If Jakarta is the financial capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta is sort of its spiritual heart: a hectic blend of old and new, cyber cafes and temple sites, surrounded by some of the most beautiful rural scenery you’ll find in the country.
Cycle ten minutes out of the city and you’re surrounded by little villages, green rice paddies and swaying palms (are there any other kind?). From harvesting rice to making bricks, getting involved with the friendly local community is a unique experience not to be missed in Yogyakarta. Here are a few of the things you might see on your journey through the countryside.
1. Paddy fields (of course)
Rice is big business in Indonesia, so it’s no surprise that when heading out to the rural communities you are likely to come across the kind of scenery your camera’s panorama function was made for. Endless rolling rice paddies dotted with palm trees along the border, little rivers and locals tilling the fields with teams of oxen. Cue awe inspiring landscape photographs…
2. Brick making
This is the thing about Yogyakarta: one minute you’re in the city eating your breakfast, and the next minute you’re in a field with a man and his wheelbarrow making bricks. If you’re lucky your new local friend might invite you to write your name across your bricks. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to think that your handiwork (and your name) will become someone’s house in Java one day.
3. Lovely locals
The locals on Java are living proof that you don’t have to have much to be happy. From playful children racing you on their bikes to the ladies working the paddy fields, it’s hard to avoid the smiles and invitations, the questions and the good wishes, that follow you as you travel through the isolated rural communities around Yogyakarta.
4. Tofu: origins (like Wolverine, but a better source of protein)
Tofu is a polarizing produce. People tend to love it or hate it with a passion. But those who are a fan of the soy product will get a kick out of seeing the fascinating tofu-making process in a small local factory environment, where there are about five people creating buckets of firm square-cut tofu. If you like Tempeh – a local Indonesian specialty – they make both products here, and you’ll get to taste them both (freshly fried) after your tour.
5. Hidden back roads
The colourful backstreets running through small villages and palm fringed tracks are not only a picture perfect backdrop for an afternoon’s bike ride, you’re also more likely to run into local life as it unfolds. You may see rice drying out on huge tarpaulin sheets in the road, or men pushing a bicycle and carrying a roof they have made for their house on their shoulder (true story; I have the photo to prove it).
6. Flowers galore
Cycling down the winding rural streets brings with it the opportunity to see a variety of flowers, fruits and flora. Depending on the season you’ll see bursts of yellow and pink along the side of the road; a great chance to bust out your camera’s fancy macro setting.
7. Kerupuk (trust us, it’s awesome)
No, we didn’t make up that word. Kerupuk is the name of a snack enjoyed by local people throughout South East Asia. Essentially fish crackers, they begin as a wet mix of starches and fish paste which are then formed into spaghetti like patterns, and dried out in the tropical Indonesian sun, to reach the pre-cooking stage. If you are a guest in a local Indonesian’s house, you are likely to be offered some of these straight from the deep frying pan.
8. A local’s bathroom
Let’s face it, you are in a small local community now and public toilets will not be high on the agenda. Luckily the locals are super friendly, and will invite you into their home to use their facilities with a smile on their face. Don’t be weirded out if you’re led by a smiling face through back alleys and gates to a small outhouse behind a fence. Warning: don’t expect any ceramic bowls.
9. The story of rice
The paddy field is an iconic image of Asia, but we always see those lush shoots poking out from the surface of the water, and never the actual grains of rice. With the opportunity to visit farmers harvesting their rice in this thriving farming community on the outskirts of Yogyakarta, it’s finally possible to see how it becomes the grain we eat with our chicken satay. The individual grains end up at the top of the shoot are spun through a spiky wheel to separate them. This is just the initial stage, as the husks still need to be removed, but if you are invited to have a go I definitely recommend doing it.
Want to see Yogyakarta for yourself? Check out our full range of Indonesian adventures
Feature image c/o Johan Wieland, Flickr