That’s true – Bali has a rich and fascinating history that makes it a wonderful travel destination. If you are looking for another place in the country, I recommend Java. Java island is much bigger than Bali with a few major cities (from Jakarta, Bandung, Surakarta, and Surabaya), volcanoes and national parks, like the dramatic Mount Bromo, and the Ujung Kulon National Park that is home to the endangered Javan Rhino. But today, I am going back to Yogyakarta and I want to wrap up a lot of things that I have seen, done and eaten there.
Where to Stay
After we had arrived at Yogyakarta airport, we had a limousine pick up from the hotel to the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa, which is not far from the airport. I chose this hotel because their ground floor suites are right at the poolside and I always want to know how it feels being able to jump into a pool from your hotel room! The hotel has a great restaurant, a local tour booking counter, and a nice spa as well. It makes our trip so much easier being able to book the tour right down the lobby, and have a nice spa treatment at the hotel after enjoying a good dinner at the restaurant. The restaurant is also located on the top floor of the hotel building and we had an unobstructed view of Mount Merapi at the balcony; on top of all these, the hotel suite is at a very nice price for less than US$100 dollar per night for my four-night stay!
If you are looking for something more traditional and classic, The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta is another great choice. The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta is a boutique heritage hotel and I was told it’s the best place for English afternoon tea in the city. When I first entered the hotel from the main road it didn’t impress me much until I walked into the main hotel building. The historic building was constructed in colonial style and the swimming pool was right in the center. Each luxurious suite has its own balcony that overlooks the pool. While the food of their afternoon tea set is not as outstanding as I had hoped, it is among the best in town and the experience was made up of its good value and nice environment.
What to eat
I didn’t expect this and somehow I ended up having a yummylicious post about the food scene in Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta is the representative of Indonesian cuisine. I don’t know much about the Indonesian cuisine (well I still don’t), and I can’t say that I am a fan – however, their food has some specialties that distinguish themselves from its neighboring Southeast Asian Countries.
Visit Madam Tan, it is a popular local restaurant serving local food with good value and a vintage interior. I like their noodle soup with lots of sprouts and toppings. The House of Raminten is a whimsy late-night kitchen that always has a long queue outside during dinner time. By looking at the setting of the restaurant you will immediately have an idea how “crazy” it is: a jacuzzi in the middle of the dining area, a horse stable at the back next to the bathrooms, plus funky lighting and different sitting layouts, set up and a lot of decors that you don’t expect.
Going for a light snack or afternoon tea in between meals? I suggest a walk down the Prawirotaman. The street is filled with local cafes, ice-cream parlors and local shops that you may find some interesting tees and souvenirs. We had ice cream at Il Tempo Gel Gelato, an ice-cream shop filled with people and a great selection of flavors. At night, this is also a bar area for tourists to chill and hangout. Personally, I like the Agenda on the rooftop of the Green Host Boutique Hotel, it is a cozy space with delicious snacks, fresh juices, cocktail and live music.
Where to shop
Malioboro is the main shopping street in the city where the locals are active. It’s a busy commercial area in town, and probably a place that you must visit at least once or twice during your visit to Yogyakarta, because Money exchange, markets, telecom stores, retail and travel agencies are all here. Malioboro Mall is one of the biggest malls on the street and a good place to look for souvenirs and explore local street food. There is a local chain deli called Es Teler that serves easy and cheap Indonesian food from “Nasi Goreng ”, “Mie Goreng”, “Gado-Gado”, “Bakso”, “Otak-Otak” to “Pisang Bakar Coksuke”.
Landmarks and key attractions are all located in this area. The Palace of Yogyakarta is at the end of the street, and the train station is located at the other end. Therefore, you want to avoid the peak hours and visit there a little bit earlier or later as it would be quite difficult to get a taxi and you might be stuck in the notorious Indonesian traffic.
What to do
If you are looking for some activities to take part during your stay in Yogyakarta, consider taking a cooking class. Yes, it is not unique here (which there are plenty in Bali, Jakarta, and many cities across Southeast Asia. But I had a great experience joining my cooking class at Viavia Jogja, the kitchen offers their guests an intimate cooking experience with only 2-4 ‘students’ in one class. The MasterChef, Diwan, said she preferred it this way as it would be easier for her to communicate with the students and get them to focus on the cooking. Sometimes a big group would just chat among themselves and forgot all the cooking.
To me, it’s quite effective as we get to prepare, cook and also eat what we make. Plus, the chef took us to a local market and we saw where our ingredients came from.
For something outdoor and exciting, visit Wisata Kalibiru in the outskirts of Yogyakarta, it is a nature-tourism destination offering outdoor games and activities like rap[eling, flying fox and climbing. One of the most popular things to do there is taking pictures at the treetop platforms where you could have panoramic and breathtaking views of the jungle and beyond.
For something artistic, go to a Ballet show! Yes, Ballet! Ramayana Ballet Prambanan is a well-known agency that stages a show next to the Prambanan Temple combining dance and drama without dialogue, based on the Ramayana story. As you could imagine, it is a traditional legend of Roro Jonggrang, and their romantic love is presented by dramatic moves and theatrical arrangements. I didn’t catch the show eventually but the tour guide recommended it; I reckon it could be a good option after visiting the Prambanan Temple.
What to see
The majority of tourists (especially first-timers) visit Yogyakarta for the beautiful Prambanan and the Borobudur, the Hindu and Buddhist heritage sites. The two sites are in two different locations and I recommend visiting them in two days. For me, I visited the Prambanan during sunset and the next day we watched the sunrise at the peak of Punthuk Stumbu.
Apart from the two major religious sites, there are temples everywhere in the area – from Buddhist to Hindu. Near Borobudur, we visited the Pawon Temple and Mendut. They are rectangular temples carved with intricate reliefs and built from mountain rocks in the 9th century.
Near Prambanan Temple, there are quite many temples on the way. The Kalasan Temple is a richly decorated Buddhist temple adorned with intricately carved figures of deities; The Sewu Temple is another major Buddhist temple complex with numerous buildings; The Ratu Boko Archaeological site features a mix of Buddhist & Hindu structures, stone temples & caves; the Candi Sari are ruins of a Buddhist temple originally constructed out of wood & stone, and the Sambisari Temple was a Hindu temple once buried underground and then semi-excavated – all these sites date back from 8th to 9th centuries.
In the city center, there are a few places of interest. Visit the Taman Sari Water Castle, it is a former royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. Located about 2 kilometers south within the grounds of the Kraton, the castle was built in the mid-19th century and quite multifunctional – the castle is separated in two areas: a large artificial lake with islands and pavilions located in the west, a bathing complex in the center, a complex of pavilions and pools in the south, and a smaller lake in the east. The castle is not big and now only the central bathing complex is well preserved, however, the engravings on the main gate still made a great impact as I walked in.
The palace of Yogyakarta is a palace complex and the seat of the reigning Sultan of Yogyakarta and his family. The architecture of the complex is in the Javanese style that incorporates intricate engravings and woodworks. White, red, and green are the main colors and I felt that it has a strong tie with nature. The open area has a pavilion for the public to rest, and it contains a museum displaying royal artifacts, photos, and more.