Free Stuff in Indonesia

Apr 14th, 2010, in Travel, by

The many low-cost or free tourist attractions in the cities of Jakarta and Surabaya.

They say the best things in life are free; does this also apply to Indonesia’s tourist attractions?




Jakarta’s Statues and Monuments

Every city has something unique or special that defines its identity.

Eiffel TowerSydney Opera HouseParis has the Eiffel Tower, Sydney has the Opera House, Jakarta has… nothing quite so appealing, but it does have a few things that help reveal a little of the capital city’s history and culture.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, then President Soekarno was concerned about Indonesia’s national pride. His government commissioned a number of statues of dubious taste, despite (or because of?) the economy being in very poor shape. They became substitutes for real development and were sometimes – ironically – financed by countries wishing to curry favour and influence.

Some of the major ones are (apart from the Top 5 suggested by Reno Purnama here.):

National Monumen, a.k.a Monas:Monas 132 m tall, and has some facet of the date of Indonesia’s declaration of independence (17/8/1945) incorporated into every part of the design: 17 steps to the main entrance, 45 x 45 m at the base, even the surrounding fence has 1945 pillars! Yet it was constructed entirely of Italian marble, and the 35 kg of gold leaf on the flame at the top probably wasn’t locally produced either. You can take a lift to the top, although the quality of the view can vary with the weather and level of pollution.

Welcome Monument:Welcome Monument Jakarta Shows a man and a lady waving. Facing the sea (North) perhaps it was supposed to greet boat arrivals. These days, it is a favourite place to meet for street demonstrations, especially Muslim and anti-corruption groups.

Free West Irian Monument:West Irian Freedom Statue Shows a man breaking free of his chains. According to Jakarta Inside Out, Australians call it “The Howzat Man” because it looks like someone appealing for a dismissal in cricket. The name is ironic, considering the alleged racism, human rights abuses the people of West Irian (now called Papua/West Papua) have received since its “liberation” from Dutch rule in 1969, which was allegedly only achieved by rigging the vote in Indonesia’s favour.

Youth Statue:Youth Statue And who could leave out the Youth Statue? There’s no prize for guessing why its nicknames include “Pizza Man” and “Hotplate Harry”.

Places of “National” Significance

As the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta is home of the Parliament, somewhere between 10 and 23 million people (depending on your definition of “city limits”) plus a number of places of national significance and of interest to the tourist: museums, monuments, statues, etc.

The good news is that – possibly to keep them affordable for local residents, whose salaries are on average a lot lower – they are either free or amazingly cheap, not unlike e.g. all the “National” sites in Canberra, the capital city of Australia. And unlike some other places in Indonesia, e.g. Borobodur, no “tourist prices” apply. Admission to the zoo, the National Museum and the National Monument is below $0.50 each.

Dutch Drawbridge JakartaThe bad news is that the quality of these places is rather, ummm… variable. Many locals are ignorant about local tourist attractions, and/or they don’t have time between work, family and religious duties (whether that be to God or Mammon, i.e. shopping). So a number of these places are lacking care due to a shortage of finance, as a result of lack of visitors and/or adequate government funding. For a city that is almost 500 years old, students of history might also wonder what happened to all the old buildings. A few do remain in the historical district of Kota, North Jakarta – including a Dutch drawbridge – but generally most are long gone.

Anyway, I can recommend the following:

National History Museum:National History Museum There are 48 dioramas which explain Indonesia’s history from the year dot to about 1970. Curiously, they are not dissimilar in style to the “Ten Courts of Hell” at the Haw Par Villa Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore – a very graphic and violent depiction of punishments given out to evildoers.

One is from the National History Museum, Indonesia; another from the Ten Courts of Hell (Haw Par Villa Tiger Balm Gardens), Singapore. Can you tell which is which?

However, students of history might take issue with the displays in which – like Indonesian history textbooks – the facts have been coloured/changed by the government of the day to make it more glorious or palatable. For example, Soekarno – who read the declaration of independence and was Indonesia’s first president – was out of power and favour at the time of its construction, so is barely mentioned. The events surrounding the 1965 coup are also highly simplified, with glaring factual omissions. Foreign visitors might also struggle to understand the poor to incomprehensible English translations on some of the dioramas’ explanatory texts.

The Puppet Museum:National Puppet MuseumThe grave of the first Dutch governor, Jan Pieterzoon Coen Better than it sounds. Wooden and shadow puppets are a traditional performance art in Indonesia. It’s also interesting historically; it was built on the ruins of an old Dutch church, and has the graves of the first 12 Dutch governors downstairs.

The National Museum: National Museum IndonesiaThe Indonesian Heritage Society provides free English tours at 10:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Religious Monuments

Religion is a big deal for many people in Indonesia, and citizens have one of six officially-recognised recognitions written on their ID card. Despite the efforts of some, Indonesia has generally been accepting of people of other religions and cultures. As a result, many houses of worship are themselves tourist attractions to all, not just pilgrims or believers. Below are some of the highlights:

Petak Sembilan: Petak Sembilanis a Buddhist temple with some seriously big candles and a lot of incense. The journey there – a walk through various small lanes – is just as interesting.

Gereja Sion: Gereja Sionis Indonesia’s oldest surviving church, from the 17th Century. It is a small distance from the Kota train station and busway terminus. There are also some interesting graves in the adjoining cemetery.

Istiqlal Mosque: Istiqlal Mosqueis Indonesia’s largest place of worship for Muslims, the largest in South-East Asia and the second largest in the world outside Saudi Arabia. The President visits during major Muslim celebrations; many others come five times a day.


Surabaya Heritage Track

Surabaya Heritage Bus Tour

Indonesia’s second largest city has a free 90-minute bus tour of the city, called Surabaya Heritage Track. It starts and terminates at the House of Sampoerna, and runs three times daily (excluding Monday) at 9am, 1pm and 3pm. On Tuesday to Thursday, stops include the Heroes Monument and PTPN XII historical building; Friday to Sunday, the Town Hall and a local cultural centre (with dance performances to watch and musical instruments to try). On the way, a local tour guide gives commentary in Indonesian and decent English about the history of the city and various other buildings of interest along the way. Tourists will also receive a small map with a marked track of where the bus travels, and an (Indonesian-only) summary of other Surabayan tourist attractions.

Going on the tour is free, but telephone reservation is essential. You call the HoS switchboard on 031 353 9000 (then dial “0” for the switchboard) and ask to speak to the Tracker Information Centre, 9am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Military Monuments

Surabaya is known as the “City of Heroes” for its anti-colonial revolt on 10 November 1945. Everything from a university (Institut Teknologi 10 November) to local football team Persebaya’s football stadium (the home of Indonesia’s infamous bonek – Stadion Gelora 10 November), celebrate/commemorate this date.

You can also visit these famous monuments to Indonesia’s military history:

Heroes Statue: Tugu PahlawanOn the south side of the square, check out the brown/copper murals depicting Indonesia’s struggle for independence. Next to/under the obelisk is a museum with weapons and other memorabilia from the struggle for independence, including firearms. Unfortunately the audio-visual presentation is almost incomprehensible.

Submarine Museum: Surabaya SubmarineNext to Surabaya Plaza (a.k.a. Delta Plaza), the Surabaya River and Surabaya Plaza Hotel is the Pasopati, a Soviet-built submarine used by the Indonesian Navy in the 1950s-1970s. It looks ginormous on the outside and makes me wonder how it got there in the first place, but is still a little cramped on the inside. You can have your own little “Hunt For Red October” or “Das Boot” moment, while enjoying some more recently installed features like air conditioning. According to the official record, its most important military action was its involvement in an early 1960s naval blockade of what was then Dutch West Papua. There is a short film showing hourly in an adjoining theatrette.

Surabaya Zoo

Surabaya Zoo

Unlike its counterparts in Jakarta and Bandung, Surabaya’s Zoo (a.k.a. Kebon Binatang Surabaya) is quite close to the centre of town. It’s easy to find too, courtesy of the giant shark and crocodile statue out the front. On working days, it is actually a quiet and relaxing place to spend the afternoon. If you want to say you’ve seen Komodo dragons but can’t go see them in the wild, you can do that here.

Do you agree or disagree with these suggestions? And if you live or have visited another city in Indonesia, what free or almost free tourist attractions would you recommend to others? Photographs of suggested locations are also welcome.

4 Comments on “Free Stuff in Indonesia”

  1. Chris says:

    By the way, you can see a full-size version of each image by clicking on it.

  2. David says:

    You mention old graves, I like old cemeteries, which some find peculiar but never mind them. So in Surabaya there are two:

    Makam Kristen Kembang Kuning, which is a sprawling big old mess. There are three parts, the main part, which I don’t really have photos on my computer of, but much of it is an overgrown mess but interesting to wander around. Go early morning to avoid the heat, late afternoon sounds good as well but that’s when the weirdos start coming out in force and by nightfall the place is terrifying and turns into a bit of an open air brothel.

    – and a small Jewish section, here’s a pillbox sort of building just next to it:

    and then fenced off (boy it needs to be) from the public cemetery is a Dutch war graves cemetery which in stark contrast to what is over the fence is beautifully well maintained and just lovely.

    It’s not much of a ‘tourist attraction’ on the whole but the Dutch part certainly gets a steady trickle of Dutch visitors, judging by the names and dates on the guest book, which they always I think ask you to sign.

    Then there’s the older Dutch public cemetery called Makam Peneleh, which is in an even worse state than Kembang Kuning and has been thoroughly stripped of almost all things of value. There are some fascinating headstones though still there, here’s one where the writing is still legible, there’s a mammoth one of a Dutch admiral or such, and apparently the man who Joseph Conrad based his story “Almayer’s Folly” on is also buried there.

    Here are some artistic photoshopped photos of the place:

    Here are some plates (text in French)

  3. hary says:

    Welcome monument aka Hansel and Gretel.

  4. Winmar says:

    I went on the Surabaya Heritage Track bus in January, thanks to Chris’s recommendation. It was well worth it, as was a visit to the House of Sampoerna. Some days the route takes in more stops than others, so it pays to check that out before going, if you have the choice. It’s amazing how quickly the women work in the cigarette factory too.

    I was impressed by the zoo in Surabaya, for the trees are very nice and the animals plentiful. Unfortunately an elephant was also impressed by my t-shirt, and almost succeeded in ripping it off my back. Beware!

    The submarine is worth a visit. Watch you don’t hit your head on the way between sections. I saw a guy in the nearby river diving down to salvage things of value. Poor bloke – I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone.

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