch colonial capital, Cafe Batavia is also one of the best places in town for cocktails, with more than 60 to choose from. Downstairs is a dim, romantic nightclub, with frequent live jazz performances. The restaurant's a great choice for lunch, before or after a visit to the neighbouring Jakarta History Museum, more interesting for its architecture than its collection, and the pleasant little Wayang Museum, with its free performances of the shadow-puppet drama every Sunday morning at 10am (Taman Fatahillah, Kota,
tel:  21 691 5531).
3 Museum Bahari
Most of Jakarta's public museums are dusty and disappointing, but the city's maritime museum, housed in a 17th-century godown near the old port, is fascinating and well presented. Visitors to Jakarta, shuttling in traffic from office towers to malls, all too easily forget that the city began life as one of Asia's greatest ports. Museum Bahari's elegantly proportioned halls, which once stored spices, coffee and Chinese export wares, now display antique ships from all over the archipelago, such as a sleek kora-kora war boat from the Moluccas, as well as finely detailed models of modern freighters. Open Tuesday to Thursday, 9am to 3pm, Friday, 9am to 2.30pm, Saturday, 9am to 12.30pm. Entrance: 2,000 rupiah (HK$1.70), which includes admission to the Lookout Tower at Jalan Pakin and Jalan Pasar Ikan (Jalan Pasar Ikan 1, tel:  21 669 3406). Complete the tour with a stroll to nearby Sunda Kelapa, Jakarta's 800-year-old port, where wooden schooners from Borneo and Sulawesi still dock to unload their cargo.
4 QB World and Aksara
In the Suharto regime, Indonesia was among the most anti-intellectual countries in Southeast Asia. Books were difficult to come by and ridiculously expensive. The government imposed onerous levies, envisioning itself as the primary dispenser of information. After the fall of Suharto in 1998, the situation loosened up almost immediately. In 1999, entrepreneur and author Richard Oh opened his first bookstore QB World, on Jalan Sunda, opposite a major shopping complex on the city's central artery, Jalan Thamrin (Jalan Sunda 9, plus other locations in central Jakarta, tel:  21 315 2011, www.qbworld.com). For people who remember the old days, when the choice was limited to cookbooks, travel guides, and Penguin classics at five times the cover price, Oh's shop was a wonderland of options, in civilised, caffeinated surroundings. Soon he had a competitor in Aksara, located in the swanky Kemang residential district, which offered a superb selection in a cool, hip environment, with a coffee bar downstairs and an excellent little restaurant upstairs, operated by famed restaurateur William Wongse (Jalan Kemang Raya 8B, tel:  21 719 9288, www.aksara.com).
5 Gedung Dua8
In the tradition of the private museums of London and New York, such as the Frick Collection and the Sir John Soane's Museum, Gedung Dua8 is a monument to the vision and taste of one person: filmmaker Dea Sudarman. In her 15-year career producing documentary films for Japanese television, Sudarman travelled throughout the Indonesian archipelago, amassing a world-class collection of the artistic and cultural artefacts of the nation's indigenous peoples, with a magnificent representation of the arts of Papua, the western half of New Guinea. Her collection is housed in a modernist concrete block, with eccentric ramps and niches that continually surprise the visitor. The museum's location in Kemang makes it a perfect part of a shopping expedition to the district's fashion and interiors shops, and there's a fabulous Japanese fusion restaurant, Wabi Sabi, on site, to nourish you with sushi and Kobe beef, if all that culture leaves you feeling famished. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm (Jalan Kemang Utara 28, tel:  21 7179 2049, www.gedungdua8.com).
6 Bin House
The richly coloured batiks of the Bin House textile firm are sold in better boutiques throughout Asia and beyond, but the most pleasant place to shop for its heirloom-quality creations is its flagship store, an inconspicuous little house in Jakarta's leafy residential and diplomatic district of Menteng.
Bin House takes its name from its founder, Josephine Komara, familiarly known as Obin. She began collecting antique textiles from throughout Indonesia - and soon found herself gathering the elder master craftsmen who made them, who were literally a dying breed.
President Megawati Sukarnoputri is a loyal customer here and when avant-garde director Robert Wilson came to Indonesia to create his ground-breaking theatre production I La Galigo, which recently premiered at Singapore's Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, he chose Bin House fabrics for use in the show's costumes. The firm has introduced an adorable line of children's clothes (Jalan Teluk Betung 10, tel:  21 3193 5941, www.binhouse.com).
7 Cemara 6
Not far from Bin House, in a restored Dutch colonial-era mansion in Menteng, is this delightful complex where art lovers can eat, breathe and sleep surrounded by the stuff. Cemara 6 gallery, restaurant and homestay is the creation of Toety Herati, an art collector and dealer. The gallery shows artists from Herati's own collection, as well as contemporary work from Asia and Europe. The restaurant serves Indonesian and western food in a relaxed patio setting, furnished with rustic antiques, while the homestay is a comfortable, well-located alternative to the full-service hotels on nearby Thamrin (Jalan HOS Cokroaminoto 9-11, tel:  21 391 1823).
Looking for a real Javanese kris (iron blade) or shadow puppet to take home? Most guidebooks will send antique-shoppers to Jalan Surabaya, where the touristy bric-a-brac shops are, but Jakartans shop in Ciputat. Jalan Ciputat Raya itself is a dusty, congested artery, far from central Jakarta and lined by hundreds of shops. Some finer dealers, such as Dharma Mulia (no50, tel:  21 749 2850) and Bachtiar (no7, tel:  21 916 9415) offer choice examples of the ancient arts of Java and collectible colonial-era antiques, but most of the shops are cheerfully disorganised jumble sales, with 'primitive' sculptures (both real and fake) and teak furniture, ready for export. No chic little lunch spots here: Ciputat is for the serious shopper who's ready to bargain.
9 Ragunan Zoo
The superbly housed orangutans at Jakarta's zoo may be the city's most interesting creatures. Before it became a commonplace in Asian zoos, Ragunan Zoo, which opened in 1966, exhibited its 550 species in spacious open-air settings that attempted to replicate the animals' natural habitats. Other endangered species bred here include the Sumatran tiger and Komodo dragon, Indonesia's terrifying three-metre-long lizard.
If you're in a festive mood, come on the weekend when the place is packed with families. However, work-day mornings are best if you want to commune with the orangutans. Entrance: 3,000 rupiah (Jalan Harsono RM 1, Ragunan Pasar Minggu, tel:  21 780 5280, www.ragunanzoo.org).
10 Bogor Botanical Gardens
Dutch colonial officials sought relief from the heat of old Batavia by heading for the verdant hill town of Buitzenborg. Now it's called by its Indonesian name, Bogor, and modern Jakartans take the 45-minute drive there for the same reason - to visit the city's world-famous botanical gardens. Created by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1817, when he was the British governor of Java, the garden's 87 hectares contain a magnificent collection of 17,000 plant species, including fabulous orchids and the huge, stinky flower named after its founder, the Rafflesia, which he discovered in Sumatra. Entrance: 5,000 rupiah (Jalan Juanda 11, Bogor, tel:  251 322 220, www.bogor.indo.net.id/kri).
Directly opposite the gardens is one of the oldest hotels in Asia, the Salak Heritage, which opened in 1856 as the Binnenhoff Hotel. It does a perfect sop buntut, the traditional Indonesian oxtail soup, at lunch.