Weekend hits: What to do in Jakarta when you’re staying in the city

Last weekend was the very first semi-sane weekend that I spent in Jakarta, which was exactly what I needed: to stay put and have some quiet time after a work-week inundated by nothing but meetings and boardroom presentations.

I always get these questions from friends in Manila: “So what is your typical weekend in Jakarta? What is there to do in Jakarta? Is it still traffic during the weekends?”

To finally shed light on what’s happening here in my side of town (yes, it’s still traffic in some parts of the city), I’m sharing what a quiet Jakarta weekend looks like. Here’s my initial weekend top 5:

1. Healthy Saturday breakfast. In South Jakarta, my go-to restaurants for great coffee and avocado toast are Saint ALi in Setiabudi and Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen in the Plaza Festival complex.

Saint ALi is originally from Australia and luckily, Jakarta is the first branch outside of it. Their coffee game is strong and they offer a lot of variety. The baristas definitely know their coffee and you can ask for recommendations. I regularly order their flat white with Dama almond milk paired with my favorite Avo on Toast.

Another great news for those who love macarons: Saint ALi also partnered with La Maison Patisserie. There is an array of colorful macarons to choose from, with eccentric flavors, too. I tried the salted egg yolk and the salted popcorn and they tasted good, in a weird way.

On the other hand, Lucky Cat is currently one of the hippest coffee shops in town (yes, there is always a line and you can’t make reservations). They’re open 24 hours, too! They have a much shorter menu for both coffee and food, but if you’re into flavored latte or affogatto, this is the place to be! I prefer their mushroom and avocado on toast over Saint Ali’s, to be honest. It’s creamier and more savory, but since this place is one of the newest, it also runs out pretty fast.

Side bar: I don’t know why, but Indonesia seems to have better-tasting avocados, compared to the Philippines. Theirs is more buttery and sweet-tasting, you just can’t have enough of it.

Saint ALi
Price Range is around Rp300k for 2 people
Hours: 7am to 8pm
Address : Setiabudi Two, Ground Floor, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Setiabudi, Jakarta
Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen
Price range: Rp300k for 2 people
Open 24 hours
Plaza Festival, South Parking, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan Jakarta


2.  Books! When I was a newbie in Jakarta, I had a hard time looking for English books. I didn’t know where to go. Indonesia has Gramedia bookstore but majority of the books they sell are in Bahasa Indonesia. There were English books but quite limited, in terms of bestsellers and new releases line-up. Luckily, I discovered Periplus in Plaza Indonesia in one of my cardio window shopping spree. Periplus branches are modest in size but they pack a lot of bestsellers and popular authors.

A weekend well-spent is a Periplus shopping spree and an afternoon spent in a coffee shop reading one of the bestsellers you just bought. In my case, I usually go to the Lotte Shopping Mall in Ciputra World since it’s in my ‘hood.

3. Batik shopping. My love for Indonesian batik is infamous among my friends. I wear them everywhere, for any occasion. For cheap batik shopping, Ambasador and ITC malls in South Jakarta are the places-to-be. One of my secret shopping jaunts though is the Bellagio Mall. There is always a bazaar in the middle of Bellagio Mall with around 5 stalls selling batik from Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung. It’s very near my office and apartment so I end up buying whenever I pass by (or whenever I can come up with reasons to do so!). Price ranges from Rp150k to Rp300k.

For the bold and the brave, Thamrin City is the best place to buy batik coming from all over Indonesia. Imagine 5 floors of batik shops! I always, always get lost whenever I go, but I never get tired of going. You can find batik fabrics, RTW, shoes, bags and handicrafts. There are 2 main caveats: beware of pickpockets and traffic is a b*tch. Better to park your car if you’re driving in Plaza Indonesia or just go take Uber or Blue Bird taxi.

4. The most underrated but most divine treatment: Crème bath. Crème bath is essentially a hot oil treatment, with a pleasant twist: the head and scalp massage lasts for an hour! For someone like me who loves a scalp massage more than any kind of spa treatment, this is my best stress reliever! Most salons would have this treatment, but my favorite spots are at Alfons in Lotte Shopping Mall or Hair Code at Epicentrum, Rasuna Said.

Jakarta also has a better blow styling method that is longer lasting. Whenever I have to go to a Sunday brunch, I head to the salon first to get my crème bath treatment and a blow-dry after.

Alfons Salon
Hours : 10am – 10pm
Lotte Shopping Avenue
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
Hair Code Epicentrum 
Hours: 10am – 10pm
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940


5. Speaking of my most favorite thing: Sunday champagne brunch at Hotel Mulia. Back in 2011 when I was still single and bored with nothing much to do during the weekends (except for the top 4 above), my girlfriends and I made it a habit to have Sunday brunch together with free-flow wine and champagne.  Jakarta boasts of several hotels offering Sunday brunch, but I am most fond of the restaurants in Hotel Mulia, specifically, Il Mare.

First of all, the interior design of Hotel Mulia with its grandiose staircases makes me feel like a queen when I descend the stairs to go to the restaurant. Mulia has this old, elegant look that makes you feel like you’re an aristocrat of the olden days about to partake in a sumptuous feast of fresh oysters, lobster and champagne.

Oh yes, did I mention the fresh oysters already? What’s good about Il Mare is that the buffet spread is just enough in terms of size, but it doesn’t shortchange the customer. The buffet packs in a lot in terms of diversity in their offering – fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi, steak, pasta, grilled food, cheese and all the desserts you can think of.

I love the buffet brunches in Mulia, so much so that this deserves a separate blog entry!

Il Mare buffet with free-flowing wine and cocktails go for around Rp638,000.00++. Reservation is a must and when there are occasions such as Christmas or Chinese New Year, it’s always better to call a week ahead.

IL Mare, Mulia 
Hours: 12pm – 2:30pm for brunch, 6pm – 10:30pm for dinner
Jl. Asia  Afrika, Senayan, RT.1/RW.3, Gelora, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10270
This is my first Top 5 weekend hits in Jakarta. I will be posting more of my favorites soon. For now, it’s time for a lazy weekend.

Book Review: The World of Suzie Wong by Richard Mason


The World of Suzie Wong successfully transported me to Hong Kong of the mid-1950s. It is both a great and easy read, if you are open to a melodramatic love story, with bits of emotional roller coaster ride.

I found this novel at Dymocks in Melbourne when I was visiting family last December. I didn’t have a lot of expectations and the only reason why I bought it (aside from it being on sale) was that the backdrop of the story is Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in Asia.

As it turned out, The World of Suzie Wong was a beautiful surprise. Extremely well-written and thoughtful, it takes the reader to the streets of seedy Wan Chai, the sights and sounds of Nathan Road in the mid-century setting of Hong Kong.

Robert Lomax, an aspiring British artist who relocated from Malaysia to Hong Kong, is the only long-term resident of Nam Kok Hotel, which is more of a brothel paid by the hour.  Robert meets Suzie, a Chinese prostitute, who frequents the hotel bar and regularly rents the hotel with her sailor customers. Suzie becomes Robert’s muse, despite their relationship being platonic.  Over a long and tedious process, with Suzie’s several “boyfriends” gracing the pages and adding more color to the story line, they eventually fall in love.

Their romance is mired by a lot of complications, which provided a lot of texture to the story, making it more evocative.

Mason’s character exposition made Suzie very endearing with her simplistic yet practical view of things. Suzie actually felt so real. The author also made a painstaking effort to provide richness in the other characters surrounding Suzie and Robert, including the other prostitutes that Robert has come to know during his stay at the Nam Kok.

Overall, it is beautifully written, with powerful imagery of a dated Hong Kong. Mason’s descriptive writing style made the book a page-turner and a beautiful journey that the reader will enjoy with Suzie and Robert.

This book is one of my surprise favorites and I definitely recommend it!


Book Review:  One Summer in Venice by Nicky Pellegrino


If you like Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” and Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” then this book is the perfect one to be next on your reading list. If you like books with vivid travel backdrops and decadent descriptions of food and wine, then you better run to your nearest bookstore to find this novel…fast!

Everything about “One Summer in Venice” is delicious: the chilled Procecco, the Venetian food fare served in the bacaros, Dolly’s Venetian flame, Coco’s colorful past that overshadowed her flamboyant outfits and the vivid descriptions of the nooks and crannies of Venice, all created a wonderful amalgam of a story set in beautiful Venice, Italy.

Addolorata (Dolly), a restaurateur-owner of Little Italy that she inherited from her father, has a seemingly perfect life in London, with Eden, her gorgeous husband and her beautiful daughter Katia. Suffering an early onset of mid-life crisis, all hell seemed to have broken loose when a food critique downright slammed Little Italy. The harsh review triggered Dolly to question her life and her marriage, hie off to Venice on a supposedly quick solo break that ended up taking the entire summer, in pursuit of her happiness list.

In Venice, she started discovering and writing down things that make her happy, through the help of Venetian locals who knew how to enjoy life in all its glory – from the stylish Coco who became a sort of mentor-slash-older best friend-slash landlady to the charming chef-slash-tango dancer-slash-local playboy Angelo. Dolly discovers a new passion unbeknownst to her – the tango, and resurrects her love for the art of making good Italian food.

Nicky Pellegrino’s “One Summer in Venice” is not my usual genre in books. It is a memorable book for me, though, as I found it in the stack of new novels in Frizzo Luigi’s legendary Libreria Acqua Alta, right smack in the middle of Calle Longa Formosa at the heart of Venice. Yes, I bought this book about Venice in Venice itself, along with some postcards and bookmarks to make me remember the days I spent in this magical city that I immediately fell in love with the moment that I stepped out of Stazione di Venizia Santa Lucia.

This is probably one of the reasons why I liked the book, because it accurately depicted the Venice that I was enamored with.  I thoroughly loved and enjoyed the book, to the point that I can’t put it down, eager to know what happens next to Dolly’s quest for happiness. This book helped me soak up Venice’s food, wine, culture, bacaros and canals – page by page – as it evoked the sights, taste and smell of the City of Water.

Although Dolly’s existential questions and pursuit of happiness were understandable, the realist in me found her decision to spend the entire summer in Venice, leaving her daughter Katia in London quite irresponsible. I also wondered how someone who claimed to be cash-strapped like her was able to afford her entire summer in Venice.

To my surprise, though, I can relate more to Coco, than to Dolly, who was supposed to be the main heroine in the story.  I admired Coco’s courage, flamboyance and devil-may-care attitude. Unraveling her secrets and her past was one of my favorite chapters in the novel.

Nicky Pellegrino successfully provided texture to the story – the canals, bacaros, cafes, food, wine and tango all helped to make the reader feel that they are actually in Venice. It made me want to go back to explore it again for another round!

I found the ending to be a little hurried for my liking, as if the writer just wanted to end it hastily. It left me asking myself, “Huh, was that it?” There wasn’t anything monumental or cathartic to how it ended, leaving me to ask for more.

Overall, it is a good, easy read. It transported me back to Venice, conjuring the sea-salty taste of a slew of ciccheti and a chilled glass of Procecco.  At this, I can relate to Dolly’s 4th item on her happiness list:

Addolorata’s  Happiness List:

A glass of chilled Prosecco. Preferably drunk outdoors, at a table with a view. Just one glass…at most maybe two… taken in the early evening before the sun goes down, with a little dish of olives or some salty pistachios. A civilised, quiet drink at the end of a day of work, maybe with a friend but even on my own.”

Rating: 4 out 5


Second Wind


Goodbye, excuses!

Here’s to coming back to the blogosphere, like a prodigal daughter that I am.

I’m not new to blogging. My first personal blog dated back to 2002, way back when the blogosphere predated Facebook and blogs were used as an online journal, shared to several friends to keep tabs with each other.

I was on a hiatus for 2 years and I realized I have outgrown my old blog. Ergo, I cajoled my procrastinating self to do what I wanted to do all along:

Begin again.

Creating Bella Expatria proved to be a challenge.

Now, that’s an understatement.

I’m a Filipina expat who carved my career on being a digital junkie and a user experience design executive. I work an average of 9-10 hours daily, also stubbornly refusing to let go of my daily fitness regimen and social calendar. So where will I squeeze the writing in?

In any way I can, through any time left that I can wrangle from my calendar, because I really, really want to write again.

So here I am, reclaiming my insy teensy space.

The focus of my writing will pretty much be where I would have a lot of material on: my expat life which takes me to my 3 key cities: Jakarta, Manila and Kuala Lumpur and other things I am strongly passionate about: travel, fitness, food, wine and books.

Being an expat married to another expat, traveling became second nature. I get antsy when I don’t travel and wanderlust is not an occasional bug that bites. It is my steady state.

Similarly, I get the jitters when I’m not reading anything. Yes, with fingers shaking and panic attacks! Reading is a favorite outlet and therapy. I don’t watch TV, except for the occasional interesting Netflix TV series, and I can’t even last beyond a single episode. I prefer to use my imagination, thus, my long-standing love affair with books.  Although I have a Kindle Paperwhite (best gadget investment evuuur), I prefer the smell and feel of real books.

The smell of old books and library…aaaaah…divine!

Another favorite topic and passion for me is my love of wine. Wine is my second water. I believe Bacchus is my long-lost Greek god brother and I rejoice the fact that turning water into wine is Christ’s first miracle.

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit vineyards and get acquainted with different wines produced by different kinds of rolling hills, weather and grape varieties.

To sum it up, a perfect day for me is this: a clear blue sky in a Tuscan vineyard with a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva, armed with a good Dystopian novel.

With that, I look forward to writing about remarkable moments like that.

Yes. I am saying yes to beginning again.