Despite its reputation as a chic cosmopolitan destination, Jakarta’s parks and gardens are a surprising highlight.
Islamic gardens were traditionally enclosed with a wall giving them privacy and an air of mystery.
While Jakarta is best known for its dynamic hustle and bustle, it’s worth taking time out from shopping and urban indulgences to discover its serene, verdant side. The observation deck at the top of the National Monument in Merdeka Square reveals that the city has quite a few pockets of green and many of the streets are lined with trees. In fact, there are 119 different varieties lining the roads, the most common being big leaf mahogany, Spanish cherry, sea mango, weeping fig and velvet tamarind.
Public parks, private gardens
Jakarta’s public spaces are not parks designed in the more familiar Western or Oriental traditions. Merdeka Square, for instance, which is the biggest public space in the city, could never be mistaken for New York’s Central Park. It is clearly influenced by Islamic garden traditions, with its paved central zone, geometric planting areas, reflecting pools and four straight diagonal paths that meet at the monument.
Islamic gardens were traditionally enclosed with a wall giving them privacy and an air of mystery. If you plan to go to Jalan Surabaya, Jakarta’s famous antique street, wander around the old-money area near the embassies and peek into the courtyard gardens, that lie serenely behind high walls and screens of bamboo and cinnamon trees. While you’re in the area, take time out in the shady heart of Tamen Suropati and admire the old Banyan trees surrounding the park.
Jakarta has been busy renovating its existing parks, as well as creating new ones, and the nearby Taman Menteng is considered one of the best public parks in the city, created from a former football stadium.
Orchids, flowers and lawns
Indonesia is a paradise for orchid lovers and the Orchid Garden in Slipi is well worth a visit whether you are an enthusiast or not. The landscaped gardens feature thousands of orchard species and varieties from all over Indonesia. If you would like to learn how to grow your own, classes in orchid cultivation and breeding can be arranged.
To visit the nearest botanical gardens, travel 60 kilometers south to the city of Bogor, where the former gardens of the Presidential Palace were converted into botanical gardens for Java's Dutch Governor-General in 1745. Today, its 87 hectares are home to more than 15,000 species of trees and plants. If you are exceedingly lucky, you may even see the blooming of the tallest flower in the world, the titan arum; worldwide there have only been 134 recorded instances of cultivated plants blooming. But be warned, you’ll need to hold your nose if you do, as it is known as the corpse flower for good reason.
Those craving an expanse of lawn should visit one of the many golf courses in and around the city, some of them designed by golfing greats such as Jack Nicklaus. Even if you don’t wield a club, many have excellent restaurants and facilities.
Islands and an oasis
Jakarta can even satisfy any desire you might have to lie on a palm-shaded beach, as there are 120 tropical islands and coral atolls dotted around Jakarta Bay, although most of them are off-limits. Head farther out from the coast to the northern part of the Thousand Islands, a protected marine park. It takes between 45 minutes and three hours to reach the Islands from Ancol Marina. Kotok is regarded as one of the best for diving. If you are interested, the staff at Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta will be able to arrange it for you.
But at the end of the day, if you are looking for a tranquil oasis in which to relax, then the garden at Shangri-La Hotel, Jakarta is hard to beat. Lounging by the butterfly-shaped pool as the sun goes down and birds flit to and fro among the palm trees and the calls to prayer drift overhead, you can easily lose yourself in the tranquillity.