In a nutshell – Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Yogyakarta (or pronounced Jogjakarta/ Jogja) sits in the middle of Java, to the south of Singapore. From a tourism perspective it is famous for its two landmarks and UNESCO sites, the amazing Borobudur and Prambanan temples. It is also home to the Javanese culture, and you will find a wonderful array of batik arts, shadow puppets and music.
The Borobudur Temple is located about 40km away from downtown Yogyakarta making it about a 45 minute journey away in the morning. When I went, there weren’t as many tourists as you would have expected to see the sunrise. Park yourself down, and wait for the sunrise to come up behind the glorious Mt. Merapi (which is still active by the way). To get there though, I would recommend renting a driver for the full day since it’s not that easily accessible otherwise; and especially for sunrise.
Don’t be surprised if all you see when you get there is a really large square platform. This is the biggest single Buddhist archaeological site in the world. And wonderfully restored and preserved. It goes up six levels and on each level you will see a continuous range of small candi’s, each with a Buddha inside.
The amazing thing about Yogyakarta is that you get to see both a Buddhist, and a Hindu temple in one location! Prambanan is located close to the city – only 17km away. I recommend doing both Borobudur and Prambanan in a day as you could save money on your car/ driver rental. It’s also an interesting contrast to go from day to evening.
The style of the stupa’s are more similar to the one’s you would find in Cambodia. The temple complex is quite amazing, again being the largest Hindu site in Indonesia. They have a few large main temples and then surrounded by over 200 smaller ones. Unfortunately you will see how bad the structures were damaged in the 2006 earthquake. Plan your trip around the full moon and you may even be able to catch the Ramayana ballet, performed across the river with the temple in the background; every full moon.
Read more on both these temples history here
Sultan’s Palace (Kraton)
The amazing thing about Yogyakarta is also the fact that they still have a very active Sultanate here. The Sultan (King) has actually opened up a large portion of his palace for the public to visit. Head on in and you can even pick up a guide along the way (look for a licensed one of course). They have preserved and present a lot of the old Javanese culture here. So you could watch Batik painting, Wayang Kulit (shadow puppets) as well as listening to the old Gamelan instruments.
There is also an old water castle, or Taman Sari located close to the Palace. Unfortunately though, I never made it there. So if you did, do let me know what you thought about it.
Well, I guess some people may not really see this as a ‘tourist’ attraction, but we had a good time when we went to the hotel right after seeing Borobudur. Do stop by for a casual breakfast on their beautiful grounds and you could even ask to see the rooms (if you would like to remind yourself that you really can’t afford all great luxuries in life. Ah well). It’s also a nice location given the impressive view of Mt. Merapi and you could even see Borobodur off in a distance.
Plus point: if you have an Indonesian travelling with you, they typically get it at a bit of a discount (for locals).
No trip to Indonesia is complete without getting a true authentic Javanese massage. I’m sure there are many around, but the one I enjoyed was actually at the spa in the Grand Mercure Hotel. I’m a stickler for proper spa and massage etiquettes (i.e. the way they move the towel around your body, the process in which they do it – legs to back to front, etc.) and they were the best I’ve had. But like I said, its more about getting a good Javanese massage, and I’m sure plenty of locations will have it.
What to wear
Remember that even though you’re going to Indonesia, you’re going to the inlands of Java rather than the beaches of Bali. It would be best to dress accordingly so – i.e. no super short shorts, or super low cut tops, or super tight and low dresses. Yogyakarta is a heavily visited spot, so they should be pretty used to tourists by now and by most of what we wear. But remember, when heading to the temples; make sure to cover your knees and shoulders! Bring a sarong skirt or a scarf if you’re not into wearing something long and covered all day.