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.

What Christmas is like for a Pinoy Expat in Jakarta

3 days before Christmas: Work is still up to my ears here in Jakarta.  Whilst Manila is already on holiday mode, I’m in back-to-back meetings, with a Christmas tune in my head (Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiiire…).

To be fair to Indonesia, it’s not all that bad. Luckily for the expats here, although Indonesia is a Moslem society, there is more religious tolerance compared to other more conservative countries.

christmas-tree_wmYes, people, we are allowed to celebrate Christmas here, in case you are wondering. Both my office and apartment buildings have towering Christmas trees.

I usually come back to Manila for the holidays, but this is the first time that I’ll be touching down in Manila exactly on the 24th, so I will be missing a lot of the Manila festivities.

How does it feel, apart from getting homesick? I had a few realizations and musings, between wrapping Christmas presents, rushing to meetings and daydreaming of chocolate batirol.

  1. You miss the pre-Christmas party lunches, dinners and reunions. For the friends and friends_wmex-colleagues who miss you, they either Photoshop your face on the group photos, or in my case, they made videos and placed my name on their group shots. The upside of missing out? Less calories to burn post-holiday season.
  1. You miss Simbang Gabi. Ergo, you miss all the other good stuff that come along with it: bibingka, puto bumbong, taho and that Christmas cool air that greets you when you go to church at 4am. There is this distinct Christmas air that you feel in our country that you won’t feel anywhere else. I know so, having been able to celebrate the holidays in other countries. It just feels…different.
  1. You create your own Christmas traditions with your circle of friends in your second city. As you cultivate friendships along the way and create your own inner circle, you get to create new Christmas traditions. In my case, it’s the annual Christmas champagne brunch where I get to exchange Christmas presents with my friends and one-on-one Christmas lunches with other colleagues before we all fly out to our home countries.

  1. When you finally, finally come back home to Manila for a very short holiday break, you get to appreciate all the little things that make Christmas such a huge deal: misa de gallo, hot chocolate and queso de bola for Noche Buena, the mess of ribbons and wrappers after opening the presents, little kids singing Christmas carols in the streets, the shopping rush at S&R a few days, or even a few hours, before Christmas – all of it. You miss all of it.
  1. In the end, though, your sense of gratitude for being an expat throttling between two cities heightens. I miss Manila and I will always miss it, but being an expat increased my gratitude for all the things that I experience and even the things that I miss out on. I get to miss my favorite things in Manila, but when it’s time to face the music again, I feel great that I can go back to the other favorite things that I became fond of here in Jakarta. Would you believe that I’ve been chowing down sambal and Indonesian food in the past few days because I’m gonna miss it when I come home to Manila? I guess I will carry this dichotomy for as long as I call these two cities my home, and truth be told, it sits with me just fine.

To all my fellow Jakartan expats, enjoy all the lechon, queso de bola and kakanin back home.

To everyone, may this season bring you and your families joy, faith, hope and love. Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!

Jakarta, Indonesia: One More Time with Feelings

What’s that they say about stuff being sweeter the second time around? That’s the perfect way to describe my Jakarta expatriation experience. Round 2 was twice the fun.

I have been living in Jakarta for more than a year now. Fourteen months, to be exact. This is not my first time to be an expat here. I lived in Jakarta for 2 years from 2010 until 2012, but decided to come back to Manila when my “mother company” asked me to return for a digital role. Coincidentally, the Philippines back then showed economic promise, so I packed my bags and headed home.

Fast forward to 2015: I had to move back to Jakarta because Arshad had this career opportunity that we felt we can’t let pass. I called my headhunters, contacts and friends to check for potential job leads. A headhunter also wanted my husband badly enough to say, “Find the wife a job here (in Jakarta) and make sure they move.”

In the end, I chose to go back to my former company in Jakarta because it’s a telco, and telco runs through my blood.

The rest is history.

So here I am, living my Chapter 2: a saner, happier and more fulfilling episode. I wanted to share why and how things got better, because being an expat is not always happiness and sunshine.

Here is my top 5 list of what made Jakarta so much better the second time around:

1. A better grasp of the language. At the very least, learn the basics: how to count, how to greet people, ask for directions, order food and reserve restaurants. I first learned how to count and ask for discount by shopping in Ambassador Mall. None of the sellers know how to speak English so the only way is to either know how to count numbers or arm yourself with calculator and bargain by punching the numbers in. You have higher chances of getting more diskon (discount), though, if you know the language. Locals find it amusing and they are very appreciative if foreigners make an effort to speak Bahasa.

As for me, I can no longer be sold. I can survive basic conversations and I can understand conversations (even technical meetings!) in Bahasa.

I highly recommend getting some basic classes, but based on feedback and experience, group classes with fellow expats are better. It also helps to try to speak the language, albeit broken, in day-to-day conversations and to watch local TV.

For expats with drivers and maids, try to speak to them more. Turo-turo works. Point the objects to them and they’d tell you for sure what they are in the local language. My driver used to translate everything to me. While driving in the rain, he would tell me random things like “hujan” for rain, “hujan terus” as literal translation of “keep raining” and “banjir” for flood.  Try it – it works!

2.  Attraction to the country’s food and culture.

indonesian-food-at-hotel-santika-gubeng-surabaya_wmI don’t think anyone can last in a country if he doesn’t like the local food. International cuisines can only get you so far.  Food is a basic need – it needs to be available and accessible everywhere, most of the time.

Indonesian food is almost always spicy. It’s definitely spicier than Filipino food, so people with low tolerance with spice might have some difficulty adjusting to it. Lucky me, I love spicy food and I literally carry a Tabasco sauce in my bag when I travel, which made me fall in love with Indonesian food all the more.

I’m a pesco-vegetarian and I also observed that a lot of the restaurants in Jakarta are vegetarian-friendly. There are also vegan restaurants and caterers who can deliver vegetarian or vegan-friendly packed meals for a week.

What makes a country interesting is the local culture. Admittedly, I have great admiration the-auther-in-venice-wearing-batik-from-nan-elok_wmfor Indonesia’s batik. Indonesians are very proud of their batik heritage and it’s been integrated to their modern fashion, bags and accessories.

Every Monday, we are required to wear batik outfits in the office and I made this as my excuse to pack a third of my closet space with batik dresses and jackets.

Did I mention that Indonesia has very good teakwood furniture? Indonesia is also known for teakwood and refurbished antique furniture and while in Indonesia, you can start collecting or overhauling your home’s interior.  Wherever I go, I try to buy pieces of furniture here and there.

In Jakarta, Kemang will have furniture shops for teakwood sofa, beds and cabinets. Jalan Surabaya in Menteng is an entire street of antique and refurbished antique flea market. Careful while shopping, because there are a lot of knock-offs, too.

3.  Appreciation of the people.

It comes with the territory.  You cannot live in a place for a long time if you do not like their people. Every culture, every nationality will have nuances – good ones and bad. If you are an expat, you have to either embrace it or accept it. You are the visitor. Whether you like it or not, you adjust to them, instead of wanting them to adjust to you.

Indonesians are very respectful and polite. I honestly think they are more courteous and polite than us, Pinoys. However, there are pros and cons to it because politeness also means they can be ambiguous, which requires “reading between the lines,” when you communicate. This is very much reflected on the Indonesian and Javanese language, which have a lot of euphemisms.

The Indonesian society is also very hierarchical in nature. They respect power distance and most of the time, they try to avoid conflict, which can explain why some of them resort to passive- aggressive forms of communication and conflict management. They also value face and avoid social shame, so it’s a NO-NO to embarrass someone or reprimand a staff in public. These do not apply to everyone, but even in socio-cultural studies, these values are dominant in Indonesians.

Knowing these social and cultural values will save you the shame of making a fool of yourself, or worse, being treated like a social pariah. Admittedly, in my first year, I struggled with this because I’m generally direct when I communicate.  I don’t mince words and being brutally frank in this context may mean being rude or aggressive towards them. As time went by and as I got to know more Indonesians, I learned how to adjust and deal with the nuances, without losing myself and my flexibility in relating to different kinds of people.

4.  Making friends and building your social network.

heneral-luna-showing_wmI kept a very small circle when I was starting out. I was single back then and although I had a circle of expat friends and Pinoys I regularly hang out with, I kept my social engagements to a minimum. It backfired because I’m naturally an extrovert who likes a lot of interaction and social activities.

This time around, I didn’t hesitate to join social activities and organizations when they reached out. Coming from UP, my university has an alumni association chapter in Jakarta (I believe it’s the only university with an alumni chapter here) which I joined and where I’m very active in. I joined UPAA-Indonesia’s activities and meetings. I now even show up for the Philippine Embassy’s events which I shunned in the past and I’ve made more friends through these engagements.

Local friends are a great help to explore Indonesia. They will know the nice hipster coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving the best local food, speak-easy bars, pop-up stores and flea markets.

Never isolate yourself when you’re in a different country. Make friends and if you are socially outgoing, make more friends!

5. Travel, travel, travel!

I use my expatriation as the best and numero uno excuse to travel. There are roughly around 17,500-18,000 islands that comprise Indonesia, with 13 major cities. The country also boasts of beaches and cultural destinations.

Whenever I need to do market visits and when I teach weekend classes as part of my company’s corporate social responsibility, I take advantage of this by extending for a day to get to know the city’s food, culture and must-go to places. It helps that local flights are accessible on a daily basis.

Aside from the very popular Bali, there are other interesting places in Indonesia that are bucket-list worthy: the Gili Islands of Lombok, Belitung, Rajah Ampat, Yogyakarta and Komodo Island, to name a few.


When you are an expat, use any and all excuse to pack your bags and travel. It’s the best way to make the most of being an expat.

All these things point out to a high cultural quotient or CQ.  CQ is better understood as a person’s adaptability and capability “to relate and work effectively across cultures.”  A person with high CQ has a better survival rate being an expat than someone who is less adaptive to change.

To me, it became simple: the more you are flexible to change and to your environment without losing yourself and your core values, the better the chances you have of not just surviving, but having fun and making the most out of being an expat.

Thrive, not just survive, is a very good mantra that I will impart to the beginner expats and to expat-wannabes. It’s an experience worth putting in your bucket list.