The Yogyakarta Rundown
Ancient kingdom, venerable sultanate and gateway to priceless world wonder contenders, Yogyakarta is the heart and soul of Central Java. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Indonesia, the capital of Yogyakarta Special Region teems with museums, period architecture, archaeological sites, royal palaces and authentic expressions of Javanese classical arts.
From batik to wayang kulit, both UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, poetry to traditional dance, Yogyakarta, or Jogja, is a city rooted in ritual. The rich tapestry of Javanese culture is evident at every turn: in the old sultanate capital of Kota Gede, the palace museum of Pakualaman and the vibrant Beringharjo market. Off in the distance, volcanic Mount Merapi stirs ominously and further still, the ancient temple compounds of Prambanan and Borobudur entice dry season visitors by the hundreds of thousands.
Yogyakarta is no Jakarta or Surabaya but with 1.6 million people, the city is far from a sleepy hamlet. With one foot in ancient folklore, the other is firmly planted in modernity, a fact most apparent in Jogja’s kinetic youth culture and new residential developments. One has only to walk up and down the city’s chief commercial thoroughfare, Jalan Malioboro, to understand that despite the old world vibe, the new Indonesia is here as well. Western fast-food chains, karaoke bars and omnipresent congestion complicate matters but, without hesitation, for visitors to the island of Java, perhaps on the way to resorts in Bali, Yogyakarta is a definite must.
Yogyakarta’s Top 10
10. Museum Affandi is the former home and studio of possibly the most important Indonesian artist of the 20th century.
5. Candi Kalasan was built in the 7th century and stands as the oldest Buddhist temple in Yogyakarta.
9. Pasar Beringharjo is a lively traditional marketplace and a pre-eminent capsule of local life.
4. Taman Sari is a faded but fabulous relic from Yogyakarta’s past. The former pleasure palace and garden was built by a Portuguese architect for a sultan and his harem in the mid-18th century.
8. Masjid Gede Kauman is the Grand Mosque of Yogyakarta.
3. Sono-Budoyo Museum is one of the best museums in Central Java, with a fine collection of ancient objects.
7. Pakualaman Kraton is a small but worthwhile palace museum, with a good collection of native artefacts.
2. Kota Gede is a phenomenal archaeological and royal burial site that dates back to the 16th century.
6. Museum Kekayon is a foremost repository of traditional Indonesian antiques.
1. Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat is the palace compound of the Yogyakarta Sultanate and a telltale archetype of Javanese architecture.
- Borobodur Temple – The largest Buddhist temple in the world was built by the ancient Mataram Kingdom a thousand years ago.
- Prambanan Temple – One of the most beautiful Hindu temples in the world constructed by hand 1,100 years ago.
- Kota Gede – Formerly the capital of Yogyakarta, this now contains the royal tombs.
- Fort Vredeburg – This Dutch fort, built in 1765, is now restored and functions as a museum.
- Ratu Boko – Many Hindu and Buddhist artefacts have been discovered in this archaeological site.
Yogyakarta Art & Culture
- Wayang Kulit – A puppet shadow play for which Indonesia is renowned.
- Museums – One of the foremost museums in Southeast Asia, these houses are the world’s most comprehensive set of Indonesian artefacts.
- Kraton – Built in the 18th century as the home of the sultans, today the Kraton is a cultural centre.
- Gamelan music – The music of Indonesia, marked by the usage of percussion but punctuated with flutes, strings and vocals.
- Museum Kekayon – Captures the history of the Indonesian people.
- Malioboro Street – This main shopping area in Yogyakarta has pavements burgeoning with stalls that sell batik, silver and local handicraft.
- Beringharjo – For a more local flavour, you can try this traditional market.
- Yogya silver – Yogyakarta is famous for its exquisite silver works.
- Batik – A manual dyeing technique, batik has been developed into a high art form in Indonesia.
- Markets – Vendors expect you to bargain, so you can walk off with a good chunk off the original price.
Gay & Lesbian Yogyakarta
- Banana Cafe – This gay-owned and managed restaurant and bar serves inexpensive Indonesian and international fare.
- Via Via Travellers Cafe – Touted as one of the best hangout places in the city.
- Hugo’s at the Sheraton – This is a trendy club, and on Saturdays you will find many gays here.
- Embassy Club – Also at the Sheraton, this small club sponsors a Gay Nite the third week of each month.
- Taman Sari Food Court – The Plaza Ambarukno at the top floor is a popular meeting place for gays and lesbians.
- Mount Merapi – One of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes.
- Wanagama Forest – A reforestation project that attracts nature lovers.
- Kaliurang – A cool, tranquil retreat surrounded by forest and waterfalls.
- Parangtritis Beach – Famous for its magnificent natural scenery.
- Bleberan Village – Enjoy the natural features of this village, such as the Rancang Kencono Cave and the Sri Gethuk Waterfall.
- With 20 percent of the earth’s bird species making their home in Indonesia, it is a veritable nirvana for ornithologists.
- Yogyakarta's many beaches provide ample fishing opportunities.
- Climb Mount Merapi to view spectacular lava flows.
- Hike the trails at Dieng Plateau and encounter its lakes, caves, active craters and temples.
- In Siung Beach, climb one of the two cliffs the beach lies between and enjoy the beautiful panorama from above.
Yogyakarta covers 32.5 km<sup>2</sup> and has some 1.6 million people. The city is made up of 14 districts (kecamatan) but, despite a few exceptions, most worthwhile points of interest converge in a small area.
Jalan Malioboro is the main artery of note in central Yogyakarta. The commercial thoroughfare is a perpetual hive of activity and contains a vast ensemble of hotels, shops and restaurants.
Kota Gede, or Pasar Gede, is southeast of the heart of the city. The area is a vital archaeological dig in progress, most notably as the former ancient capital of the Mataram Sultanate. A must-see suburb of Yogyakarta.
Kraton is the central palace of Yogyakarta and a precinct of the city as well.
Pakualaman is a traditional hereditary precinct of Yogyakarta.
Mount Merapi dominates the backdrop of Yogyakarta and is the most active stratovolcano in Indonesia. Despite occasional eruptions and subsequent mass evacuations, the “Mountain of Fire” punctuates a beautiful national park.
Prambanan is the first of two essential, bucket list day trips to take from Yogyakarta. The drive is short - only about 20 minutes - but the UNESCO World Heritage Prambanan Temple Compounds site warrants a good chunk of your time. The 9th century Hindu complex is a masterpiece.
Borobudur, 40 km north of Yogyakarta, inspires similar awe. The UNESCO World Heritage Site and perpetual wonder of the world candidate is not only the most popular tourist attraction in Indonesia but still a place of venerable Buddhist pilgrimage, a full 1,200 years after it was built.
Yogyakarta Eat & Drink
The culinary landscape of Java is prolific, rich and widely influential. To eat local in Yogyakarta is to well, from gudeg yogya (jackfruit, chicken and egg stew) to gorengan (savoury fritters).
Riki French Grill Restaurant (Jl Prawirotaman I 31) is infectiously loud in the busy summer tourist season and serves a mad variety of comfort foods.
Atap Café (Jl Sosrowijayan GT 1/113) is earthy, boho and just the spot for casual, late-night nourishment.
Café Janur (Jl Prawirotaman I 44) is a rowdy snacks and drinks joint with funky décor.
Milas (Jl Prawirotaman IV 127) has a gorgeous garden ambiance and good vegetarian cuisine.
FM Café (Jl Sosrowijayan 14) delivers the goods with a sweet terrace, viciously long happy hour and live music.
Sangam House (Jl Pandega Siwi 14) is a delightful find. The restaurant cum yoga studio serves delicious, healthy fare with a social conscience.
(Jl Malioboro & Jl Perwakilan Sosrowijayan) serves solid Indonesian, Chinese and Western fare from a convenient, central location.
Omar Duwur Restaurant (Jl Mondorakan 252), in Kota Gede, has fabulous colonial manor digs and consistently rates as one of the best restaurants in Yogyakarta.
Murni Restaurant (Gang I Sosrowijayan) is the place to go for a curry fix in Yogyakarta.
Kesuma Restaurant (Jalan Parangtritis) is perennially full for a reason. The restaurant opposite Prawirotaman market is one of the best traditional Javanese kitchens in the city.
Yogyakarta is not a big festival city but has a few annual events of note.
Sekaten Ceremony precedes the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday with weeks of venerable rituals, feasts, processions and performances close to Masjid Agung.
Gamelan Festival celebrates traditional Javanese gamelan music with three days of special concerts in early July.
ART | JOG, one-time ancillary to the Yogyakarta Art Festival, is now a vibrant annual staple on the contemporary art calendar. Held over two weeks in July, the premier showcase for young talent in Indonesia is in the capable hands of a former director of Art Basel.
Yogyakarta Art Festival has been a linchpin event in the city since 1989, with a colourful, eclectic lineup of events and performances in late June and July.
When To Go
With a typical tropical monsoon climate, there is a definite black and white time to visit Yogyakarta and omit the island of Java city from your travel plans altogether. It comes down, inevitably and year in and year out, to a ceaseless wet season from November to April, when thick rains pound and inundate Yogyakarta with close to 6 ft, or 1,800 mm, of total precipitation. This is not a challenge most mainstream tourists feel up to and, indeed, the worst of the monsoon climate provides few dry windows of comfort or respite.
So when to go to Yogyakarta? Optimists target June 1 to October 31 as the most idyllic time. In truth, however, the best dry season interval is between July and September when, on average, less than 5% of the city’s annual rain falls. The one summer tradeoff is high humidity which, while difficult to take at mid-afternoon, tapers off after dusk.
Temperatures in Yogyakarta, as with any city close to the equator, hold steady for the year, with sparse dips below 69°F (20°C) or above 86°F (30°C). At the end of the day, monsoon rains and humidity dictate the weather.
What To Miss
Yogyakarta, like other popular tourist areas in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines et al., is a city with a fundamental combination of high population density and high rates of poverty, with huge gaps between rich and poor, average tourist and average local. Though far from Jakarta, this tinderbox of socioeconomic problems calls for a special brand of cultural sensitivity, patience and, indeed, vigilance. From touts to freelance tour operators, market charlatans to street swindlers, the summer dry season in Yogyakarta spawns a swarm of opportunists.
A firm refusal and smile is the way to go, ever-aware of the fact that as a visitor, you embody a possible percentage of someone’s tenuous livelihood. Be respectful, travel with a humble, open mind and heart and take good care of your valuables at all times.
Another aspect of everyday life in Yogyakarta and Java to miss or look out for: tremors and eruptions. Obviously not easy to predict, of course, but always a perpetual threat and topic of conversation in the city. Keep your eyes on the international headlines for news on earthquake and volcanic activity.
Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto International Airport is primarily a domestic hub, with regular daily flights to all the usual destinations in Indonesia, from Jakarta to Surabaya, Batam to Denpasar, Bali. The good news is that, for now, the airport provides occasional service to both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, courtesy of Indonesia AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines.
Jakarta is 550 km from Yogyakarta and, on a good day, a 10 hour ride by bus. Service to every other major and minor town in Java and even Denpasar, Bali, is available as well. For comfort, security and overall reliability, pay extra for a luxury bus and solicity a variety of ticket agents in the city to ensure best fares.
The same counsel is pertinent for rail transport to and from Yogyakarta as well. Tugu Central Railway Station serves Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Solo.
Yogyakarta proper offers a good, affordable mix of taxis, city buses, trishaws and even andong, or horse carts, to ferry tourists and locals alike around. Motorcycle and car hire, with or without a driver, is another options as well. If you do rent a vehicle, however, make sure your international permit is in order and take care on the chaotic roads.
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