Let’s Jalan-Jalan | Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Though Indonesia and Malaysia are neighbours, I had only ever been to Bali a couple of times, and because I’ve heard Bali is completely dissimilar from other parts of Indonesia, I wanted to see what was so drastically different. I found a budget-friendly holiday to Yogyakarta whilst ritually browsing AirAsia‘s deals and from there, did some in-depth research and found myself enticed. I didn’t need much convincing, and neither did my partner-in-crime, so voilà, destination Yogyakarta!

The Airport

We landed at one of the smallest and most basic airports I’ve ever been to, and I was a little unhappy to find that visa-on-arrival prices had risen (US$35 from the previous US$25 for a 30-day visa)…eh, but what can you do right? I just googled this and found out they offer 7-day visas too, which are now US$15 from the previous US$10. Dang it, we only stayed for 5D4N! Just goes to show, research is key to traveling on a budget.

The Accommodation

We grabbed a 15-minute cab ride to our hotel, Nueve Jogja Hotel, which we had pre-booked via Agoda.com. Turns out, our hotel is quite conveniently located, as long as you don’t mind walking! I find walking a great way to explore and stumble across places you wouldn’t have known to exist but if you’re not a walker, they have trishaws (known as ‘becak‘) on every corner, which the locals use to get from A to B too. Just be prepared to haggle or get ripped off.

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The hotel was pretty average, and I think I’d only stay there again for the convenience, as the cleanliness of the bathroom was questionable. Let’s just say, I habitually showered with my flip-flops on. Upon our arrival, I explored our options for hiring a car and driver, and decided on Jogja Star Transport. The only available car was a Toyota Kijang Innova 2.0 M/T, which came with our driver, Mr. Nagit. Be aware that passengers have to cover the cost of petrol, on top of the rental of a car and driver.

Mount Merapi

I had planned for us to climb Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia, that night, and to reach the top for sunrise. Mr Nagit then suggested that we hire a guide, and the hour-long drive took us to Suparman Guest House, where we would set off from. The hostel is situated in Selo, a town resting at the bottom of the volcano. We arrived around midnight, and had to wait around in the cold living room until about 1AM.

Our guide was guest house owner Suparman’s son, a fit young man whose fastest run up Mount Merapi was 55 minutes. The normal walking time for people is said to be 4-5 hours! I wouldn’t know how long it would have taken us, as my vessel (my body and resolve) completely failed me after less than half an hour of walking an incline no less than 45 degrees. The air was cold and dry, the ground covered in ash, slippery and dry, outlines of tobacco fields surrounding us, the darkness engulfing. I was out of breath within minutes, my lungs burning from the cold dry air, and I felt like barfing may ensue if I pushed myself any farther. We turned around, and yes, burned the money paid to the guide.

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Borobudur Temple

Since we got back to our hotel much earlier than expected and we still had our driver’s services for the rest of the day, we decided to catch some much needed Z’s before heading to Borobudur temple. We requested for some Minangkabau cuisine, so Mr. Nagit brought us to Duta Minang. Buffet-cum-canteen style, the food was yummy, albeit a little cold.

The journey to Borobudur was about as long as going to Mount Merapi, passing through small towns along the way. We passed a curious looking field, which seemed to us like the end of a market, but Mr. Nagit told us it was a rooster singing competition. He explained that people from the villages bring their birds, sometimes long distances, to compete on tall rods installed in the middle of a field, and win prizes the likes of electronics and sometimes even new motorcycles. We strolled around, looking at the competitors’ majestic colours and their specially designed baskets, before moving on.

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At Borobudur, we decided to hire a guide, and we didn’t regret it at all! Trisno explained the history, meanings of the Buddhist depictions and carvings, the thought behind the architecture, as well as the many interesting features, such as drainage systems and building materials. Knowing the details and understanding the poetic thought behind it made the UNESCO World Heritage Site even more beautiful.

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Plasa Pasar Ngasem (Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta 2014), Kampoeng Cyber & Pelataran Tamansari

A 20-minute walk or so from our hotel, Plasa Pasar Ngasem was astir with activity. Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta, also known as FKY, is one that merges art and culture, boasting an art market, live music, and local delicacies. We felt lucky to have stumbled across it, and that our trip coincided with the festival!

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Whilst weaving through the knick-knack stalls, we came across a keris maker. The keris is a blade commonly associated to the Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese, Madurese, Banjar, Siamese and Malay people. The skill has been in his family for 19 generations, and he explained how the differences in the design of the hilt, sheath and wavy blade indicates which peoples use it. We sat with him for a long time, while he worked on designing a sheath by banging grooves into a thin metal sheet and told us about keris.

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Run-down buildings peek over the square and make up the backdrop of the Plasa’s performance stage. We spotted some stairs that walked us through these ruins, turning right and left, we followed the most unique underpass that gave us pause. At the other side, we didn’t feel the urge to continue, so we walked back and through an art exhibition of sorts.

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Venturing deeper into the quaint artsy residential area, we found out that we were exploring Kampoeng Cyber, and that if we walked a little more, we would arrive at Taman Sari Water Castle and old Palace Complex. I find walking unencumbered with no plans and in no particular direction to be one of the best and stress-free ways to discover and experience a new place.

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Kampoeng Cyber was a treat on the eyes. With street art left, right, and centre, batik printed walls and small independent shops and galleries, it was a pleasure to see how proud the people of Yogyakarta are of their heritage and local arts. After browsing a couple of the shops, we found ourselves in a serene little square and the entrance to Taman Sari.

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Taman Sari was erected during the mid-18th Century as a place of relaxation and escape for the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. Beautiful buildings, underground pathways, and dimly lit rooms greeted us as we stood entranced within each chamber. Kala-makara, a sea-creature from Hindu mythology, aptly decorates the roof of the water castle.

Unfortunately, we had arrived after the water castle had closed, but we were pleased to find a path that let us peek over a wall and grab a glimpse of the bathing complex. The surrounding buildings were still open for us to see, including the Sultan’s Meditation Complex. It was wonderful to see how clean and well-kept this part of town was.

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Back through Kampoeng Cyber, we observed residents watering their plants and washing the main path, children playing with paper planes on the roofs of their home, or gathered on a corner making music from sticks and plastic buckets. The scenes were unbearably photogenic!

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Night fell and we found ourselves browsing Jalan Malioboro, one of the main shopping streets in Yogyakarta. Mouth-watering smells wafted from the street food stalls, easily roping us in to try their noodle soup, which proved as delicious as we were hoping. This particular street boasts many batik and clothing stores, and seeing as I have mad love for batik, we spent many minutes browsing and buying.

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Sultan Palace

Home to the King of Yogyakarta, Sultan Palace is also a living museum, which depicts Javanese culture and way of life. We went on a Tuesday morning, and found hundreds of palace guards sitting around for a couple of hours. The procession was over by 11AM and they all started to leave.

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We were curious about the procession, so we asked one of them, and he was so accommodating and friendly that he started walking us around the palace and explaining how, every Tuesday, all palace guards come to pay their respects to the Sultan, who was born on a Tuesday.

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Gamelan performances, traditional ensemble music mostly consisting of percussion instruments, are also held at the Palace on this day. The palace grounds are closed by 2PM from Saturdays to Thursdays, and by 1PM on Fridays, so do get there early!

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Prambanan Temple

Prambanan was a bit more of an adventure for us, because we decided to take the cheaper mode of transport, the bus. We took Bus 1A from a bus stop just outside Hotel Garuda, which dropped us off a 10-minute walk from Prambanan. It IS walkable, despite what the becak riders tell you. They charged us IDR15,000 for a ride which should have cost us about IDR5,000.

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The 9th-century Hindu temple compound and archeological park was massive! I mean, we really didn’t expect it to be so big that they provide free tram services to take you to each temple. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the largest in South East Asia.

Prior to a volcano eruption and earthquake, there had been 240 temples standing in Prambanan. Efforts to restore them are still underway, so rubble and foundations are still dotted around the site. Despite this, it was really and truly breathtaking. This place needs at least a whole day dedicated to it!

The Departure

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Full of culture and heritage, with still so much remaining to be seen, we felt like our exploration had been cut short. But it was time to go, for the daily grind was pulling us back to reality. We spent our last moments browsing through small shops in the airport, scribbling our postcards furiously, and snapping up Indonesian jasmine tea and other souvenirs. We paid for our departure tax at the entrance next to the Immigration lounge and silently hoped with all our might that our hand luggage wouldn’t be weighed.

For more pictures of Yogyakarta, please visit my flickr.

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$$$

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AirAsia return flights for 2 (Kuala Lumpur to Yogyakarta)…RM1,010 (US$300)
Nueve Jogja Hotel for 4 nights……………………………………..US$138.70
Visa…………………………………………………………………………..US$35
Taxi from Airport to Hotel Nueve…………………………………..IDR60,000 (US$5)
Becak (depends on distance)……………………………………….IDR10,000 – 20,000 (US$0.8 – 1.60)
24-hour car + driver…………………………………………………….IDR450,000 (US$37)
20 litres of petrol…………………………………………………………IDR130,000 (US$10.50)
Mount Merapi Guide……………………………………………………IDR300,000 (US$24.50) per person (if I remember correctly…)
Borobudur Entrance Fees…………………………………………….IDR230,000 (US$19) per person
Borobudur Guide………………………………………………………..IDR75,000 (US$6)
Bus to Prambanan………………………………………………………IDR3,000 (US$0.25) per person, one-way
Prambanan Entrance Fees…………………………………………..IDR207,000 (US$17) per person
Sultan Palace Entrance Fees………………………………………..IDR12,500 (US$1) per person
Taxi from Hotel Nueve to Airport…………………………………..IDR60,000 (US$5)
Airport departure tax…………………………………………………..IDR100,000 (US$8.10) per person
A meal can range from about……………………………………….IDR5,000 – IDR20,000 (US$0.40 – 1.60) / of course, this depends on where and what you eat.

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Do try the Soto Ayam, Bakso, and Sate! We ate at street stalls a lot, which saved us quite a bit of moolah.

All in all, I think we spent something like MYR2,500 (US$730) for the both of us, for 5D4N!

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Essentials

Indonesian Rupiah, US Dollars, Sunblock, Mosquito Repellent, Awesome hat, Comfy shoes/Flip-flops, a penchant for adventure

Essentials (if you’re doing Mount Merapi)

Warm clothes, shoes with grip and support/hiking boots, water, a better level of fitness than what I possess

Souvenir Tips

When traveling, I’m usually bogged down by weight restrictions for luggage. To work around this, I tend to pack savvy, and think about what would be light to buy as a souvenir. I love getting stamps, local fabrics, unique local products and a sticker for my suitcase!

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