One of my favourite parts of travelling is turning up to a new city that you know next to nothing about. Sometimes these unknown cities prove to be underwhelming, a brief pitstop in your journey that comes and goes with little impact. Some however, turn out to be perfect surprises. These places are perhaps quieter than big tourist destinations, with a more ‘untouched’ quality. Yogyakarta was our first pleasant surprise.
The main reason we visited was for the famous temples. The city is surrounded by breath-taking religious relics. The to the North you have Prambanan (9th-century Hindu temple) and Borobudur (9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple) We spent a day exploring Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia and the whole place was truly amazing. You know the setting from the Jungle Book, where King Louie lives, ruling over his monkey empire from the relics of an ancient temple? Singing that iconic tune? Well that’s the closest reference point I have for this impressive site. And I challenge anyone to visit Pranbanan temple and not come out humming ‘ooby doo, I wanna be like you-oo-oooo…”
As well as the main temple, it’s definitely worth having a wander around the rest of the historic site. Other, smaller, temples such as Sewu will also take your breath away and be far less rammed with tourists and selfie sticks.
After taking in these historic wonders, we decided to spend an unplanned day exploring the city centre. One of the wonderful things about Yogyakarta was how friendly all the locals were. Many seemed eager to share a bit of the city’s culture with us: what shows were going on, where the best places to visit were and when to go, and a bit about the local art forms, particularly Batik.
At one point we found ourselves in a small Batik gallery above a shop on Malioboro street (the bright and bustling shopping district of the city). The owner of the gallery was lovely, offering us a free cup of tea and talking us through the fascinating process of Batik printing. Tourist trap or not, it was interesting to learn about this custom and see the creation of some beautiful batik prints first hand. Also, the general push to promote local artists was so nice to see.
After our batik lesson we continued with our sightseeing mission, exploring Yogyakarta’s other attractions such as the Taman Sari Water Palace and the bright bohemian neighbourhood surrounding it. The street art, murals and brightly painted houses that characterised this area turned it into an Instagram-able gem- definitely worth a wander!
After a days’ worth of city sightseeing we were desperately in need of nourishment (nourishment… coffee… whatever you want to call it) and Yogyakarta did not let us down on this front. After visiting the Water Palace we called in at a small, almost hidden café which specialised in the famous Luwak coffee.
If you haven’t heard of it before here’s a bit about the odorous origin of luwak coffee: Once the coffee beans have grown in a plantation, small furry creatures called civet cats come along, gobble them up, and right on cue, poop them back out. The poop is then harvested and processed to make the infamous brew. Pretty gross right? But people spend a LOT of money on this shit (pun completely intended). A cup of Luwak coffee can fetch up to $50 and you could even fork out $100 for a bag. Something about the fermentation process going on in these coffee cats makes the coffee highly desirable and, to be fair, pretty tasty. We got to try this rare treat and even had the pleasure of meeting one of the plantation’s civet cats in person. She was called Louise and was very friendly.
Other than luwak coffee, there are loads of lovely little places to grab a refreshment on Yogyakarta. If you’re on a strict budget there is also no need to worry; we had a delicious meal at a quaint veggie café called Fortunate Coffee and it cost about a fiver in all for both of us. The food was just what we needed, and the staff were friendly, I would strongly recommend for anyone after some budget veggie grub!
Yogyakarta is a small city, and it doesn’t take too long to explore. Saying this, the region is surrounded by natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for day trips: caving, mountain climbing, and sand boarding to name a few. If you’re ever in Java, it is not an area to be missed!