It’s not often you’ll come across a city that has beautiful surroundings, captivating culture, a delectable food scene, world class UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, and is still relatively untainted by tourism.
Yogyakarta, or Jogja as you’ll come to know it, has all that and more. It’s the heart and soul of Java. Here are just six reasons (although there are many, many more) to visit Indonesia’s secret treasure.
1. Out of this world temples
Jogja is a stone’s throw from Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Dating from the 9th century, this mystical stone complex is all towering tiers topped with domes and over 500 Buddha statues. Climb to the top platform, then look out over jagged hills to the volatile Mount Merapi volcano in the distance. There’s also the Prambanan temple complex, the Hindu equivalent to Borobudur that’s just as intriguing and even more dramatic in looks. Sunset or sunrise at either one is an experience you won’t forget.
2. Java culture at its finest
Whether checking out the Sultan’s palace, learning the art of batik or harvesting tea, you’ll find plenty to satisfy your cultural appetite in Yogyakarta. By far the most unique cultural gem this city has to offer, however, is the Ramayana Ballet. Performed in an open air theatre, this ballet is a fusion of dance, music, drama, incredible costumes and an age-old poem about a Prince rescuing his wife from a demon king. It’s like the opposite of Carmen, with added monkey warriors. Even proud philistines will be impressed.
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3. Eat sweet street food treats
When you think of Indonesian cuisine, satay, spicy noodles and nasi goreng probably spring to mind. Jogya has plenty of those, but its signature dish is actually a sweet one. Gudeg is the flesh of jackfruit stewed in a special blend of spices that varies according to each family’s recipe. Then there’s Bakpia (a sweet green bean dough wrapped in a thin floury crust), Yangko (colourful, sticky squares of rice flour and sugar), and Bika (tiny almond-topped sponge cakes). Just don’t ask for ‘Candi’, which is the local word for ‘temple’.
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4. Hiking, biking, diving and… rice planting?
For the active adventurer, Yogyakarta will not disappoint. Adrenalin junkies can hike up the slopes of rumbling volcanoes, while beach bums can head south to feel sand between toes within the hour. But you don’t need to go very far to get the blood pumping; just take to the streets and beat the traffic by pedalling your bike. Fringing the city are lush rice paddies and local producers eager to show you how to make tempeh, tofu and other staples of the Indonesian diet. If they charm you (and they will), you can even join them in the fields and see just how much hard work rice planting takes. You’ll appreciate that post-cycle street food even more.
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5. City hustle and bustle
Once you’ve had your fill of temples and day trips, you’ll find that simply walking the streets of Yogyakarta reveals a whole new side to this city. Fill up on street food snacks at Malioboro, shop for batik and handicrafts at Beringharjo market, then take a disco-tastic ride in a ‘Bling Bling Car’ (you’ll know them when you see them). Rock up at an ex-pat bar or karaoke joint to dance, sing, and laugh the night away. Jogja may be known for its culture and soul, but it still knows how to have its fair share of good clean fun. For the flashpackers, there are also plenty of boutique hotels to check out for cocktails and canapes.
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6. Smiling locals
Nobody will ever tell you that Indonesians aren’t friendly. And as one of the tourist hotspots in Java, this rings especially true in Yogyakarta. Locals aren’t just willing to smile and say hi; if they know you’re from any English-speaking country, they’ll flock towards you to practice their skills and find out all about your life. Seriously. Be prepared for lots of probing questions. It’s all meant in good fun though, and they’re more than happy to answer the same questions about their own lives. From your tuk tuk driver to your street food vendor to families on the street, you’ll be on first-name terms with everyone you meet by the time your day is done.
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Feature image by Kangaru.
Welcome to Indonesia You’ll find the art, the mith, the legendary story at Yogyakarta. Stay here longer and you’ll feel the difference
I stayed 5 days in Yogyakarta a couple of winters ago. It is indeed this unsung jewel with quite a few local attractions as well as a vibrant, but not overcrowded small city vibe. Especially enjoyed the day visit to Borobodur and an evening, sunset performance of a major Indonesian myth at a palatial and temple like theater by a river. Early arrivers can enjoy a zesty buffet style dinner as well.