Indonesia: Yogyakarta

After our quick exploration of the Indonesian capital, Will and I moved onto Yogyakarta. In my research I’d come across several reviews saying the train journey between the cities was very pretty so we opted to do that. It took just under 8 hours but our seats were comfortable, we had plenty of legroom and it was indeed a very scenic journey, so it wasn’t a bad way to spend the day – it’s definitely worth spending a bit extra for the Eksekutif class (350,000Rp) for an all-day journey. We left Jakarta bang on time and arrived 2 minutes early – I don’t know that this has ever happened in the history of South East Asian trains! We walked the 20 minutes from the station to our hostel to be greeted by a delicious free homemade dinner. The hostel offers this every night which is the main reason we booked it – to have both breakfast and dinner included in a very reasonable room price isn’t something I’ve come across anywhere else, and it also brings people from the hostel together to eat which is a plus. I’d recommend Laura Backpackers 523 for this atmosphere and the very friendly and helpful staff. We spent the rest of the evening planning our next few days to get the most out of our time in Indonesia.

Otto, one of the scalier hostel pets at Laura Backpackers…

The next morning, we scoffed some tasty breakfast toasties then teamed up with a Dutch guy from our room to explore Yogyakarta. It’s a much nicer place than Jakarta in terms of walking around – the traffic is slightly less chaotic and I’d say you have a much larger chance of surviving a road crossing. We headed first to the big central market, Pasar Beringharjo, which reminded me a lot of Benh Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City – a sprawling maze-like covered market stuffed with more wares than you could possibly look at in one visit. Will tried his hand at some bartering and bought a shirt, and we squeezed through the tiny aisles in search of a ring to replace the silver one I lost in Myanmar, but unfortunately they were a bit blingy for my liking. There is a big silver industry in Yogyakarta, and there are a few jewellery-making courses and silver markets. I decided not to do the silver course but a couple of girls from the hostel made some lovely stuff if you’re after some shiny new accessories!

Squeezing through Pasar Beringharjo

From the market we continued down the main street towards the Kraton; the walled city where the Sultans lived (Yogyakarta is its own ‘special region’ with a sultanate). We walked through the Kraton gate and as we were crossing the square to the palace we were stopped by a friendly local who introduced himself as an English teacher from the school across the road. We got chatting to him and he offered to take us around as he was walking in the same direction home. We walked first to a local market where he bought us some ‘apem’ (delicious coconut pancakes – if you eat nothing else in Yogya, eat these!), ‘rambutan’ (delicious lychee-like fruit) and ‘snakefruit’ (not so delicious fruit…) to sample.

Will and Alex with our guide, about to enjoy some apem

Afterwards, we visited Taman Sari, the ‘water castle’. This complex used to be something of a garden for the sultan’s palace, where he’d watch women swimming and pick a wife… Not any more, luckily. There’s not a lot to actually see here as it’s mainly a collection of ruined walls, but it was interesting to walk through into the local community behind it, which has sprung up amongst the remaining complex buildings. We walked through this residential area to a quiet little open air cafe; the original place to get the loewak coffee famous on Java. The beans for the coffee are acquired through a weasel-like creature called a loewak (a civet in English) selecting the ripest, juiciest berries to eat, digesting and passing out high quality coffee beans in its droppings as a result, which are then cleaned, processed and roasted. Weasel poo coffee doesn’t sound like the most appealing drink, but we thought we’d give it a go as our ‘guide’ had brought us and it’s well-known in the area – and it was actually very nice! It’s strong and rich, but smells and tastes a little chocolatey. Apparently it sells for about €50 a cup in Paris, so our relative cash splash for a cafetière of it (125,000 Rp) looked very good value for a tasty caffeine hit!

Inside Taman Sari
Loewak coffee for 4!

After our coffee, we said goodbye to our self-appointed guide and headed to the sultan’s palace in the centre of the Kraton. It was a little underwhelming to be honest; empty open-walled courtyards, some models of different Javanese peoples and a few rooms of old Yogyakarta photos. There was no written information to accompany anything so I don’t know that we got an awful lot out of the visit, but at least we know we went! It’s only 7,000Rp so a cheap visit if you have time, though I’d say you’d definitely get more out of it paying more for a tour guide – they offer these at the entrance.

Will and Alex at the back gate of the sultan’s palace

From the palace we walked back out of the Kraton to the main street and dived into the Vredeburg; a war monument and museum detailing the Indonesian battle for independence from the Dutch. It’s free, and absolutely worth a visit if you’re into history museums. It was a well signposted story and I found it interesting to read as I knew almost nothing about that element of Indonesian history. I also have to admit that it was nice, for once, not to be reading about British colonial exploits! A few local college kids asked if they could interview us about our visit to the museum and our experience of Yogya more widely for a project they’d been given, so we sat with them for a bit and participated in some excited tourist selfies for their Instagram. Hopefully we helped them get some good marks…

With our local friends in the Vredeburg courtyard

From the Vredeburg we wandered back to the hostel, grabbing some noodles on the way, to listen to some music, play some cards and hang out with others in the communal area. We had another tasty communal dinner then returned to some cards – and I managed to befriend the very small and cute hostel kitten, who spent the evening asleep on my lap.

On our last day in Yogya we had a rather intense 3am wake-up call for a visit to what is perhaps Indonesia’s most famous historical site: Borobudur. It’s a large Buddhist temple, protected by UNESCO, built around the same time as Angkor Wat. We drove about 45 minutes out of the city, and first stop was a viewpoint up on a hill to watch the sunrise over the jungle valley. It was a lovely pink sunrise despite the clouds, but we were slightly annoyed that the hostel hadn’t told us you can’t actually see the temple from the viewpoint!

A pretty sunrise – points to anyone who can spot the temple…

With the sun up, we got back in the mini bus and drove to the actual temple. Unlike the sprawling complex at Angkor, Borobudur is a single structure. It has nine different levels, some square and some circular, all linked by stairwells at each point of the compass and leading up to a circular dome at the centre. We climbed and walked round each platform, all of which have different elaborate carvings round the wall panels representing a different story or quality of Buddha. It was quite busy with local school trips (so we were also followed around and asked for selfies) but it was still very majestic and it’s amazing to see some of the 1200-year old stone carvings still in such good condition. When we’d worked our way around the temple platforms, we headed for a much-needed coffee and breakfast before we bussed back to the hostel.

Headless Buddhas at Borobudur
The Western stairway at Borobudur

We got back to the hostel just before 10am, in time for a second breakfast – none of us particularly needed it, but it was free, so why wouldn’t we take advantage? We got changed, and Will and I teamed up with two brothers from New Zealand for the afternoon to go and visit a waterfall. It was about an hour’s drive out of the city but it was very green and pretty scenery, and we arrived at the Kembang Soka waterfall to be the only people there. It’s quite remote and the roads aren’t brilliant, so if you’re not confident on a motorbike, sharing a Grab taxi was quite an economical option. There were some very rickety bamboo bridges and walkways to get you down to swimming level, but we managed the descent in one piece and were greeted by lovely aquamarine water – like I’d seen in Kuang Si in Laos. Luckily, though, the water was a little warmer than Kuang Si! We jumped off the diving platform and had a swim, sitting on the rocks in the sun to dry out before we wobbled back up for the drive back into Yogya.

The pool to ourselves at Kembang Soka waterfall

When we got back, we showered and changed, and headed out with a group of people from the hostel for some burgers and beers. We found a bar called Oxen Free with some good music and tasty burgers, and took advantage of their beer happy hour. From there, a few of the group went home but Team Waterfall moved onto another bar a local guy had recommended – which turned out to be quite odd. It was almost like a huge indoor warehouse with picnic benches, a bar, and a stage with a live band. For some reason we’d all been craving espresso martinis (might have been something to do with the 3am start) so we ordered what we thought was the ticket, but when they arrived they were completely undrinkable! The disappointment! The boys got some beers instead and we sat listening to the music for a bit before we headed back home to sleep like a log.

Yogyakarta felt like a much friendlier city than Jakarta, and had a good mix of history, local culture and social atmosphere. It’s definitely worth including in any Indonesia itinerary.

Until next time,

Number of strangers I’ve spoken to today: 9, including our guide, who at our coffee meet, saw an old picture of me, told me I’d been ‘very fat’ and asked me how many kilos I’ve lost. Back-handed compliment, much?
Interaction was: slightly confusing in that I was a dress size smaller in the photo in question, but he didn’t quite understand my sarcastic response which made the whole exchange good value entertainment.

One Woman and her Backpack x

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