Yogyakarta, Indonesian Zen
My trip to Yogyakarta took place before arriving to Bali. Although it was a short two day stop, I do want to share my experience in Java Island with you. Before sharing, you must know that much of Indonesian history took place on this island. It was the center of powerful Hindu-Buddhist empires, the Islamic sultanates, and the core of the colonial Dutch East Indies. Java island was also the center of the Indonesian struggle for independence and it dominates Indonesia politically, economically and culturally.
When I first thought of traveling to Indonesia I focused only on Bali; however, after doing some research and speaking to other fellow travelers, I decided to visit Yogyakarta as well. I wanted to better understand the role of both Hinduism and Buddhism in this country. I knew immediately that visiting Borobudur temple and Prambanan would give me that understanding. So I decided to just do it!
I booked a flight from Singapore to Yogyakarta with Air Asia and the flight cost me less than $60 USD one way. Upon landing, I was picked up by my private driver from my hotel, Hotel NEO+ Awana Jogjakarta - Chic And Affordable Hotel In Jogjakarta. I checked into my hotel and took the rest of the afternoon to relax by the pool and do some reading. As the sun was setting, I decided to go watch the sunset from the tallest temple in the city, Tjen Ling Kiong Vihara. As I walked through the city I realized there was a parade going through so I raced to get there and I was happy to experience this. It was Diwali/Deepavali (Hindu sacred holiday also known as festival of lights) in Indonesia and this parade reflected a lot of the culture that I was hoping to see in Java Island. It was unplanned but I'm glad I was able to see this (see below pics).
After returning to my hotel, I asked my driver friend for a good restaurant and he recommended me to a local restaurant two doors down from the hotel, on JI Mayjend Sutoyo street, and it was simply amazing! You know it's a good place when you see a full parking lot with local bikes (motorcycles). This is a place where the locals go enjoy a nice evening meal on a weekend. There are no chairs in this restaurant and no shoes allowed. This is how authentic it is! You sit on the floor, you are served in banana leaf plates, and no silverware. Yes! you eat with your hands and it's amazing! The first night I was so overwhelmed with their endless menu that I ordered 6 different dishes. Two of them were seafood and they were outstanding! The total bill came out to $2.80 USD. Can you believe this? I was in heaven!
I booked my Borobudur and Prambanan tours through my hotel since I didn't have the energy to go out and look for an agency. You may use the following link to search for travel agencies: Yogyakarta Travel Agents - Indonesia Tourism. I will say that both tours are expensive (for Indonesia prices). My Borobudur tour cost $45 USD and Prambanan $25. It sounds fairly inexpensive but if you are traveling through SEA you get used to paying less than $10 for tours so this is actually pricey. Later I found out that you can also buy your tickets at the temple entrance and book your own transportation with a local bus; however, it will take you about 1 more hour of travel time and you'll be saving only about $10 USD. I much rather pay $10 extra and avoid all the trouble but here is a link in case you want to do this on your own Yogyakarta: Public Transportation - TripAdvisor. The good thing about booking a tour is that it usually includes hotel pickup and drop-off. The next morning I was picked up at 3:30am for my 5am sunrise tour. The drive took roughly 1.5 hours so we arrived to Borobudur right on time for sunrise. I took a moment to go on my own and meditate before golden hour (when sun rises). It was a beautiful experience to listen to the sounds of nature as the sun rose over the beautiful valley of Yogyakarta with Mount Merapi decorating the landscape as a backdrop.
After sunrise and taking countless photos, I descended from the temple to have breakfast at a local restaurant. I had Indonesian pancakes for the first time and then off we went to the next stop, Prambanan. I was hesitant on going in at first because it was quite pricey, but I am glad I did because it is a beautiful temple. Although I originally compared it to Wat Maha That in Ayutthaya, Thailand, it is much different than I thought. Prambanan is actually much older than Wat Maha That. Prambanan was built in 850 BC vs. 1,374 for Wat Maha That. Those were two completely different empires and regimes. I found it to be very rich and an ideal example of early Hinduism. This day however, was one of the hottest days of my life. Humidly levels were up to 90% and the temperature was about 35° C. After taking some photos and enjoying the scenery I quickly fled for some water and a well deserved ice cream.
Back to the hotel I enjoyed another afternoon at the pool followed once again by dinner at the same restaurant. Why would I want to do anything else?! I was finally relaxed despite the fact I still didn't have any credit cards and was running out of reserve money (after a theft in Kuala Lumpur). I was 100% relaxed and happy for the first time in months and I couldn't wait for my Balinese adventure. I spent one more night at this lovely hotel before taking an early morning flight to Bali... that is a whole other story.... If you haven't yet read my Bali blog post yet, go and read it now. It is by far one of my favorite places on earth! I hope you enjoyed my Yogyakarta story and helps you plan your future Indonesia trip.