After our very long journey, we had finally arrived in Yogyakarta.
I loved this little city in Central Java, Indonesia, to bits. I’m not sure if my love stemmed from finally being able to sleep after our mega-journey, the fact that I finally remembered what being clean felt like, or because Yogaykarta, more commonly known as Jogja to the locals, truly is a lovely city.
Perhaps the first thing I loved about Yogyakarta was where we stayed. We had been discussing our Indonesia itinerary with a fellow traveller during our time in Bali. “In Yogyakarta, you must stay at Hotel Rengganis!” she informed us, “It is a little more expensive than a hostel but it is so, so nice.” I’d made a note in my now dog-eared Lonely Planet, and hadn’t given it much thought until we were in Probolinggo and suddenly needed to book a room in Yogyakarta that night. With a stroke of luck, we managed to book the last room available.
And I’m so glad we did!
Staying at Hotel Rengganis was a dream after such an exhausting journey. While it was the most expensive accommodation we had stayed in so far, the value was incredible. I couldn’t believe were were paying just NZD$31 a night for this! Right from the beginning the staff were always smiling, helpful, and appeared to be genuinely happy to be there.
We woke up each morning to an all-you-can-eat breakfast spread of eggs, peanut butter & nutella jaffles and tropical fruits, along with ever-changing Indonesian options and endless cups of tea & coffee.
We ended each day with a splash in the pool, cooling us down after a hard days work walking around sightseeing in the 30+ degree heat.
I’ll get to the touristy things we did, but first lets talk food - because we had some serious highlights in Yogyakarta! We were quick to find a couple of favourites in our short time there.
Just Juice Juice Bar, Cafe & Fruit Corner
Address: Jl. Katamso 214
We had four days in Yogyakarta, so if I do the math I guess we frequented Just Juice about four times! It became our routine to take a mid-morning walk to this fantastic Juice Bar, about 10 minutes from our hotel. It was a little oasis on the side of a busy street - clean, bright and cool (in both senses of the word!). You can’t beat one of their ice-cold mango smoothies for just 7,500 rupiah (NZ 75 cents), which we may have overdosed on. And I may have had a 1,000 rupiah ($1) banana split for morning tea one day, that may have included three scoops of ice cream. You can’t beat that for value! But seriously, its more than a month on now and Just Juice remains both the cheapest and the most delicious mango smoothies we have had yet (and based on the number we’ve had, we are no amateurs to the mango smoothie game).
Address: Jl. Tirtodipuran 24A
Given our first night was a write-off after arriving at 1am in the morning, we had four nights left to eat our way around Yogyakarta. After being in Indonesia for three weeks I was ready for a night off from Indonesian cuisine, but was also sick of being served average ‘western’ food. We stumbled across Mediterranea (a mere two minutes walk from our hotel), a restaurant run by a French chef, specialising in French and Italian food. I was craving a bowl of hot pasta - so we thought we would give it a shot. OH MY GOSH. My bowl of pasta carbonara (with beef bacon, not pork, as Indonesia is a very muslim country) was the BEST carbonara I’ve ever had - it was even served with a side of freshly made pesto which was so tasty I could have drunk it though a straw. I just about licked the bowl clean...but mum taught me better than that. Alan had a deliciously authentic pepperoni pizza, which was declared the best he’d had in Indonesia. We shared a chocolate fondant and a cheesecake for dessert. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so much so that we went back on our last night for an exact repeat on the same meal. Its not the cheapest in terms of Indonesian pricing, but compared to what you’d pay back home its a steal! We had all of the above plus a large beer for about NZD$20.
Address: Jl. Prawirotaman 30
An Art Cafe of sorts, ViaVia is a busy and popular tourist hub, perhaps from its mention in the Lonely Planet and its other 16 locations worldwide. We didn’t do any of their tours or activities, but we were lucky enough to snag a table for dinner in their restaurant one night which was a rather tasty affair. My mango lassi and spaghetti bolognese (yes, I was on a pasta kick in Yogyakarta - don’t judge!) were delectable and Alan’s special of the day - an Indonesian chicken and rice dish had him licking his lips.
You may have worked out by now that I ate pasta three of the four nights in Yogyakarta, and you might be wondering what Indonesian delicacy I indulged in on the remaining night? Is it awkward if I'm honest and say it was margherita pizza and creme brûlée? Yogyakarta is such an artsy city with a multicultural feel that I would surely be doing an injustice not to explore cuisines of the world (or, um, cuisines of the Mediterranean)…?
Right, so now that I’ve admitted I was a pasta-eating machine in Yogyakarta, I’ll at least give evidence that we did some sightseeing rather than sitting poolside all day showing forkfuls of spaghetti into my gob.
We visited Kraton, the Sultan’s Palace, which was quite lovely and worth a wander, however Alan and I both agreed it probably wasn’t a highlight of ours. Strangely, Alan wasn’t allowed in without covering his shoulders, yet I was (we were both wearing singlets?). I had a pretty purple scarf in the backpack should the shoulder-covering issue arise, so Alan slung it over his shoulders but the guards were having none of that - he wasn’t allowed in unless he rented a sexy white shirt from them. Naturally, as western tourists aka Walking ATMs, the sexy white shirt it was.
The nearby Taman Sari, or Water Castle, was a garden property of the Sultan's. We got a little lost trying to find it and ended up with a local tour guide showing us the way. He showed us around some rather interesting tunnels near Taman Sari, which we had no idea what they were for because the english-speaking guide couldn't actually speak a word of english. It was so bizarre, he walked along speaking gibberish to us and we were both so awkwardly confused we didn’t know whether to smile or nod or laugh or try and explain that the language he thought was english actually wasn’t?
When we led us around a few corners to Taman Sari, we paid him $1 in thanks (which perhaps he should put towards some english lessons) and wandered in for a self-guided tour around the pools. It was a beautiful setting.
The bathing pools of Taman Sari have an interesting background, in which the Sultan would stand in his tower, observe all the ladies bathing in the pools below and essentially 'make his pick'. Perhaps one could take a view of that being mildy inappropriate, but I guess thats the way things were back then.
A couple of times we wandered down to the centre of Yogyakarta which was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel in the sweltering heat. The main road, Jalan Malioboro, has market stalls either side of the footpath selling everything from fake raybans and jewellery to spices and sweets. It was one of the things I enjoyed doing the most in Yogyakarta (besides eating pasta of course), I love wandering markets and city streets, taking it in through all of my senses.
Of course, no visit to Yogyakarta is complete without a visit to the nearby famous temples - Borobodur and Prambanan. For a number of different reasons, including the steep entry fees (expensive when you are on a tight budget!), distance from Yogyakarta, and the fact that we know we are going to see a hell of a lot of temples on the course of our trip through Asia, we decided to narrow it down to one and just visit Borobodur, which was about 1.5 hours drive away.
Borobodur was beautiful! We went for an evening sunset trip because we were still feeling sorry for ourselves after our Bromo sunrise trip, and while we didn’t quite catch the sunset we did get some stunning light, gorgeous vistas and had a great time wandering around and observing the temple at each symbolic level.
Borobodur is a Buddhist temple dating back to the 9th century, and is said to be the world's largest Buddhist archeological site. Each level depicts stories carved meticulously into stone, it is quite fascinating!
Many stone Buddhas watch you from every angle as you slowly wander to the top - there were originally an incredible 504 Buddha statues but you can see a lot of them have been damaged over time, and sadly some are completely missing.
Finally, we visited the Silver Village, which is a suburb about 20 minutes (about $2) in a bicycle rickshaw from the centre of town. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was really just a series of shops selling copious amounts of silver and silver-plated jewellery. However, one that we walked into did have a very interesting display out the back explaining how the jewellery was made, and you were able to watch the workers making silver wire along with some of their popular designs which was pretty neat. I was too lazy to snap any photos but Alan and I both thought it was worth the trip.
It was suggested that we also visit the Bird Market but I politely declined the offer as from what I had read this was more than just a market selling birds, but also included dogs, cats and all sorts of other animals in tiny cages, and it was something that I didn't want to face (I still think about these dogs every single day). We did see a variety of fluffy birds during our wanders through the city that were bright yellow, pink and blue - obviously dyed - so perhaps that was a small insight for me as to what the Bird Market held. That kind of thing just isn’t for me!
I could have stayed a lot longer in Yogyakarta (and eaten a lot more pasta!), but time was not on our side and we had to make our move to our next stop on the island of Java. As the bus picked us up to transport us to our next destination, I nearly shed a little tear for the fact that I may never eat such delicious pasta carbonara again…
Have you visited Yogyakarta? Did you love it too? And, do you sometimes feel guilty for not always eating the local cuisine when you are travelling?