Indonesia Expat
Lifestyle Observations

The Malls That Ate Jakarta

When humans eventually colonise Mars, it’s a toss-up what they will build first. If they’re Chinese, they might put up some casinos. The Americans would likely erect a giant solar flare shield to keep out the Mexican astronauts. The British would, of course, build a monument celebrating victory over the French. The Grand Brexit Obelisk, perhaps. The only certainty is that Indonesian space colonists would waste no time in building a shopping mall. Perhaps like one of the following commercial complexes.

Plaza Indonesia

The Indonesian term for “window shopping” is cuci mata , which also extends to ogling beautiful people. Unless you have several gold debit cards and resemble a Versace mannequin, you’ll be restricted to browsing at Plaza Indonesia, the country’s original luxury shopping mall. Founded by a group involving former president Suharto’s middle son Bambang Trihatmodjo and Japanese investors, the mall opened in 1990. Located between the Hotel Grand Hyatt and the Japanese Embassy on Jalan M. H. Thamrin in Central Jakarta, this mall offers an atmosphere of stately opulence without overdoing the ornamentation. During the mass riots of May 1998, Plaza Indonesia was afforded military protection, so none of its classy branded goods were looted or went up in flames, unlike at some less fortunate malls.

Plaza Semanggi

What’s the best way to deal with a major intersection plagued by massive traffic congestion? Build a giant mall there of course. Thus, Plaza Semanggi was born in 2004 at the junction of Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Gatot Subroto. Here, you’ll find a mix of mid-range shops and local products, not the usual array of high-end branded goods. Opened by President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Plaza Semanggi is built around the domed Balai Sarbini concert hall, which resembles the saucer section of the Starship Enterprise. Don’t expect to run into Captain Kirk though. He’ll be shopping for his spare warp drive reactor coil at Lindeteves Trade Center in Glodok.


At a soaring 15 floors, Jakarta’s first mall and skyscraper opened in 1966, built with war reparations from Japan. Named after President Sukarno’s childhood nanny, its design was inspired by his visits to uninspiring communist countries. Unusually for Indonesian shops of the time, it had fixed prices. In its early years, few Indonesians could afford any of the luxury imported goods. Over time, some of its space was rented out to fast-food restaurants and cafes. Today, it is best known for housing Indonesia’s first McDonald’s, and for the handicrafts and batik on the fifth floor. Located on the crossroads of Jalan Thamrin and Jalan Wahid Hasyim, Sarinah in 2016 witnessed a terrorist attack in which multiple explosions and gunfire left eight people dead. It could have been worse had the terrorists not appeared to have received their training from the Keystone Cops.

Pasar Baru

This bustling 19th century trading complex lies between the Presidential Palace and Jakarta’s “Chinatown”. The only designer goods you will find in its busy stores are fakes, but the area’s street food is deliciously authentic. Pasar Baru is the place to visit for fabrics, sporting goods, musical instruments and old cameras. For military enthusiasts, there’s a little-known mall that specializes in air rifles, air guns, crossbows and binoculars. There are also dozens of vendors of second-hand clothing. Former trade minister Rachmat Gobel once claimed you can catch HIV from used clothes. He later retracted his statement but went on to ban the sale of alcohol from the country’s minimarts. You can catch drunkenness from bottles of beer, after all.

Roxy Mas

Need a new smartphone at the lowest possible price? Go to the online retailers and check the prices. Then head to Roxy on Jalan Hasyim Ashari in Grogol, where Central Jakarta adjoins west Jakarta. Avoid the ground floor stores because rents and prices are higher there. Higher up, you can find the best deals in town for phones, covers, SIM cards, chargers and power banks. It’s also the best place to get a broken phone repaired or a cracked screen replaced.

Mangga Dua Mall

Buying online is generally the way to go for the best prices for laptops, computer hardware and related gadgets. But if you like to browse and you want the lowest store prices, make the trek to Jakarta’s Mangga Dua Mall. You can also get the best-value upgrades and fastest repairs on the fourth and fifth floors. It’s a massive complex, straddling both sides of a main road, which can be intimidating to first-time visitors. Enter at the south side for the electronics.


From second-hand laptops to cutting edge PC gaming rigs, from the latest TVs to the highest flying drones, Glodok’s cluttered, workshop-like electronics malls in west Jakarta have it all. Then there are the pirate DVD wholesalers located alongside a police station. I once emerged squinting from a nearby nightclub at dawn some years ago to find myself in the middle of a pitched battle between the Glodok DVD stallholders and anti-riot police, who had turned up with orders to close the illegal trade down. Some of those officers will have retired now. The stallholders won’t have. Admittedly, the trade is dying as technology moves on.

Blok M

Some veteran male expatriates will associate Blok M with a playground of seedy bars where they could flirt and drink to their broken and bruised hearts’ content. But there’s more to Blok M than red lights and beer taps. This large shopping quarter in the south of the city is typical of Jakarta’s commercial sprawl with its assorted markets, malls, plazas and underground centres, offering a range of prices. Oldest on the block is Pasaraya, opened in 1984, followed by Blok M Plaza, opened in 1991 by Suharto’s wife, Ibu Tien, and then Blok M Square in 2008. Always leave early for Blok M, especially on weekends. Jakarta’s malls cause havoc with the traffic. If you see a traffic jam stretching for miles, there’s probably a mall or even a group of malls at the end of it.

Taman Anggrek

Hailed as the biggest mall in Southeast Asia when it opened in west Jakarta in 1996, this behemoth is best known for having Indonesia’s first ice skating rink. In recent years, it has been dwarfed by a flurry of new high-rise malls, hotels and apartments. There’s now also an ice rink at Bintaro Jaya Xchange Mall in the city’s southwest.

Pacific Place Jakarta

This ostentatious monument to consumerism rises from the heart of Sudirman Central Business District (SCBD). There are some good restaurants and the US Embassy’s cultural centre. If you’re offended by such exorbitant opulence in a nation where more than 25 million people live below the poverty line, then the perfect antidote is a trip to Pasar Senen, a thrift-themed shopping centre, which is yet again under partial renovation after being partly destroyed by yet another fire.

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