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Boys play on one of Jakarta's central monuments in the morning heat

If you can stand Jakarta's pollution and congestion, and if you can afford to indulge in its charms, then it is one of the region's most exciting metropolises. Consider Jakarta the 'big durian' - the foul-smelling exotic fruit that some can't stomach and others can't resist.

Once saddled with a reputation as a poverty-ridden hell hole, Jakarta mutated into an Asian boom town in not much more than a decade. Reduced by the 1998 riots to a burnt-out shell, it remains very much at the centre of political events re-shaping Indonesia.

At first glance, this hot, smoggy city feels like nothing more than a waiting lounge for the millions queuing up to make their fortune. Jakarta’s infamous macet (gridlock) chokes its freeways, town planning is anathema and all attempts to forge a central focal point for the city have stuttered and ultimately failed.

Beneath the veneer of glass fascias, concrete slabs and shabby slums, however, this is a city of surprises. From the steamy, richly scented streets of Chinatown, to excellent shopping, to the city’s thumping, decadent nightlife, Jakarta is a Pandora’s box, filled with all the good and bad of Indonesian life.

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