Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 9 June 2016 • Blog
An Indonesian politician dared to be hanged from the top of Monas if he were to be proven guilty of corruption. Though he chickened out when he was proven guilty, this boasting became memes and jokes nationally. Monas, being a 132-meter high iconic obelisk, is on the top of mind of most Indonesians when it comes to something very tall or high, which may be why the dude without thinking clearly mentioned the monument in his challenge.
Short for Monumen Nasional, which translates to National Monument, Monas has existed for so long, since 1959, that a lot of Jakarta people recognize it merely just a super tall landmark in the center of the city. Most of my friends who grew up in Jakarta have only been there once for a compulsory school study tour. It’s seen as too dull and uninteresting for a fun spree to many, especially those who can afford something more than the entrance to Monas.
I was one of those who weren’t interested in paying Monas a visit. Until one day when I accompanied an Airbnb guest on her touristy excursion, I realized this monument actually has more than offer and could be a place to get to know Jakarta, or Indonesia, a little bit further. So I went back there again to see more that I could.
The History Museum in Monas
Not only has Monas been around for more than 50 years, it is also a symbol of Indonesians’ fight for independence. Located in the Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, Monas is standing in the center of the 100 ha (1km2) park and where the Kilometer Zero of Jakarta is located since the 1980s (previously ke KM 0 was at the Menara Syahbandar, now North Jakarta).
Inside, it has a museum called Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum) with dioramas that depict the journey of Indonesia as a nation from the prehistoric time, with captions in both Indonesian language and English. The museum is at the base of the building, occupying an AC-ed and underlit huge square room. So huge, it leaves so much empty space that’s used for napping by some visitors, or just sitting on the cool floor. With such heat outside, I kind of felt like doing so too, but I just continued to get some air at the top instead.
Hanging Out at the View Decks
Up a floor from the museum is where you line up for the one and only elevator. Upon seeing such long queue, I decided to hang – figuratively speaking – at the platform first. From there, you could see the vast park surrounding Monas and cars passing by on the main streets in the distance.
One level above the platform is another platform, which is known as cawan or the cup. From here if you look up you’ll see the body of the obelisk straight up piercing the sky. If you look around, you’ll see Jakarta with a little elevated view. I stayed a while on this cawan late in the afternoon. I’m guessing the sunset would look really nice there.
And then there’s the top view deck, called the puncak, which literally means the peak, or the “top”. It’s the highest point where visitors could have access but it’s actually not the peak of all Monas. The real peak would be the golden fire construction, which is said to be coated with real gold from the gold mine at Bengkulu province. So the puncak is a view deck right underneath the gold fire, about the size of 8×8 m2. The four sides are secured with metal fences, but you can still clearly see Jakarta from above. The iconic Istiqlal Mosque, the Cathedral and Gambir train station look very small from there. Because it’s very high and semi open-aired, it gets pretty windy. If you’re an acrophobic, I don’t recommend you to go up there unless you want to challenge yourself.
Unlike the Statue of Liberty that had options of going up by elevator or taking the stairs (but I heard both accesses are now closed since the 911 tragedy), Monas only gives you single choice to get to the top, which is the elevator.
To Enter Monas Is (Relatively) Cheap
Tourism sites in Indonesia often have dual price system, that for locals is cheaper than the rate for foreigners. At Monas’ ticket booth I only saw one price system, so I guess they charge foreign and local visitors the same.
For adults (17+), a visit to the cawan: IDR5,000/person. A visit to the top: IDR10,000.
But I don’t think you could go to the top without passing the cawan, so if you want to go the top you’ll have to pay for both, which is IDR15,000 in total.
For students and children it gets even cheaper.
Upon my visit, which was on a weekday, I had to stand in line for the elevator for almost an hour. Perhaps it was also because some schools were already out. Still, I can’t imagine how long the queue could get in the weekends.
Monas Is Full of Life in the Weekends
Visit Monas in the weekends, especially in the morning or in the afternoon, and you’ll be in the see of people doing all sorts of things; jogging, eating out, playing, biking, or simply just hanging out. Food, toys and and souvenir stalls are semi-permanently built in one area, and in the weekends there are some additional vendors.
If you visit Monas in the weekends, it might not be convenient because it could get really crowded, but it could be a great option for people-watching.
Monas Visiting Hours
Tuesday – Sunday: 8 am – 9 pm, Puncak/Top is closed between 4 – 7 pm.
No Clear Direction to Entrance
The lack of clear direction signs in Monas area, and actually in overall Indonesia’s tourism, is quite a problem, I think. I had to walk almost round the monument, and I had walked from the F&B area, just to find the entrance. With my sore feet at that time, walking that much was a challenge. If I knew I had to go around, I would’ve taken the shuttle car provided for free near the F&B area. Within such a vast area, it would help a lot if they put informative and clear signage.
So. To enter the Merdeka Square by foot, you can look for the gate on Jalan Silang Merdeka Barat Daya (across Indosat building), Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan (the IRTI parking area), or Jalan Medan Merdeka Utara (across the Istana Merdeka or Merdeka Palace).
Tourism police are sometimes present. They’re the men (I haven’t seen any woman tourism police there) in purple-maroon uniform. So you could ask them for direction (I hope they speak English enough to inform you at least the basic things).
Would I Recommend Monas to Anyone?
My main purpose in visiting Monas was to sketch a piece of Jakarta from the top. Now that I’ve done it, I think I would come back there just to hang out at the cawan toward sunset. As for Indonesians, it’s always a good idea to learn the country’s history from an original historical place.
For foreigners, if you are a history buff, then there’s no question about whether you should go to Monas when staying in Jakarta. We’ve included the visit in this recommended “2 Days in Jakarta itinerary”. But if you’re not into history so much, then it could be something to do perhaps in your spare time between flights that require a stayover in town. It offers less fun activities than, say, Kota Tua or Kepulauan Seribu, which are also within the DKI Jakarta province, but it is the main iconic site of Jakarta, perhaps Indonesia too (after Borobudur temple).