One of the most culturally rich regions I visited was Yogyakarta, often called simply ‘Jokja’ or “Jokjakarta”. Yogyakarta shares the same island as the capital city of Jakarta yet the two cities could not be more opposite.
Jakarta has over nine million people in its hazy underbelly with glitzy skyscraper malls interspersed among some of the most congested traffic I’ve ever seen, while Jokja retains a calmer soul, culturally rich in ancient Javanese arts and home to just 400,000 inhabitants. Yogyakarta today is home to the nation’s most prestigious university, a traditional art & music scene and picturesque thatched cottages set among tiered rice fields.
Yogyakarta’s multi cultured past has an impressive lineage of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms that left behind elaborately intricate religious temples and palaces. Without further adieu, here is my list of the best things to see and do in Yogyakarta!
$18 USD for adults, Open 6am – 5pm everyday
Prambanan temple is a UNESCO world heritage site consisting of 240 temples built by the subsequent ruling dynasty, the Hindu-led X. The temple site is dedicated to the expression of God as the trimurti, or Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Shiva (Destroyer), towering 47 meters high. In the evenings, you can catch the spectacular Ramayana ballet performance where over 200 dancers and musicians perform in open air, with the magnificent temple as the backdrop.
My Tip: If you plan to visit both Borodudur and Prambanan temples (which you should, as they are very different!) buy the combo temple ticket to save on admission. Both temples take about 1.5 hours to fully soak in and can be seen in one compact day, or spread out over two leisurely days. Budget transportation time in between.
Traditional Indonesian fabric is a distinctive cloth with intricate batik dye. To make the cloth, wax-resistant dye is applied to the fabric dry by either drawing dots or lines using a spouted tool called the canting, or by printing with a copper stamp called the cap. It’s a bit of inverse process, as the wax is dye resistant, and allows the artisan to selectively color the cloth. Yogyakarta has a long history of making batik fabric and is where the art form is the most highly developed.
Travel to the highlands of Indonesia and you’ll see beautiful lush paddy fields cascading in terraces all along the mountainsides. Indonesia is the world’s third largest rice producer and the stunning rice landscapes are not to be missed! Often you’ll find a picturesque small rustic wooden hut set at the base of the green fields. To water the fields, a complex irrigation system is set in place where day to day management is in the hands of local village cooperatives, called ‘subak’. The unique subak system of agrarian communities has been handed down for generations.
In Java (along with Bali), rice is a staple part of the Indonesian diet and even stands synonymous with the word food. Meals are not complete without rice and as a result, the ingredient plays an important role in religious and social festivals and ceremonies. Indonesians respect the goddess of rice, Bhatari Sri.
My Tip: Rice is a staple part of Indonesia cuisine, you can’t miss the opportunity to see how it grows! Try your hand at planting the small grains and riding the water buffalo plow.
JOMBLANG CAVE: $140 USD, 7:30am departure, full-day tour
Jomblang cave is famous for the streaming heavenly light that descends into the cave. The cave is said to have formed when a forest collapsed due to an earthquake, forming a 200 meter hole in the ground. Light penetrates directly over the cave’s hole at approximately noon. To get to the hole, you’ll be dropped through a rope and pulley system approximately 90 meters down. Best to book through a tour.
Kraton of Yogyakarta is the city’s palace complex and the main seat of the Sultan Yogyakarta and his family. It also serves as a cultural center with a museum for the Sultan’s artifacts. More of a walled mini city than a palace, this massive compound is home to 25,000 people and has its own industries, schools and shops. Distinctive features to note: the male and female dragon entrances, the European-influenced architecture, gifts from various European monarchs and sacred banyan trees.