A vibrant city full of history and culture, Yogyakarta offers something for every kind of traveler.
After several terrifying (really, terrifying) bus experiences around Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen we opted instead to catch a one hour flight from Surabaya to Jogjakata. After a few delays in Surabaya, an eventual slow-spiraling decent brought us down into Yogyakarta Adisucipto International Airport and into a city I had done very little research on.
We had booked accommodation several days previously at a highly rated and very affordable Sae Sae backpackers. The owners of Sae Sae, Boy and Michelle, along with the rest of the staff made our stay as comfortable as we could have wished and had valuable help and information for travelling around the city.
We spent our days walking up and down the lazy streets of Jogja, with the occasional ride on one of the many becaks (pedal-powered three-wheeled rickshaws). We learned a tip here from a local who told us to only take the becaks which are waiting on the side of the road and not the ones that hassle you, as these are the ones the locals take and will generally be a more reasonable price. Either way, haggle hard!
We found several restaurants and coffee shops which were excellent. Mediterranea Restaurant had incredible pizzas and a very tasty Sangria and ViaVia Restaurant had a large variety of delicious healthy foods, a creative bakery and a bunch of fresh fruit juice blends. ViaVia also had an interesting Free Trade Shop where we picked up some locally made notebooks and clothes. It should be noted that Jogja is NOT a breakfast city, a lot of the recommended spots only opened up from about 12pm onwards which left me grumpy and without coffee on several occasions.
One of the days, as a storm loomed overhead, we decided to take shelter at the local ‘Bird market’. This is perhaps the low point of my time in Jogja as seeing all those animals trapped in tiny cages was helluva depressing. I’m not going to pass judgement on the ways of a another culture but it was incredibly disappointing watching other Western tourists snapping photos of turtles, ferrets and owls which had nothing more than a tiny one meter cubed cage. In my opinion, leave this one off your itinerary.
We ended our time in Jogja by arranging a trip to the famed Borobudur and Prambanan temples. You absolutely can not pass through Jogja without seeing these temples, they offer some really spectacular views and captivating architecture. We decided to see a sunrise from the Buddhist temple Borobudur, and the views of Mount Merapi smoking in the background as the sun rose next to it are some of most vibrant of my Indonesian trip. The competing Hindu temple Prambanan was spectacular in its own way, and looking out from the temple at the earthquake strewn ruins gives a sense of the enormous structure it once was.
The temples are quite expensive to do with Borobudur costing 400,000 Rupiah and Prambanan another 234,000 Rupiah. The cheapest way to do it is to buy the tickets as a bundle at 450,000 Rupiah. This means you can not see the sunrise from Borobudur and instead will have to see it from a view point nearby. We didn’t read the fine print properly and ended up having to pay full price for both. The sunrise was epic from Borobudur and I wouldn’t change my experience at all, but we spoke to another couple who said their sunrise experience was also fantastic from outside the temple.
We did it all in five days and though that was more than enough to see as many of the sites as we wanted. Jogjakarta was a welcome change up from Bromo and Ijen as it offered some of the comforts of home while still surrounding us in Javanese culture. The temples were a brilliant way to end it all off and we left Jogjakarta with a lot of warm memories. There’s a lot to do and probably more to discover in terms of nightlife that we never got around to checking out. I’d say Jogja should definitely be on your itinerary if you’ve got shoes down in Java.
Borobudur – Set up high on hill the Mahayana Buddist temple of Borobodur is a wonder to marvel upon and offers stunning views of far-off Mount Merapi and the surrounding countryside. Take time to wonder around its many layers and intricate stone detailing. It has a fascinating history having been built, abandoned and rediscovered. 400,000 Rupiah entrance (or get a combination ticket with Prombanan temple (230,000 Rupiah) included for 450,000 Rupiah)
Taman Sari Water Castle – I was skeptical at first but the Water Castle was well worth braving the heat of the day for. Built in the 18th century, it was an elaborate garden built for the Sultanate of Yogyakarta with parts built so he could look down on his harem as they bathed and relaxed. The city has built itself up, inside and around the original building and only the central bathing complex is preserved. The entrance is 15,000 Rupiah a ticket and it’s probably worth enquiring about a guide, although we did fine wondereing around by ourselves.
Yogyakarta Bird Market – While you might be able to browse around and appreciate the culture of it, I couldn’t stomach the way the animals were kept. In Javanese culture there is a proverb which says a man must have five things; a horse, a house, a wife, a kris (which is a ceremonial dagger) and a bird in a cage. This is where you’d grab your bird. This market has a bunch of birds in cages, including some beautiful owls, as well as small mammals, amphibians and fish. It was not a pleasant experience for me seeing all these beautiful animals in tiny cages.
Getting In and Out
The easiest and most comfortable way to get in is by plane through Yogyakarta Adisucipto Airport. You can find a lot of low cost options so keep your eyes on skyscanner. It’s connected well to most local destinations and internationally through Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It’s easy to catch a taxi from there to your hostel.
A bus is cheaper although it’s going to take you a lot longer. Surabaya, where you would travel to next for Bromo and Ijen, is 8 hours away and Jakarta is around 12 hours. The roads of Java scared the hell out of me as it is single lane roads and drivers are taking reckless chances all over the place. Mari was comfortable throughout but my anxiety turned me off buses and vans wherever possible. Giwangan is the name of the bus terminal in Jogja. Reportedly the reliable bus companies are EKA and Safari Dharma Raya which both have regular service to Surabaya and are going to cost you around 120,000 to 150,000 Rupiah.
We didn’t travel by train while in Java but to Surabaya it’s around a 5 to 6 hour trip and the company to look at is Argo Wilis. Expect to pay between 230,000 to 315,000 for a ticket.
We found Jogja to be a very friendly city, and didn’t run into any kind of problem with scams or misinformation.
Keep in mind the package deal special I mentioned earlier for Borobodur and Prambanan, which can also include a stop at Mount Merapi if you wish. There are plenty of options to suit your particular kind of style.
Some of the Batak drivers will try and push you towards going to a Batik (a particular kind of art done with wax and dye) art gallery, but even that is really not a huge cost and the art in the gallery was worth the visit! The owner of the gallery we went to was also very friendly and showed us how all the Batik art is made and didn’t ask us for any money in return.
Address: Ngadinegaran MJ III/46, Gang Cempaka, Mantrijeron, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, Indonesia