Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Java: Yogyakarta

In 2014 I spent seven weeks working at an arts University in West Sumatra and from that developed a fondness (as well as some language skills) for Indonesia, so when the opportunity came up to make a return trip, I jumped at it. My trusty travel partner Angela and I had eight days in Java. I was not prepared for the sheer amount of amazing sights and things to do in Central Java alone, and as I suffer from severe FOMO, we moved through the place at breakneck speed.


We started our journey in Yogyakarta, the Melbourne (cultural capital) of Indonesia, a city that is worlds away from the hot, dirty, unappealing and sprawling mess that is Jakarta (seriously, don’t go). We checked into Greenhost Boutique Hotel, which met all of our expectations of super-cool, Instagram-worthy (yet affordable) Asian accommodation. Every wall is covered in hanging greenery, all surrounding a gorgeous central pool, and the breakfast buffet and top-floor bar received our high praise.

Our first stop, other than hiring a scooter next door at Bamboo House, was to try the traditional Javanese dish Gudeg at Gudeg Yu Djum, which was a great way to dive back into Asian food. While we were unsuccessful into getting into Taman Sari (the Water Castle) because it closes in the afternoon, we had fun wandering around the area until some friendly locals told us we could go around the back and get a great view looking over the wall. This was a fantastic tip, and we got better views of the pool than if we’d gone inside (and it was free too)! Further exploration led us to Masjid Sumur Gumuling nearby, an old Mosque with circular rooms and central staircases that made for some great photos.

There are two main tourist areas in Yogyakarta; Prawirotaman, where we were staying and filled with guesthouses and great places to eat, and just a bit further north, Malioboro, home the reputable markets and shopping strip. We headed there next for a look around, before deciding to come back for dinner after a rest at the hotel, a dip in the pool and some mojitos at the bar. Dining choices along Jalan Malioboro are almost entirely limited to street foot in the curb side stalls. Only one day in, Angela was not feeling so adventurous - we found her some Japanese in a food court, and I had some ayam goreng (fried chicken) at one of the stalls.

Day two saw us up early to make the hour long ride out to Borobodur for sunrise. You can pay an exorbitant fee to book through a neighbouring hotel to be let in before sunrise, but some extra research told us that it was sufficient to just go in as normal as soon as the temple gates open at 6am. We were the first in and made it to the top to watch the sun come up through the clouds. While Borobodur doesn’t compare to the scale of temple complexes such as Bagan and Angkor Wat, it’s still impressive and very beautiful; a definite must if you’re in the area.

Only about fifteen minutes away is the lesser known Gereja Ayam (Chicken Church), literally a church inside a giant chicken. The inside is filled with hilarious, politically charged wall paintings and you can climb up through the tower to look out it’s beak and then stand on its head for some reasonable views. On the walk back, while chasing some chickens, I walked into a massive spider web and basically had a seizure trying to brush potential spiders off of me.

Next up was another hour or so ride east to Kaliuran, a village on the side of the active volcano, Merapi. We made it just in time to Vogels Hostel for lunch before it started pouring and enjoyed some delicious ayam paniki, a kind of vegetable soup with chicken, heavily scented with lemongrass. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain had stopped, and we rode up to the carpark of Bukit Pronojiwo, a good place to lookout over the lava fields. Apart from being ridiculously overpriced, the cloud cover totally wiped out the views, so we turned back in time to be propositioned by a man in a bight yellow jeep, offering a 2-3 hour expedition up the volcano. Done!

Sitting in the back of the open topped jeep, we bounced along (with Ange laughing hysterically) the roughest roads I have ever experienced. We stopped at a decimated house (now museum to the last volcanic eruption), an old bunker, the underwhelming ‘alien rock’ and some fantastic views over the lava fields, with the volcano looming the in clouds in the background. Every stop was accompanied by groups of locals asking to take photos with us … we vowed that on the next trip we would provide them with a hashtag so we could make a collection of all the randoms uploading photos of us.

I only speak a bit of Indonesian, so on the way back when our driver asked us if we wanted to do something involving the words ‘water’ and ‘circle’, I assumed there was some kind of water wheel he wanted to take us too. Next minutes, he goes off road and we’re doing mad wheelies in the river under the bridge. Definitely the highlight of the day.

Back on the scooter the next leg took us to another temple, Prambanan (which kept getting Black Betty by Ram Jam stuck in our heads). By this stage we were flagging in energy and motivation, and the ambience of Prambanan was compromised by the epic Tupperware convention taking place on the grounds. We stopped at the exit for food and I had another Indonesian favourite, gado-gado, a kind of satay salad.

Battling the traffic back into Yogyakarta, we stopped by the Kota Gede neighbourhood so I could try a black soupy dish called Brongkos from Warung Jawi (reputably the best); not something I would need to have again, but I’m glad I tried it. By the time we got back to the hotel we were well and truly dead (remember, this is all still on day two) and we spent the rest of the night in.


After our epic beach crawl and trip to Mount Bromo, I still had two more full days in Yogya, with Ange leaving in the afternoon of the first. We got a private room at Venezia Garden Homestay, quite near our previous accommodation (but a lot cheaper), which was quite nice and near a lot of places to eat. We checked out Bu Ageng, a swanky looking restaurant that came highly reviewed, but I found the staff unusually rude and the food which took a long time to arrive, not great. I think it was probably geared towards fussy, white tourists … I would much rather eat in a dingey, street side warung.

In the morning we hired a scooter (bright pink this time!) to go and check out Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace. On the drive there, a local guy stopped beside us and offered to show us the way, protesting that he wasn’t trying to scam us. He led the way, and when we stopped he gave us directions and suggestions including to see Kraton with a guide and to check out the real batik school (as opposed to all the ‘galleries’ which are just scams). Turned out he really was just a nice guy helping out, which is increasingly rare in Asia. Kraton, which historically significant, is nothing special to look at and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if we missed it. However our friend was right; a guide was essential in making the site interesting and explaining a lot of things we would have walked past without a thought.

Nearby was a batik (a traditional Indonesian art form using wax and dye to make art and clothing) school that was sponsored by the palace in order to preserve local culture. If you’re going to look at and buy batik, this is the place in the city to do it - all of the shops and galleries along Malioboro sell fake, mass-produced batik at inflated prices and pay hawkers on the street to direct people in. At this school you can speak with the artists themselves! Ange ended up buying a piece, but not having a home I thought it a little impractical for me. We then walked up to Malioboro to check out Pasar Beringharjo, a massive market. We bought some matching couples t-shirts from the street, but otherwise Beringharjo was no different than any Asian market packed with cheap (and mostly useless) goods.

After Ange left for the airport I basically laid in my bed and bummed around in the room for the rest of the night before reluctantly going out to find food (I’d eaten all the oreos) - I did find some fantastic satay nearby!

My last full day was packed! I left early morning to ride east out of the city to Goa Jomblang, where I befriended a couple of German travellers while we waited. At Goa Jomblang you are lowered by rope in pairs around 50m down into a huge sinkhole, in which a forest is growing. Only a short walk through the dark (and intensely muddy) cave, you emerge into a larger cave with a round opening in the ceiling high above. At a certain point in the day light streams down through the canopy above and into the cave, making for some spectacular photos. Definitely a must do if you go to Yogya. Back at the camp I bought a hilarious tourist photo on the abseil rope with me and a random Singaporean dude I didn’t know.

Next up was some river tubing through Goa Pindul, also in the area. Everyone knows that tubing is my number one favourite thing to do in the world. The first part included floating in a group through the cave itself, which was filled with tiny bats and some beautiful ceiling openings near the end. Overall though, it’s quite short and largely unremarkable. After climbing out, you and your tubes transported by pickup truck to a more open river. This was beautiful, the river winding through a small, picturesque canyon - our guide mentioned that at another time of year the water is fluorescent green. We came to a waterfall, which has a ladder embedded that you can climb up, and a platform to jump seven metres back into the river. Even that height felt daunting for me, but I did it twice (the impact really hurt my balls!).

My German friends had hired a car and driver, which I guess is good (and cheap enough) if you can’t be bothered driving and navigating, but for me, being able to ride a scooter/motorbike, especially in good, hot weather, is the best part of travelling Asia (rather than being secluded away with tinted windows and air conditioning). In saying that, I did take a wrong turn on the way back and got a bit lost …

The rest of the night and the next morning was spent bludging in my room, thoroughly exhausted, before heading off to perform in Sumatra.

Check out the next leg of our journey in between our stays in Yogya, Java: The Beach Crawl.

You can also check out my video, Java by Instagram Story.

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