What's it really like?
Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and one of Southeast Asia’s most sprawling metropolises. It is a huge city filled with everything a traveler could want, from beautiful architecture to mouthwatering food, a buzzing nightlife, a diverse and friendly people, and a dizzying amount of shops, markets, and malls. While most visitors to Indonesia skip straight to the beaches and hedonism of Bali, it is worth taking some time to discover the city in order to better understand the country and its people.
That said, Jakarta does not have much to offer specifically to gay tourists, especially when compared to other large Asian cities. Indonesia is a conservative Muslim country whose attitude to homosexuality has only gotten worse in the past couple of years. In 2017, authorities raided and shut down most of Jakarta’s gay clubs, bars, and saunas, leaving the city’s large LGBT community to find alternative spaces to meet and socialize. Now, the gay Jakarta scene still exists but is mostly underground, so it can be difficult to find for visitors.
While this is a shame, Jakarta has much to offer, especially when it comes to food, drink, and entertainment, so we can promise you’ll never be bored.
Due to negative societal views on homosexuality, you would assume that finding gay-friendly accommodation in Jakarta would be tricky. However, the country’s cultural ideas of privacy and discretion mean that it is unlikely that you would get any hassle trying to book a room.
They may assume you want twin beds if you are checking in as a couple, and it would be up to you to clarify otherwise. Do remember of course that homosexuality is legal in Jakarta.
Many gay travelers choose to stay with large international chains since they more or less guarantee a level of professionalism. Most of the luxury hotel chains such as the Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, and Four Seasons have locations in Jakarta, but again it is worth reiterating that most hotels will welcome gay travelers.
Indonesia is the most populated Muslim community in the world, and historically this religious sentiment has been used to silence any discussion on LGBT rights. However, since the U.S.A legalized same-sex marriage across the board in 2015, this matter has been brought to the forefront of public discussion. While some groups campaign for LGBT rights in the country, the government has taken a strong anti-gay stance.
Recent attacks by homophobic groups, both verbal and physical, have led to a more hostile environment for gay people throughout the country. Furthermore, a series of raids by the authorities in 2017 led to the closure of most of the city’s gay spaces. Any LGBT apps have been removed from the Indonesian Play Store, and there is generally a concerted effort to prevent gay people from getting together.
In legal terms, homosexual activity is not illegal, but there is no protection for LGBT people from hate crimes and discrimination. It is illegal to show homosexuality in the media, and no political party in the country openly supports the LGBT movement. As the capital, Jakarta may be slightly more tolerant than the country’s rural communities, but it is still very much not advised for gay visitors to engage in any sort of public display of affection.
Up until the recent police raids, the nightlife of gay Jakarta was small but happening. However, with most of the bars and clubs now being closed, the scene has become much more of an underground affair, accessible to those in the know. There are few gay-friendly spots in which you can hope to meet some local men, such as the Oh La La Cafe (more of a restaurant than a bar) and a handful of hotel bars.
Most of the regular and gay-friendly clubs can be found in the central and southern part of the city, especially in Jalan Sudirman, Gatot Subroto, and Rasuna Said. The nightlife itself is varied, with every different kind of club, bar, and pub available. There are big megaclubs like The Dragonfly, which has housed the likes of David Guetta, Axwell, and Martin Solveig, as well as basement indie dives, swanky rooftop bars, and karaoke venues.
Amongst these, the rooftop bars are some of the most gay-friendly, and also offer the best views of the city. As always in Jakarta, high-end venues come in quite cheap for most travelers, so this is your chance to spend a night sipping cocktails and wine while looking over at the city lights and enjoying good music. Good examples include SKYE Bar, Cloud Lounge, La Vue Bar at the Hermitage and Bart at Artotel.
Overall, while the gay nightlife of Jakarta can be difficult to find, the city offers enough nighttime fun and entertainment to keep most visitors happy during their stay. The nightlife of Jakarta is exciting ever-changing, and diverse – it’s just not particularly gay anymore.
Jakarta used to have two gay saunas but these were shut down as a result of the 2017 raids. Nowadays, there are no gay-only saunas in the city, and very few places for cruising. There are a few saunas in hotels that are commonly frequented by gay men. These include saunas at the Swiss-Belhotel, Le Meridien, Millennium, and Sultan. There is occasionally some cruising happening in the spaces.
It is worth bearing in mind that although homosexuality is legal, public sex of any kind is very much not, and Indonesian law is not known for being particularly lenient (even with foreigners). If you want to go to one of the saunas to meet men, it is recommended you be discreet and have a private room upstairs.
Up until recently, the main way that men hooked up in Jakarta was through social media apps like Blued. However, all LGBT apps became unavailable for download in 2017, meaning it has become harder – but not impossible – to meet gay men in Indonesia this way. The trick is to download a high-quality paid VPN onto your phone, through which you can access apps like Grindr and other online communities.
TestJKT is an organization aimed at getting men who have sex with men in Jakarta to get tested and practice safe sex. It is also the best place for finding information in English. There are seven clinics across wider Jakarta in which you can get a free, confidential test: details on all of them are available here.
HIV is a serious problem in Indonesia, with the country facing one of the worst epidemics in Asia. Unaids estimates that 620,000 Indonesians are living with HIV, and the prevalence rate for men who have sex with men is an incredibly high 25.8%. Make sure you practice safe sex during all your encounters in Jakarta, both with locals and international visitors.
Generally, Jakarta is divided into Central, North, South, East, and West Jakarta. Each one of these areas covers quite a bit of ground and contains distinct neighborhoods. Most of the main tourist attractions are in Central and South Jakarta, meaning most visitors will tend to stay within this area.
Due to the very limited scene in gay Jakarta, there is nothing resembling a gayborhood or even any particular gay venues to watch out for. However, the city is a fascinating visit for anyone interested in food, history, and culture, so there’s plenty to keep you busy.
Gambir – This area in the middle of Central Jakarta houses the city’s most famous landmark, the National Monument (also called Monas). It sits in the middle of Merdeka Square, a huge space (actually the third-largest square in the world) which is at the heart of the city’s social and political life. Nearby are many other landmarks, including the National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta Cathedral, and Masjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.
Menteng – Menteng is famous for its Dutch colonial architecture and its high-quality shops and restaurants. It is a picturesque and pleasant area of the city, where many of Jakarta’s political and social elite live. Oh La La Cafe, a bar and restaurants popular with local gays which is perhaps the closest thing to a gay bar in the city, is located in Menteng.
Panglima Polim – Known as the hipster area of Jakarta, this is where you head for great coffee shops, trendy bars, and the latest galleries and exhibitions. It is arty, youthful, and quirky, and a good place to mingle with Jakarta’s cool crowd.
Kemang – Kemang has a similar vibe to Panglima Polim in that it attracts a trendy crowd, but it is more of a fashionable spot for affluent young professionals. There is plenty to eat, do, see, and drink in the area, and it is also a favorite spot for expats, meaning you will meet people from all over the world.
Golden Triangle of Jakarta – This area stretches across Central and South Jakarta, mostly overlapping with the South Jakarta neighborhood of Setiabudi. It is the main business district of the city, containing the many skyscrapers that make up its skyline. Here is where some of the city’s best high-end hotels are located, as well as great bars, restaurants, and clubs.
Kota Tua – This area in South Jakarta is the former seat of Dutch colonial power in the city, which has left it with a pretty collection of European-style buildings. It is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon walking around, enjoying music from street performers, and sitting down at colonial-themed restaurants, bars, and cafes such as the iconic Batavia Cafe. Nearby, the Jakarta History Museum is a good place to get to know the city’s past.
Glodok – This is Jakarta’s Chinatown, home to the city’s huge Chinese population. The Chinese market is a great place for eating plenty of delicious food, with street food from China, India, Java, and beyond on offer.
Jalan Jaksa – This is the main backpacker street in Jakarta. It is relatively small, but packs in lots of cheap accommodation and nightlife options, and is a good place to head to meet other travelers.
Ancol -This area in North Jakarta is a good place to spend a warm day due to its water park and wide range of water activities available on the beach.
Jakarta’s transportation is quite easy to find and inexpensive especially KRL or a commuter rail system. This train will lead you to get everywhere around Jakarta with a very cheap ticket. Jakarta has the some most terrible traffic in southeast Asia, up there with Bangkok and Manila, so it’s really recommended to use this commuter. It’s 24 hours service and the information is displayed in English.
The online transportation such as Grab and Gojek (Indonesian online transportation) also can be used to get around this city. You can download the application in here. The platform also provides a food delivery service to make it easy to order food. But, if you use online transportation, try to avoid traffic spots areas such as Pancoran, Ciledug, and the street towards Tanjung Priok especially if you use a car. To leave and to get to the international airport, there is a brand new fast train that can be used.
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