We decided it was time to add a bit of culture in our Indonesia experience, and Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogajacarta) was what we had in mind. Two UNESCO World Heritage sites are within an hour’s drive, the famous Malioboro Street for shopping, and a military base with air museum – we enjoyed ourselves. Java is the most populated island in the world, and over half of Indonesia’s population lives here. Yogyakarta is a special region because it still has a sultan, who acts as a Governor.
How We Got There and Around
Flying from Flores to Yogyakarta was a long day. We flew first to Bali, then to Surabaya (Eastern Java) and finally to Yogyakarta. We immediately felt it was like a different country than Bali and Flores. Although English was spoken in places, it wasn’t like Bali were they cater to the Western traveler. We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. We used the taxi counter at arrivals and paid a fixed price for the ride. For the most part, the legitimate taxis are metered and seemed very safe.
We rented a scooter the day after we arrived and used this as our main source of transportation. We drove to the temples and around town on the scooter. On our return voyage on our first day with the scooter our scooter just stopped working. We were a good hour from the city, and were stranded in a small village. Luckily for us, our scooter broke down in front of a family’s home who happened to live next door to a mechanic. The mechanic took about an hour to look at everything and determined it was the coil issue, which he didn’t have in stock. The family called the rental shop for us and let them know what was going on and where we were. They sent their own mechanic who also determined quickly (sort of) that the scooter would not be fixable today. He called the rental shop again, and they said they would leave to pick us up. We had been stuck since 4PM, and it was now 6PM. The family was generous enough to feed us fried tofu, tea and coffee. Even gave us some of my favorite fruits – Salak. They didn’t speak English, but loved playing Show Your Disney Side on my phone and when they saw Steve was still hungry, made him another plate of fried tofu. Just after 7, the entire family of the scooter place (Dad, Mom, cousin, and brother) showed up in a minivan to take us the hour back to our hotel. We gave our hosts a big thank you and some money to pay them back for all the tofu Steve ate and the mechanic for his hard work (neither one wanted to take the money, but we insisted as they had really gone out of their way to help us). We ended up getting a new scooter the next day, and had no issues. Although this incident messed with our sightseeing plans, it gave us insight into family lives and hospitality. The family didn’t have to welcome us in, but did so, and happily. It made us feel not everyone in the world wants to scam you, there are genuinely good people out there.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at Hotel Neo for $27/night. The breakfast buffet was no joke, some of the best food we have had. It gave us plenty to fuel up for our days of sightseeing. At night they offered a buffet for a set price, we did it once, and found we didn’t eat enough to make it worth it. The hotel was near Malioboro Street, which was the happening area. At night, we could hear music from all around, and also the call to prayer from nearby mosques. All in all, it made for an interesting, sometimes sleepless night.
Throughout our travels, we have come to appreciate and enjoy the call to prayer. It’s rhythm and soothing voices make it very calming.
What We Did
We packed a lot in the two full days we were here, even with our scooter mishap:
Borobudur Temple – Just over an hour outside the city, this temple was worth the drive. This is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and walking around took the better part of the day. Once we arrived, we went to the office to purchase our foreign two-temple ticket (also serves Prambanan temple). They provide a sarong for the ladies and men to cover their legs. The temple has 9 platforms, with thousands of relief panels and over 500 Buddha statues. The relief panels depict different stories about Buddha’s life, as well as maritime history in Indonesia, which during the 9th century, was thriving. Although it was a bit warm, we enjoyed this temple a lot.
Pawon Temple – Although much smaller in comparison to Borobudur, many believe these temples to be connected, including the Mendut temple. We stayed here for about 15 minutes.
Mendut Temple – After visiting the Pawon temple, we assumed this temple would be small as well. Compared to the Borobudur temple, it is small, but three times the size of Pawon. The stonework is amazing, it’s hard not to just stare. When we arrived, we noticed a ceremony was taking place inside the temple. We listened and observed a traditional praying session. Turns out a group of monks from the UK were visiting and the local monks are giving them a tour and praying together. The monks from the UK also brought some local patrons. Steve and I enjoyed chatting with the entire group after their prayer, and even got a photo with them. The monk in charge also blessed our union together. I found it beautiful. It wasn’t more than 30 minutes later that our scooter broke down… a blessing in disguise I guess?
Prambanan Temple – Similar to Borobudur, this is a huge tourist attraction. This Hindu Temple is believed to be from the 8th century. The compound is massive, and actually had 240 temples all arranged in a square. There are 3 main temples, dedicated to Shiva, Visnu and Brahma, 3 smaller temples dedicated to the gods; Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa; 2 additional temples, 8 shrines, and 224 small temples. The admission ticket also includes seeing the temples (and ruins) of Lumbung, Bubrah, and Sewu – all Buddhist temples within 500 meters of the Prambanan.
Ratu Boko – This temple was a bit challenging to get to. It is located on a hilltop, with a rough road for our scooter to manage. When we arrived, we parked at a small shop, and paid the owner to park our scooter. Most of the temple is in ruins, but it was still pretty spectacular. The hilltop also provided beautiful views of the area.
Dirgantara Mandala Air Force Museum – Steve and I love war time museums, and Steve’s love for aviation made this a must stop. We arrived via scooter to the Air Force museum, and after a few strange looks and questions, we were allowed onto the base (we had to leave Steve’s CA driver’s license with the gate guards). A 3-minute drive on base got us to the museum. We paid our admission price, and even took a picture with the Commander after he asked politely (I don’t think many foreigners come here, so we were celebrities). Here we checked out exhibits about Indonesia’s fight for independence, their earlier aviation programs and current practices in the Air Force. We also got to see many planes on display and unlike the US, where there are rules about not touching things in museum, here there were no rules. Kids were taking photos on top of the planes, everyone was touching them, it was a free for all as far as I was concerned. The idea of touching a plane that old was exciting but once I saw that damage in paint, I felt guilty touching them. Steve enjoyed seeing all of the MiG’s. We ended up spending almost 2 hours here, and loved it.
The Palace of the Sultan – We arrived too late to go in – turns out, they close for visitors at 3PM and we arrived at 4PM. We were able to walk around and take a photo, but we are bummed we missed it.
The Grand Mosque – Built in 1773, it is one of the oldest mosques in Yogyakarta. I was very surprised that they allow visitors in, but I was not wearing appropriate garment, so we skipped. The architecture was simple, yet beautiful.
Malioboro Street – What can I say… if you are into shopping, this is your place. Considering we don’t have much money to spend, we spent about 30 minutes walking down this famous street. During that time, a half dozen people asked us for photos with them. Had a great time, and enjoyed live music being played.
It is hard to believe our time in Indonesia is done, just like that. We are truly amazed at how different all three islands are. Everywhere we went, we were treated with kindness. In Java, we were celebrities, and a lot of people would ask us for our photos. In fact, many kids loved talking to us to practice their English. Indonesia has many languages, religions, and cultures, but it seems to really work. I remember watching TV and in a commercial was a woman wearing a hijab discussing what juice she should buy her some with a woman wearing a tank top. We loved the food – everything comes with a fried egg – delicious. The fruits are fresh and tasty. We can see ourselves returning to Indonesia. When we return, we would like to visit more islands, including Lombok, and more of Bali.