Jakarta isn’t much of a place for street photography. It’s not that the people are not photogenic or the places don’t provide opportunities for interesting and unique compositions. Far from it. Rather the footpaths are so narrow, jammed with bikes, that is when they exist or crumbling into sewerage channels beneath. Walking the city is no easy feat and dare I mention the heat? But for those that brave the treacherous conditions, here is my advice.
Begin in the Old Town or Kota Tua to the locals. The big colonial building, formerly city hall, houses an impressive history museum but the characters and people you may find in the wandering around outside in Fatahilla square is what may delight you more. Jakarta Kota railway station is nearby and although small is certainly worth a peek.
From here you have two options: either continue on by tracing the rail line through some interesting local neighbourhoods (see urban village, Jakarta) or walk on towards Chinatown, Glodok.
This route will take you passed an array of trinket sellers lurking under the shelter of the shop houses of Gajah Mada. There is a character or two here amongst these guys and a great place for buying the big faux gem rings that are so popular with the men here. Continuing on you will find something of an artists colony. They paint pictures to order based off of photographs and are very popular with the locals.
Chinatown is around the next block and is probably better for a snack than anything else as it pales into comparison when compared with most Chinatowns around the world. At this point, depending on the time of year, you are either draped in sweat or soaked to the bone with rain. You may want to head to some of the various local markets or even take a break and come back out just before dusk when the light mellows and people come out for food.
Grand Indonesia shopping town maybe one of the cities best malls but the surrounding area is full of working class character with street vendors decorating the winding alleys, and enough ‘real’ people at play to photograph. It makes an interesting contrast with the affluent shoppers across the road in the mall, which I might add has excellent food choices.
There are a few more local neighbourhoods to shoot or you could head to the National Monument in Merdeka Square. It was closed when I was there so check online or with some locals otherwise its a waste of a cab fare. I’d add that if walking isn’t your thing, cabs are very convenient and reasonably priced. I took them everywhere although not all the drivers are as familiar with the city as they should be. Happy hunting!