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  • An Article by Jeff Epps

Christmas in Jakarta

I met someone online and became pretty good buddies with her. After a few Skype conversations and email exchanges, one thing led to another and bam, I was on my way to Indonesia for the first time to celebrate Christmas in my first "Muslim country." I did a little bit of research but not near enough. Needless to say, this was the trip that made me fall in love with travel and inspired me to take it to the next level and consider making a career of it. I have Jakarta, Rebecca, and Johnny Ward ( to thank for me wanting to become a professional traveler.

My first trip to Jakarta and Indonesia was what brought me my wanderlust.

I showed up on December 23th at the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. It was kind of late in the evening and I had no idea where to go to meet up with Rebecca, my newfound Indonesian friend. But everyone spoke English (at least a little bit) and through WeChat communication and airport staff assistance, I finally made my way outside to meet this beautiful Batak girl. She couldn't have looked better than what she did that night and she sure was a sight to see after a 6 hour flight from China. She was kind enough to wear the tight black latex leggings that she knows I'm a big fan of.

Me and Rebecca at the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport

This was before I wised up with my currency exchange habits. Back then I still used currency exchange booths, which I do not use anymore because of their outrageous fees, exchange rates, and ripoff tactics. Now I simply use my UnionPay bank card from my Chinese bank. Now that UnionPay is becoming more global, almost everywhere in the world has UnionPay ATMs and everywhere in Asia does (at least at the airports). The currency in Indonesia is the Rupiah and their denominations are in the thousands. I gave the booth about 4,400 RMB (666 USD) and got back about 9,000,000 IDR.

Indonesian Rupiah

We took a taxi to my hotel, Fame, which had a rock 'n roll theme to it and was across the street from a Harley-Davidson dealership. It wasn't too far from her home. We were actually about an hour from Jakarta in an area called Gading Serpong, Legok, West Java. But we were going to see quite a bit of Jakarta in due time. I didn't do enough research on Jakarta and Indonesia, so I was learning as I went along. One of the first things I learned about was the outlaw biker culture that was prominent in Jakarta. The Harley dealership across the street sparked curiosity, so I did my research in the hotel room. Come to find out, there are a number of biker gangs in Jakarta. This fact was probably one of the coolest things about my trip.

Harley-Davidson Dealership, Jakarta

Jakarta Biker Gang

There were so many things to look forward to in the coming days. Christmas on the 25th, my birthday on the 27th, and of course New Year's Eve on the 31st. Wow, this was going to be a great trip with non-stop surprises. The first surprise that I had was the temperature of 91 degrees on Christmas Eve, the day after I arrived. This was both awesome and weird at the same time. I mean, Christmas is supposed to be cold, right?! This wasn't going to be a white Christmas for me, but that was okay. It would still be very merry.

Rebecca had some things to do with her family for Christmas Eve, but she was nice enough to invite me to a church service with her family before that. Her family is Christian. She informed me before I left China that it would require professional attire to attend the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. I don't think that I've ever dressed up for church, but then again, I never was much of a church-goer. However, I was a guest in HER country and I was going to play by HER rules. I was knowledgeable enough to know that the Christian minority doesn't quite get along with the Muslim majority in Jakarta. In fact, there had been reports of church bombings in the past and one that had occurred recently. So, there was absolutely NO pressure on me to dress up and stick out like a sore dick and attend a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service in a developing "Muslim country."

Christmas Day Church Service in Jakarta

Needless to say, we had a wonderful time and even though not a word of the service was in English, I had my faithful translator right next to me keeping me up with what was going on. I pretty much got the gist of it anyway and nobody seemed to have a care in the world that I was there. It got dark and everyone lit candles, and that's when it got really interesting.

Christmas Eve Church Service Candlelight Vigil

Christmas Eve Church Service

Church Service Pamphlet

The next day, we attended a Christmas Day service. I thought that I was going to get into trouble when it was time for Communion because the wine was real wine and I don't drink. She explained to the pastor and he was cool with it. I was actually very surprised at how friendly and welcoming everyone was and it made me think about how much of an asshole I am for not being that way most of the time with people. I'm so glad that I was able to kick off my Indonesian adventure with a dose of Batak holiday hospitality.

After church on Christmas Day, we headed to her home which was off the beaten path and I was able to get more acquainted with her family. They had a nice place and her father had a large empty bottle collection of some of the finest bourbon, vodka, and scotch on Earth. We had lunch and got to know each other better. I have a habit of talking a lot and fast when I'm excited. I had to slow it down so that people could understand what I was saying.

Me and Rebecca at her home with her family, Christmas Day

After getting acquainted with the family, it was time for us to enjoy some time to ourselves. So we went out and about and she showed me around her neighborhood a little bit and then I headed back to the hotel and she went back home to spend the rest of the evening with her family. What a merry Christmas, and one that I will remember forever.

We decided the next day that we would hit up Jakarta, which was about an hour away via bus. I made sure that I charged up my camera and phone and was up bright and early to meet Rebecca in the lobby of the Fame hotel. The Fame has great dining buffets, by the way, so breakfast was a treat.

Bus Stop to Jakarta

On the bus heading toward Jakarta I was able to get some nice scenery of these big beautiful mosques, as well as a free ensemble by a nice man that seemed as though he was chanting a prayer or something.

Mosque on our bus ride to Jakarta

Bus Singing Muslim en route to Jakarta

When we arrived in Jakarta I was fascinated by all the cool things that I'd already seen, the mosques, restaurants, protests, people, and even a stock exchange. Jakarta is a big city with a lot of noise and pollution. I could never live there but it is a fabulous place to visit. We decided to take a tour of downtown and the old Dutch colonial area (Old Batavia). We booked a tour with a company called, "Jakarta Good Guy Tours." We all had to meet at the old railway station to begin our tour. I met a couple of fellow Americans from Michigan who were actually teaching in Mumbai, India.

One of our first stops on the tour was "Museum Mandiri," an old bank that had been converted into a museum. This place was really neat.

Bank Museum Indonesia w/Tour Guide (Gallery)

We then went to Fisherman's Wharf with all the commercial boats. The air was really dirty because of all the engine exhaust. I had to put my shirt over my face. But the scenery was pretty cool. We took a short boat ride around the bay and took some good pictures. It was nice to get off our feet for a bit.

Fisherman's Wharf (Gallery)

The final lap of our tour was wrapped up with a lovely round of Old Batavia, the old Dutch colony in downtown Jakarta. We hit up a famous coffee store and witnessed some amazing artifacts and architecture from the Dutch era.

Jembatan Kota Intan Drawbridge

Old Batavia (Gallery)

After the tour we took pictures and parted ways and me and Rebecca decided to have lunch at "Cafe Batavia," a famous restaurant in Old Batavia. The food was expensive but it was also very good. There were a lot of other foreigners in there from all over the world.

While traveling through Jakarta, we also came across these protesters who were protesting the current government leaders. They were pretty hardcore about it, too. I wasn't sure if there was going to be violence or what. We just kept on moving in our vehicle and I was fine with that.

Protesters in Downtown Jakarta (Gallery)

Happy Jakarta Birthday to ME

My birthday is two days after Christmas and I believe that this birthday was my best one yet. Rebecca surprised me with a birthday cake at the Fame Hotel, candles and all, and made this day a very special one for me.

The next few days we spent time exploring different areas around Jakarta. Rebecca took me to this theme park on Christmas Eve that had museums, rides, cable cars, paddle boats, restaurants, and all sorts of cool things to see and do. I even saw a ripoff of KFC and Disney's Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

California Fried Chicken (KFC Ripoff)

Wannabe Replica of Disney's Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Taman Mini Indonesia Indah Theme Park (Gallery)

Probably the best part of my trip, other than the Christmas church services, was the visit to MONAS, the national monument of Indonesia. I guess you could say it's their answer to our Washington Memorial in D.C. Man, was it awesome. there is a museum on the ground level that goes all around the perimeter of the interior with pictures, figures, sound and decor that really give it a special historic appeal.

I learned more about Indonesia by checking out this gallery in the MONAS than I did from all the other research that I had done. There are three levels to MONAS, a ground floor, a mid-level balcony area that you can go out on, and the very top of the tower where you can see a panoramic view of the entire city of Jakarta.

This was truly the climax of my trip. While being at the very top of the MONAS, a monument that commemorated the very heritage of Indonesia, while looking out at the Jakarta skyline I realized how blessed I was for being where I was and it also further confirmed my "calling" in life as a traveler. It also helped to have a great tour guide right along side me.

MONAS (National Monument)

Top of MONAS at Night