Bajaj: Jakarta’s Three-Wheeled Cockroaches

Jakarta - Bajaj (1)
If China had wheels, it would likely be a bajaj.

But what IS a bajaj?  First of all, it’s pronounced bah-JAI in Indonesia, though it’s bah-jaj in its native India.  The company founder’s surname is Bajaj, so instead of giving into peer pressure and calling the three-wheeled eyesore a tuk-tuk, Jakarta moves to the beat of a more eponymous drum. If a tuk-tuk is more your style, hop on a plane to Bangkok, another of the 5,000 Venices of the East.

Pollution.  THAT’s a bajaj.  Not that the original 1975 beasts are still plying the exhaust-choked streets, but your lungs will shed tears while you try to hail one on the curb.  The orange ones that you see still mainly use petrol/gasoline, but the newer-looking blue bajaj run on the less destructive CNG (compressed natural gas).  Also, if you couldn’t tell by the picture, when it rains, you get wet.  When your sopir (driver…or chauffeur) is smoking, you’ll be inhaling.  If you still have a spine (in the literal sense), you won’t after riding in a bajaj.  Last, but not least, while he’s burning rubber, the kretek smoke, multicolored carcinogens and durian scents trickle back to him and you, the windowless passenger.  Hmm, must be why a synonymous term for this method of public transit is AC alam (ah-CHEY), or nature’s air conditioner.   Note: They aren’t permitted to go on certain major roads, and are supposed to stick to specific regions of the city, so your dreams of taking one from Jakarta to Bali are dashed.

With all of those perks, you’d think that traveling by bajaj would be free.  I’ll tell you what.  They don’t have a meter, and there are a lot of zeros in rupiah, the Indonesian currency, so you’ll either need a lot of hands or a hint of common sense.  Or learn a few numbers here and there.  OR, are you ready for this, locate the only bule (Caucasian foreigner) driver:

Jakarta - Bajaj (2)
Sure, I could’ve reduced the contrast slightly more, but it sets the appropriate tone.  I wanted to test it out, but only after getting a clearer idea of the city’s geography (ie, where the fuzz aren’t hanging around).  After an exacting walk around the Olimo neighborhood, I found a biker who promised to help me find a bajaj to try out ONLY if I bought him two boxes of baby formula.  Sounds like a normal trade in the world of Jonathan.

Here’s one guess as to how it went: do you walk at a 45° angle?  The seat back is metal.  Quit complaining?  OK.  If you can ride a motorcycle, this will be cake.  Furthermore, if you are an expat fluent at bribery, you would have no problem controlling a bajaj throughout Jakarta.  In other words, the actual driver, the guy standing on the right, wasn’t too keen on letting me have at it.


Have you been in a bajaj before?  Were you in the front or the back?

21 comments on “Bajaj: Jakarta’s Three-Wheeled Cockroaches

    • I was just thinking that, might the driver in both pictures be the same person? Granted, the photos were taken five years apart, and granted, the answer is no, but what if?!

      • PepperBento says:

        Haha, well how many people have the iron spines needed for such an uncomfortable vehicle?!

        They’re in short supply, maybe they’re bringing in clones specifically programmed with their rather questionable bartering skills ;).

        Also, you never finished your joke!!
        It hurts being on the edge of your seat for this long you know :P.

      • Could you see them plying the streets of Canary Wharf? Perhaps Edgware Rd. though…

        Oops, what was my joke;)?

      • PepperBento says:

        Hehe, they’ve been doing it for years ;).

        The joke was: What does a horse say? :P

  1. expatlingo says:

    Almost all of my Bajaj experiences are in their homeland of India. And every one of them involved lots of arguing over the price, posturing and swearing.

    I’ve never attempted to talk a motor rickshaw driver into letting me have a go, but I have travelled with someone who talked a cycle rickshaw driver in Jaipur into have a go around one block of the Pink City. Apparently those things are just as poorly designed ergonomically-speaking.

    • Swearing too? I learned in Delhi that, if you take five minutes to go to a jewel/trinkets shop, the driver gets a petrol coupon and then will take you somewhere for free. Maybe it doesn’t always work, but it did then…

      Oh, since you’ve tried out cycling a pedicab, this will amuse you: At around 4am in Zhuhai one night, I ended up pedaling around the elderly Chinese pedicab owner and a middle-aged Korean guy. They were caterwauling most of the ride.

      • expatlingo says:

        Ah, to take advantage of that deal you must have a skill that I lack: getting back out of the trinket/rug/jewel shop without facing a scene when it becomes clear you don’t actually want to buy something. Truth be told, the last time I was in India was about 10 years ago. I’m sure everything is completely different there now ;-)

        Very curious about your pedicab cycle around Zhuhai. Was it the kind they use to haul recyclables around? I lived in Zhuhai for 3.5 years and never saw one (that I can remember) that was used for taking passengers around. What neighborhood was it in? I spend nearly all of my time in Gongbei/Jida.

  2. Iksa says:

    Thank you for posting this … I missed the vibrations of the old Bajaj in the CNG one ….
    They still have the old Bemo’s – a tri wheeled Daihatsu from early 60′s also … you have ride into one of these also I presume ….

  3. Have been on too many ricks all around India, their equivalent in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia… the change to CNG has been amazing! Good post. :-)

    • Cheers for the like!

      Are the three-wheeled bajaj the standard throughout India? Does Bangalore have those and its own shady means of getting around?

      Since you’re familiar with Jakarta, have you been in a bemo?

      • Must admit my preferred mode of transport in Jakarta is Blue Bird and its equivalents. Spoilt I know!

        However was in a Bangalore 3-wheel Bajaj ‘rick’ just a couple weeks back! Plus regularly in Mumbai – what I love about Mumbai is that at least it is haggle free – what bliss! Compared to Bangalore where the guy quoted me something outrageous and my Hindi and persistence managed to reduce to 20% of the original ‘asking price.’ :-)

      • No kidding, you don’t need to haggle (for something) in Bombay? How about for the black and yellow cabs?

        Did you teach yourself some Hindi or did you have formal classes?

      • One of the pleasures of Bombay is don’t need to haggle for transport – just hop in, say where you want to go and the meter goes on!

        As for Hindi, took classes years ago… as in 1995. Some of it stuck! :-)

  4. Gosh! Looks like a fun and new-to-me way to travel~

    • It’s as fun as having a dream where you’re repeatedly going through airport security:) Then again, if you were on a bajaj, the temperature would never be freezing. Decisions!

      Thanks for your comment, Irene!

  5. expatlingo says:

    On a completely unrelated note: How might you recommend a person in Hong Kong’s New Territories get to the Guangzhou Airport? Am I so lucky that there might be a direct bus from the Shatin cross-border bus station directly to the airport?

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