This post is Part I in my series: Jumping Around Java. You can see the Preview with index here.
So we flew to Yogyakarta, a city we had not heard of more than two weeks before. It was a pretty good visit.
The Sultan’s Palace
Yogyakarta is home to its sultan’s palace — also called Kraton — which is worth a half day visit. The Sultan has some special semi-governmental status that I don’t really understand, but his home has a lot of area open to the public. Exhibits include traditional outfits and even the Sultan’s Boy Scout uniform.
The Kraton is a city within a city, and is home to many people employed by the Sultan. One local managed to divert us to a shop making traditional Javanese puppets. The diversion happened to include a visit to a coffee shop selling Kopi Luwak — with the palm civet (a creature something like the South American Coatimundi, somehow distantly related to cats) in a cage for show — and a shop selling Batik (fabric made using wax while dyeing to create patterns). I think he was disappointed that we didn’t buy anything.
Our visit to the Kraton finished with a performance by a traditional Javanese dancer, accompanied by traditional music. There’s clearly a precision to the dance steps, but what I found most impressive was the costume.
The Water Palace
Near the Kraton is Tamansari Ngayogyakarta, known as the “Water Palace.” It is a worthwhile diversion. One courtyard has fountains, the next had ice cream! And then we made our way to an underground mosque nearby.
The big sites, Prambanan and Borodubur, are outside the city. While they can be visited the same day, we made a couple days of it so we could take public transit and not worry about timing.
We started with Prambanan. Prambanan can be reached on the local bus, which costs 3,000 Rupiah (less than 25 cents US). Not knowing the connections we took a taxi out and the bus back. Both ways it feels like you never leave the city because there are buildings on both sides of the road. What you don’t see is that once you leave central Yogyakarta, the backs of those buildings face rice paddies.
We were not there for sunrise but reasonably early, and the site was mostly empty. Although the Javanese are mostly Muslims, Prambanan is a set of Hindu temples. The main temples feature Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Along the sides are reliefs of the Ramayana epic — and there is a video for a small additional fee that tells the story in a building a short walk away (still inside the grounds).
A walk up to Candi Sewu (candi means temple), a Buddhist temple still inside the Prambanan ticketed area, gave even more solitude. There were three other people in the area — two (probably) European tourists and their guide. Apparently none of the locals felt that visiting this set of temples worth their time, but we enjoyed the solitude (and opportunity to take pictures without tons of people in them!).
A longer walk — about 3 km — leads to Candi Plaosan. Unlike the trip to Prambanan, this walk showed that we are outside of the city, with rice paddies and other open fields around us. Also, it was hot so we paid for ojek — motorcycle taxis — to get back to the bus station.
A quick note about transport: taxis are cheap here, buses are extremely cheap here. But the trishaws (rickshaws with three wheels and seating in the front, like the trishaws of Malacca, not the Indian tuk-tuk), whether gas or pedal powered, seem over-priced. They can cost more than a taxi costs for three (or ten) times the distance. Part of this is undoubtedly tourist mark-up and can be negotiated down, but the hawkers start at such high prices and don’t budge so we frequently ended up walking away. Even when someone followed us trying to make a sale, he stuck to the high prices. We learned that because taxis are so cheap, it would have been cheaper to have a taxi wait around for you then to end up stuck with only trishaws as the return transit option.
Prambanan was also our first taste of Indonesians taking photos with us. This is a thing. I don’t really like it or even “get” it, but I try to be respectful about it. Simply put, Indonesians at tourist sites ask white people to take photos with them. Luckily, Prambanan wasn’t very busy so it didn’t happen much.
Borobudur is further from town, so with about the same morning start as our visit to Prambanan we arrived at Borobudur much later. And it was much more busy. And most visitors are Indonesians.
Early in our visit, groups of teenagers would seek us out to practice their English as part of a class assignment. They were from Banda Aceh, on the far end of Sumatra, so they weren’t exactly local either. After talking to us, they each presented us with little yellow cards where we had to give them grades. Each student had to talk to five English-speakers and receive five grades. All of the English speakers except John from New Zealand gave every student an A. John from New Zealand: you’re a jerk (not that all of the students deserved an A).
Even before the English practice ended, the photo sessions started. Indonesians at Borobudur really wanted their photos with white people. While I typically disapprove of selfie sticks, they did make this easier. We also found that saying “just one” photo would speed up the process — otherwise the photo shoots kept going on and on with several camera phones. Despite our attempts to place limits on photo time, the photo shoots became overwhelming. We basically couldn’t explore the sight or take our own photos without being mobbed. Eventually we learned to try to avoid certain groups entirely (like the school group wearing matching red shirts) because we knew we’d never get away.
I suppose this is what it’s like to be Gary Coleman.
Borobudur itself is a big structure — not quite a pyramid. It’s a Buddhist site, and features countless Buddha statutes inside of bell-shaped structures. They are tough to describe, so here are some pictures:
The exit from Borobudur is a maze through shops. As best we could tell, there is no way out except through the maze of shops. No emergency exits. No convenience exists. Just shops upon shops.
I felt like participating in the English classes, photo shoots, and parade of shops, that I should get my ticket refunded. But no. Depending on exchange rates, foreigners can expect to pay around $20 per person for Prambanan, and a similar price the next day for Borobudur. A combined ticket offers some savings, but not much. Indonesians pay a fraction of this entry fee.
Getting to and from Borobudur is more difficult than Prambanan. The cheap city bus does not go to Borobudur, it goes to a bus station where a longer distance bus starts the trip to Borobudur (something we didn’t quite understand ahead of time). This takes more time and more money. More time meant we arrived later in the day and there were significantly more people. More money meant we spent even more time asking where we could find an ATM machine. This was made worse because more than half of the ATM machines in Indonesia reject our debit cards.
There are other temples and sites in and around Yogyakarta but we have seen a lot of temples, so even giant Borobudur was not as impressive as it might be on a shorter trip. So we skipped them.
Food — Not as Exciting, But More Hipster
What we can’t skip is food. Indonesian food isn’t bad, but it’s not Malaysia or Singapore either. Nasi Goreg (fried rice) with chicken or egg, Laksa (meatball soup), and Mie Goreg (fried noodle) dominate. There is a tasty salad with greens, tofu, egg, and peanut sauce called Gado Gado, but the kids learning English laughed at me when I said it’s my favorite Indonesian food.
We did find an interesting food court called Foodiest in Yogyakarta near our hotel, where you pre-load value on a card, pick and pay for food at one or more stations, and it is delivered to you. It felt like something that could be set up in Portland or Oakland.
We also found a quasi-street stand style food setup in the mall near our hotel. Each little booth was manned by a single (young) person and featured some tasty (and odd) treats.
However, nothing is more hipster than a cat cafe (probably not true, but certainly the cutest). We hadn’t visited a cat cafe since Slovenia, so it was a nice treat to stop by and hang out with some adorable cats one evening.
Ready to move on, we went to the train station. The only available tickets were in the middle of the night. So midnight train it is . . .
[This blog post describes our trip to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, January 4-8, 2017.]