May 29, 2014

Top 10 things to do in Yogjakarta

Yogjakarta (also commonly referred to as Jogjakarta) is my favourite Indonesian city. Despite a population of over 500,000 people it still feels like a small town. It has a wonderful historical centre, the Kraton, around which are located some great restaurants, cheap relaxing hotels with pools (mandatory for the afternoon heat), and unlike most Indonesian cities, it is easy to walk around. Not that you get much chance to do so with the Becak (trickshaw) and Ojek (motorbike) riders enticing you to take a ride and let them do the work.

Here are my top ten things to do in and around Yogjakarta:

1. Enter the Kraton
The old part of the city is surrounded by city walls with four tiny white entry tunnels. Just walking around the tranquil streets with its old homes, and cool restaurants hidden away in side streets is a great way to spend an afternoon. It strangely reminded me of an English village, with lots of foliage, little traffic and single story buildings. So different to the modern world outside of the Kraton wall.

2. Follow in the footsteps of Royalty
Visit the Sultans Palace (Entrance 12, 500 Rupiah, US$1.25). In the middle of the Kraton is the Sultans palace. He still lives here, but much is still open to tourists. The opulent palace, with its whitewashed buildings housing throne rooms and museums is good to explore, but the highlight is the free shows in the pavilions in the courtyard. Here you can sit and watch a traditional Javanese puppet show, or relax to the haunting sounds of the Gamelan musical instrument. 

3. Avoid getting wet at the Water Castle
Wander into Taman Sari (also known as the Water Castle) is also located in the Kraton. Built in 1765 by the first Sultan as a pleasure palace. It has a small tower surrounded by bathing pools with water fountains. The Sultan would have climbed the tower to admire his harem in the pools, and choose a lucky lady. The bathing pools look enticing, particularly on a hot day, but swimming is sadly forbidden!

4. Climb the old Fort Vrederberg
Built by the Dutch on land given by the Sultan in 1760, located just outside the Kraton. Ostensibly built to increase the security for the Sultan, it was actually used by the Dutch to spy on him and monitor what was happening in the Kraton. A good example of Dutch architecture, now a museum detailing the Indonesian struggle for Independence.

5. Shop until you drop
On Malioboro Street (named after the British Duke of Marlborough). Not sure whether to include this one or not. It is a highlight for many tourists who like to go shopping, as it is a 2 km street full of batik and t-shirt sellers. Either that sentence excites you and has you reaching for your wallet, or causes palpitations at the thought of being constantly hassled while walking 2 kilometres.  For me it was fun for five minutes.

6. East street food at a Wayung
Wayung are street stalls. Come 6pm and the side streets of the city fill with hastily erected tarpaulins, gas powered woks, and plastic chairs and tables. I wandered around the Prawirotaman area tasting wonderful dishes of Satay, Gudeg (a local dish of spicy fruit curry), and spicy fish covered in an irresistible tamarind like sauce on top of a base of rice. With a Bintang beer to help enhance the flavours of course. No dish cost me more than 20,000 Rupiah (US$2) and most were much less.

7. See the Volcano Merapi
Merapi dominates Yogjakarta, not just with its looming cone visible on clear days, but with its constant eruptions and earthquakes. When erupting, tours will take you close enough to see rivers of lava (currently it is noisy but not ejecting lava). The last severe earthquake was in 2006 and killed 6000 people, but even during my stay I felt a few tremors which shook me in my bed. See this blog for more information on visiting Merapi.

8. See a wonder of the world
Spend a day (or more) at Borobudur. An Asian wonder of the world which really is as good to see as it appears in photos. Borobudur is located 60 to 90 minutes (depending on traffic) from Yogjakarta. Do try and get there for sunrise to avoid the legions of tourists who descend there from 08:00 AM onwards. For more information on visiting Borobudur see this blog.

9. Wrap up warm and eat Chilies and Chips
Take a trip up to the Dieng Plateau, approx 150 km from Yogjakarta. It is 2093 metres above sea level and very cold. Visit the Arjuna temples and the bubbling active crater of Kawah Sikidang. Chilies are an important part of the diet here, and the fresh locally grown potato fries with chilies are incredibly tasty.

10. Have a picnic at Prambanan
Visit the ancient temples at Prambanan. Huge Hindu temples built in the ninth century, located 45 minutes from Yogjakarta. the Borobudur temples are better known, but Prambanan is also a magnificent sight. It is surrounded by lush grass lawns where the locals spread out and enjoy massive picnics, you should do the same. The inner sanctum consists of eight giant temples, with over two hundred smaller temples located outside of this. Badly damaged in the 2006 earthquake restoration results in much scaffolding and repair work, but the intricate scupltures and statues on the edge of each temple turn the temple complex into a massive outdoor art museum. Unmissable.

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