Yogya: Suitable, Karta: Prosperous
Moving onto the second stop along Indonesia we come to the city commonly known as the center of education in the country: Yogyakarta. Also commonly seen written as Jogjakarta or simply as Jogja. Nowadays, the second most visited city by tourists after Bali due to the proximity to two of the most beautiful and impressive temples in the entire country: Borobudur and Prambanan. But it is not only those nearby temples but for the beautiful yet small old town and much history that can be seen and felt across the city. It is the center of the Javanese culture, and without any doubt, one of the best stop-overs along an Indonesia tour you could ever do.
As said before it is very highly likely that tourists skip the visit to the city as they head directly on mostly organised day tours to the temples, but is worth to spare a day in here, see the cute Dutch fort, Great Mosque and the beautiful Sultan’s Palace. A good note I can give you in here about the palace is that the first building you get to see once you enter the complex is not the true beautiful one. That one lies afterwards, and unfortunately has a limited opening hours; same as is with the Taman Sari (or Water Castle as it is also known). Why would I mention this you might ask? Well, because it happened to us and we were too late there when it was already closed, being able to only see the first buildings that are nothing special unfortunately.
All other sights were not a problem and easy to see them all. What is best is that all of them are within walking reach from each other hence no public transportation involved in between plus saving you lots of time. The city after all is quite small, and one day will be more than enough to visit in full.
The city is a great place for some souvenir shopping on the cheap. All along Malioboro Street, day and night is packed. It is the main market and shopping area and for sure the best place to get some gifts. Unless on shops with clear price tags for their products where you cannot and should not bargain, elsewhere you really need to bring the prices down, and specially if you are a tourist as they will quote you at least triple if not more the cost they would ask an Indonesian. Also be careful with the hundreds of businesses claiming to have real batik products since most of them will be fakes. And not only the shops but the at points annoying people all the time coming after you trying to get you to those shops. Furthermore if that would not be enough, on the other side you will be constantly offer a becack (with an exorbitant fare if you ask them, so you better don’t even be bothered). All in all and to resume, be prepared to end up with you head loaded and tired when you walk end to end this street, but you can find really nice things!
Describing a bit on what to eat, this is quite similar to what I noted down on the guide for Jakarta and the other destinations we visited while in Indonesia. Their cuisine is heavily influenced by European, Indian, Chinese, Javanese, Sudanese, Malay… So looking for something truly traditional to Indonesia is hard nowadays.
Traditional Indonesian dishes you should try are gado-gado (salad with peanut sauce), nasi uduk (rice boiled in coconut milk and spices and serve with a side of salad, meat or vegetables), soto betawi (beef cooked in a stew of coconut or cow milk), nasi goreng (fried rice) or kerak telor (spicy omelet) to name a few. As for truly traditional dishes from Yogyakarta you can widely find Gudeng (boiled jack fruit in palm sugar, and coconut milk generally coming with opor ayam which is chicken in coconut milk, or as a hard boiled egg stew or krecheck, which is another stew made of beef inner skin). Ayam goreng Kalasan (stew made of chicken and vegetables served with cold salad).
For more information about Yogyakarta check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah (IDR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Yogyakarta
- Sultan’s Palace Area Is the historic centre of the city and where most if not really all of the major sights located, both pre-colonial and post-colonial. The centre piece no need to mention, is the Palace itself.
-Kraton Ngayogyakarta Also known as Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono’s palace or simple shortened to Kraton or Sultan’s Palace. The entire area is very large and will involve lots of walking around, but worth the visit in all moments. Among the important constructions within are:
-Main Court Is the highlight of the complex, the building where the sultan used to do his labors as monarch and as such, the most luxurious and richly decorated. Entrance is IDR 12500 plus 1000 for making pictures. Note it is only open for visits from 8.30am until 13.00pm.
-Royal Residences Where the family used to reside, represents the more common and day to day live of the monarch.
-Carriage Museum Showing the collection of the Sultan’s horse carriages.
-Taman Sari Known as the water castle is one of the oldest surviving constructions. Built in 1765 for the first Sultan as his recreational pool and harem. A separate entrance fee of IDR 7000 plus 1000 for picture is requires. Open from 08.30am until 15.00pm.
-Alun Alun Utara and Selatan Are both of the recreational gardens in the complex, one, the largest, at the front, the smaller one on the back.
-Masjid Gede Kauman Is one of the largest mosques in the city and oldest, located within the complex at one of the sides of the Alun Alun Utara. Really beautiful in wooden structure with nice paintings, it is possible to access all areas outside of the praying hours; they will provide you with a sarong to cover your legs.
-Fort Vrederburg Just meters to the north of the Main Court of the Palace, outside the Alun Alun Utara. This former Dutch fortress was built in 1760 upon the colonial conquest. Now fully restored houses some museums and exhibitions. IDR 20000 entrance fee.
-Malioboro Street Spams from the Tugu train station to the Sultan’s Palace and it’s the largest and most known market and shopping area in the city among locals and tourists.
-Tugu Train Station Is the main terminal for long distance 1st and 2nd class trains. Although its original shape is now a bit changed than how it was during colonial era, it is still a nice piece or architecture.
-Tugu Yogya Farther to the north of the city along Malioboro, that changes its name for Bangkubumi after Tugu station, this monument in the middle of a roundabout dates back to the Dutch colonial times.
- Outside of the city centre There is not much once you move farther away from the old town centre, being the nicer place and also very common among tourists, the old Kota Gede. The rest is all new with many tower blocks and many new on the way.
-Kotagede Was the ancient capital of the Islamic Mataram Kingdom. Although many buildings have now disappeared and others changed in form and shape and included many new ones, it is still the place where you will find the largest agglomeration of traditional Javanese architecture in the region. The tomb of Mataram Kingdom’s first king, Panembahan Senopati, is also located here.
- Outside of the city Not far from Jogja there are magnificent worldwide famous ancient temple complexes and as such why Yogyakarta has become one of the major tourist destinations in the entire country. Although there are many to keep you going few days, the most famous are:
-Candi Borobudur This 9th century Mahayana Buddhist Temple is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, and one of the finest landmarks in Indonesia, worldwide known is the most visited monument by tourist in the country. Listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, lies some 40 kilometres northwest from Yogyakarta. For a full travel guide of this place check the relevant article here.
-Candi Prambanan This large archaeological park is located 17 kilometres northeast of Yogyakarta and is the next ancient world renown landmark in Indonesia. Also listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, it is the largest Hindu temple site in the country, dating from the 9th century. But apart from the main temple, there are many others nearby. For a full travel guide of this place and the many other temples around check the relevant travel guide here.
Adisucipto International Airport is located 8 kilometers to the east of the city. It is luckily one of only 2 airports in the country directly connected by train to their respective city centres. Here you can take the Prambanan Ekspres train to Tugu station right in the middle of the city at the beginning of Malioboro Street.
Directly on the mainline railway you can connect to Jakarta in quite comfortable trains yet expect between 7 to 12 hours ride, and sometimes it is definitely not worth to save just few pounds than instead flying and get there in just 50 minutes. We are not backpackers and for us time is precious. The cost for this flight was ridiculous low already and as such we could not even consider to take a train or a bus to further save on an already really low fare we paid. Still, train can be optional for people having much more time who will like to cross the country overland, and see different landscapes and the true country side. Unfortunately we could not give any chance away of saving as many hours as possible in our commute through the country due to our already limited 13 days trip in total.
Within the city centre you can move around by public buses but expect clear confusion. The best way would be to ask someone local, or at a hotel concierge for help. In any case, this is not even a fraction of the size of what Jakarta is, so distances are by far way shorter. Walking around the historic old town is definitely your best choice, and if you happen to have your accommodation nearby then you are free of any hassle as was our case. Only the train from and to the airport was all the public transport we ever took in the city.
Still, there are plenty of becaks everywhere (tricycles either motorised or man powered, similar to Thai tuk tuk), just negotiate beforehand the fare and you will enjoy a pleasant ride across the madness of the traffic, reaching any destination faster than anything.
Being such important city for tourism, there is a really wide choice and large amount of hotels of any kind. From very large international chains to more modest family run businesses and hundreds of bed & breakfast alike. Searching for a good deal was, in the other hand, not that easy. Most of the usual hotel search engines retrieved results for night without breakfast, while the very few showing included breakfast were setting the total cost per night quite high. Still, after a longer search and effort we managed to find a great deal at one of the top hotels in the city! A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Meliá Purosani, in Jalan Suryotomo no. 31. Literally a very short walk from the old Dutch Fort, 10 minutes to the Sultan’s Palace north gate, and barely 20 minutes away from the Tugu train station along Malioboro Street, where buses to Prambanan and Borobudur also depart. It is really almost impossible to beat this central location, not to mention the property itself. Huge, large and beautifully landscaped outdoor heated pool, huge included breakfast and every possible facility you can imagine as sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and gym also free of use to anyone staying in. The staff was extremely polite and professional at any time since we stepped inside until we checked out, and cannot think of any reason why to say something negative. The room was truly generous spacious, with nice view to the garden and pool, extra large comfortable bed and really nice decor everywhere. It will be without any hesitation my first choice should I return to this city.