Meeting the Sultan in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta or Jogja, as the locals call it, is Java’s second biggest city and regarded as much more livable than Jakarta. We arrived there after an 8 hour train journey from the capital which was great. In our opinion the best way to cover the distance, it is not cheap, but you get a modern air conditioned train and lots of picturesque countryside to look at.

From the train station we had to run the gauntlet of Malioboro street. It is probably Jogja’s biggest shopping street and in the evening there are extra food and tat stalls everywhere. The whole street was super busy and we only realised later that the next day (1st May) was a bank holiday. We had found a nice guesthouse not far from the keraton (palace) which we visited the next morning.

Malioboro at night

The keraton consists of two seperate parts: one official/representative at the front and a more private one in the rear. The latter is much bigger and more interesting to see. Visitors have to pay separately for each and they are not connected (as far as tourists are concerned). Each part costs about 8,000 per person plus a camera fee. Apart from the few open plan buildings the ‘official’ side has two small exhibitions where official dresses from different time periods can be seen. Entrance fee includes a guide, but we decided we would not need one and that we were not interested in all the info about all of the past kings. Our one tip would be to skip the official side and head straight to the ‘inofficial’ area which is round the corner on the right. The sultan still maintains three orchestras and one of them was playing in one of the courtyards. There are benches around and it is free to sit down and listen.

The front entrance to the keraton (palace)

There are many buildings around the different yards and all house exhibitions. There are oil paintings of royals, a clock museum, a porcelain museum and many more. In this part of the palace a guide is a lot more useful if you want to know more about the items on display as none of them have English explanations.

One of the royal orchestras at work

Our next stop was the nearby water castle. Somehow we ended up in a ruin next to it because we went a different way and only realised our mistake during a nice tea break in the cool and lovely Water Castle Café.

In the afternoon we spent some more time wandering along Malioboro and tried to find a SIM card for when we were travelling remote areas.

The next day was to be our templing day. There are two famous temples near Yogyakarta: Borobodur and Prambanan. Borobodur is very popular for sunrise trips but they are very expensive. Visitors need their own transport or a tour and even the entrance fee is more expensive for sunrise and sunset. Being on a mission to save money we opted for public transport and to skip the early morning rip-off. Instead we got a new and airconditioned bus from the centre to Jombor terminal where we changed to an old and half-broken one to Borobodur. Overall this leg took us two hours. Considering that, we dropped the plan to visit Prambanan in the afternoon and instead make the most of Borobodur. If you want to visit both there is a combi ticket which is totally worth getting. Other sources said that you had to ask for it and it is not advertised, but this is no longer correct. It is plastered all over the price signs.

From the bus terminus it is 1km walk to the ticket gate. They also have a money changer there but they give you by far the worst rate anywhere in the country. We skipped the money for the audio guide and went for the free app instead (free open wifi available) while making the most of the included welcome drink (nevermind a sneaky refill, right?). Getting to the actual temple was easy and straightforward. There is also a road train for lazy people (free for foreigners). Borobodur temple is impressive. It is the biggest Buddhist building in the world and totally a must-see. Unlike most visitors we actually used our guide app and followed it around all of the seven tiers. Each of them is decorated with impressive reliefs telling various stories. The beginning of Borobodur dates back to the 9th century, with the last expansion being added during the 13th century. It has undergone two extensive restoration phases during the last hundred years to prevent the collapse of the monument. The temple also offers great vistas over the surrounding hills dotted with more/smaller temples. What’s nice is that there is no traffic to be heard thanks to the surrounding park.

Impressively detailed stone reliefs reflecting local history

After the temple we went to a small museum about the restorations and history of the temple. It was nicely set up and very empty. There is also a second museum about the historical sea trade by Indonesians. It contains a replica of a trade ship which sailed to South Africa and Ghana in 2003 to commemorate the cinnamon route which was used by Indonesian traders as early as the 8th century. Sadly the building housing the ship was under refurbishment and closed.

Ted trying to sneak in

Our entrance ticked also included an audio-visual show about Borobodur. Not wanting to miss out, we went to track it down (it was not signposted anywhere). We eventually tracked it down next to the tourist information building at the entrance. Reluctantly one of the info staff let us into the cinema-sized room and started the 15min film. The film was well made and very informative. It contained most of the information we had already heard from our guide app, but we totally recommend taking your time to watch it. This way, we also managed to bypass most of the tat market that sprawls right outside the exit gate (by climbing over a fence near the entrance gate). We understand people want to sell stuff and earn money but forcing every tourist to walk past 300 stalls between the exit and the car park is just very annoying and unnecessary. We got back into town mid-afternoon and used the rest to sort some things out.

The next morning we had to get up early to catch the train to Solo.

We enjoyed our time in Jogja a lot; much more than Jakarta. Obviously we did not see everything of the city or what’s around it, but we did not have more time. It certainly is more livable and cleaner than Jakarta and if you have to chose we recommend it over the capital.

It is possible to visit both Borobodur and Prambanan temple in one day using just public transport, but you will have to get up no later than 7am. Busses to the temples depart from two different terminals; one in the north and one in the east. Within the centre a bus trip costs you 8,000 IDR and the bus to Borobodur is 20,000 per person. Prambanan is reached by bus line 1 but to get from between them two other bussed are required. If you want to do both in one day, time becomes quite an issue, but taking a taxi between the two bus terminals will help. We (and everyone we spoke to agreed) recommend Borobodur if you have to choose between them. To see the city and one of the temples plan three days, but if you have the time you can easily make that one week.

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