Yogyakarta, also known as Jogjakarta or ‘Jogja’, is located in Central Java, Indonesia. A lovely destination for a weekend escape, a stopover, or a longer journey to soak yourself in history, art and culture.
1. Visit the impressive Borobudur Temple
Technically not in Jogja but accessible by car only an hour away, the 9th century temple is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world consisting of six square platforms with 504 Buddha statues (seated inside the stupas) and 2,672 relief panels. Visit during sunrise and be the first to go in to appreciate the peace and silence of the UNESCO Heritage site before other tourists and school tours arrive.
2. Explore the magnificent Prambanan Temple
This other UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest ancient Hindu temples in Southeast Asia that was also built in the 9th century. Hire a guide to bring you around the compound and learn about the stories behind the carvings that centred around the Creator (Brahma), Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva).
3. Hike to an active volcano
Mount Merapi (literally Fire Mountain in Indonesian) is known as the most active volcano in Indonesia that only last erupted in 2014! Hire a jeep to take you to the base and take a slow hike upwards. There’s something eerie yet soothing about setting on feet on these grounds- don’t forget bring a rock back as a souvenir! Definitely check with the locals/your guide to ensure that is it absolutely safe and no eruptions have been forecasted though.
4. Appreciate art at the Ullen Sentalu Museum
The Ullen Sentalu Museum was a delightful find just a stone’s throw away from Mount Merapi. The structure resembles a Bavarian baron’s mansion and well kept gardens, with an extensive collection of Javanese fine art, oil paintings, sculpture and artefacts in each underground chamber. A good place to be inspired on how to dress up your future Javanese themed garden.
5. Visit a Javanese palace and a water castle
The Kraton (Palace) Yogyakarta is rather well maintained from the days of the Sultans of Yogyakarta, where a local guide will show you around the palace grounds and feed you enlightening myths and rituals. From the back of the castle, make your way through the walls and village houses and into the Taman Sari Water Castle, where the pools and waterways were built for the Sultan and his entourage. Rumour has it that the Sultan had the Portugese architect of this bathing palace executed in order to keep his hidden pleasure rooms secret.
6. Watch sunrise from the Punthuk Setumbu hill
Travellers often want to watch a good sunrise wherever they go. Borobudur is a popular place to do so, however if you do not want to pay the hefty price tag of 32USD, you can opt for your driver to bring you to Punthuk Setumbu where the entrance fee is only 5,000 Rupiah. Be sure to bring a torch as it will still be dark as you climb the hill (it’s a 20-30mins easy climb). The sight of Borobudur Temple, Mt Merapi and Mt Merbabu appearing before your eyes as the sun rises is definitely worth it. Head over to Borobudur after which is not too far away.
7. Abseil down a vertical cave
I had missed this activity during my visit to Jogja and I certainly regret so! Jomblang Cave is a vertical cave with dense ancient forest below, and the only way to enter is to be dropped down a cliff via the Single Rope Technique. It is not as scary as it sounds, travellers who have been assured that safety is not compromised, and the ‘heavenly light’ you witness from below is absolutely beautiful and photo worthy.
8. Eat Javanese food
You can’t leave Java without tasting authentic Javanese cuisine such as Sup Buntut, Soto Ayam, Pecel Lelel, Ayam Goreng and Gudeg Jogya, a traditional food from Jogja and Central Java that is made from young jackfruit, palm sugar, spices and coconut milk. Most of the Javanese dishes are rather sweet (due to the use of kecap manis/sweet sauce) and spicy. The one place I recommend you dine at is The Sawah. Phillip and Wim opens up their beautiful, tropical themed bungalow amidst the rice fields (Sawah means rice field) and serve a fabulous authentic Javanese ‘rijsttafel’ – a rice sampler with 8-10 different dishes. Every dish was delicious and the experience was authentic and personal.