Yogyakarta is Java’s counterbalance to Jakarta. While Jakarta buzzes with business and industrial charm, Yogyakarta offers up a more artistic laid-back scene and some of the most incredible archaeological sites you’ll see in the whole of South East Asia. Pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ and playfully referred to as ‘Yogya’ or ‘Jogja’ by its residents, the city is a must-stop for anyone visiting Indonesia’s most populated island. Armed with my camera I began exploring this vast metropolis.
Borobudur: The Majestic Sunrise
Before visiting Yogyakarta there was one phrase everyone had been spouting at me; ‘Watch the sunrise at Borobudur’. Borobudur is the world’s largest buddhist temple, built in the 9th century and still in the most immaculate condition. It’s 9 levels sit stoically amidst green fields, carefully watched over by surrounding mountains and volcanoes.
While this sounded impressive to see at any time of day, I really had to see what all the sunrise fuss was about. I awoke at 3.30am ready to jump on a bus to this famous monument. As we were arriving, it was still dark, I was less than impressed. Then we started to walk over to the steps, our eyes adjusting as the sun’s glow very slowly crept into the day. At the top it was clear why everyone had spoken so highly of this experience. Staking my position amongst the other eager photographers I sat back and watched as the sky’s colors made their way through the entire color wheel. Beginning with a strangely comforting dark blue, a bright orange began seeping into the mix as the sun began to pop up from behind the mountains. The colours then began to merge together into swirls of purple and pink, as each second and each click of the camera shutter, offered a new delight.
As a photographer, the plan is normally to grab a few good shots and then sit back and enjoy the scenery with my eyes, but here there were just too many good angles to miss out on. Every corner of the temple had a new surprise from stupors to majestic buddha statues, and every minute that passed bathed them in a totally new light. Eventually the sun revealed its full self and shone across the whole valley. As far as the eye, or at least my lens, could see were waves and waves of rolling green hills, covered in a beautiful light mist. Even if I had to wake up at 3.30am everyday to see this, I would.
Yogyakarta City Life
The next morning I got up early again, although, by this time, the sun was already up. We had some trips planned for later in the day, but I wanted explore a little more of the city. Home to over 3 million people I was never going to see much in such a short space of time, but I took a stroll from the hotel to find out a little more about how the locals live. I stumbled across an amazing set of coloured houses beneath a road bridge. Despite looking dilapidated, it was a beautiful site, contrasting in colors and a mix of materials, which sat proudly alongside the river. Walking around this local area was definitely one of my favorite places to visit in Yogyakarta.
From here, I took short rickshaw ride to the Sultan’s palace, the Kraton. It was a strange sensation to move from the shanty town straight into a world of opulence, but in all honestly I was totally underwhelmed by the palace. It was pretty enough, but after seeing the colourful houses and the families who reside there going about their day, this all just seemed a little phony.
My final stop on this rather short tour was to visit Batik Plentong where we could see some traditional local textiles been made. Batik is a traditional art from where patterns are made on fabric using hot wax and dye. It may not sound like the most exciting experience, but seeing all these local folk in their element, working away and creating such beautiful pieces was a real treat.
Prambanan: Incredible From Every Angle
Candi Prambanan, a complex of 9th century Hindu temples that have been largely restored after laying in ruins for many years, is the ‘other’ reason most people visit Yogyakarta. We visited here around midday so there was no epic sunrise, but this was still an incredible site. From far away it’s tough to gain a true perspective of just how grand this site is, but as you get closer and closer the real magnitude hits you.
Step back and you are surrounded by impossibly tall spires, pointing up towards the sky. Lean a little closer and you are treated to some amazing intricate carvings. Go inside the temples and you are treated to glimpses of ancient Hindu statues, only viewable thanks to tiny shards of lights creeping through the temple doorways. This is another site I could have spent days at. The camera shutter got a real work out here, anxious that I may miss out on a perfect frame or close up detail.
Two days in Yogyakarta was just simply not enough. While I may have ticked off the main tourist attractions, the vibe of the city had only really just began to present itself to me. This is a cool place full of pretty cool people, every one with a story no doubt as interesting as the sites that surround them. I will be back, my camera misses this place.
Helpful Information for Exploring Yogyakarta
- Borobudur is officially open from 6am-5pm, and costs around $22USD for entry. If you wish to do a sunrise tour though this can be booked through Manohara Hotel or through one of the many travel agents located around the city. Prices will vary, often wildly, so shop around and know what you’re getting. Some tours will include all your transport and they can also be combined with a same day trip to Prambanan.
- If you just wish to visit Prambanan that costs around $15USD for entry and is open from 6am-6pm. Again, you might be best off finding a tour company to take you here and Borobudur, to save all the hassle, but just be sure to ask what is included.
- Both sites can totally be done DIY, as there are buses that go from Yogyakarta to the sites daily. This is a cheaper option, but can be a bit of hassle and you have to start early to squeeze both into a day.
For those that want to go the extra mile, you can also rent a motorbike and drive yourself around. Bring a light scarf as driving to Borobudur while it is pitch black can get quite chilly! You may find a tour operator an easier option, and they may also take you to a few extra, more out of the way temples on top. Watch out for ones that seem crazy cheap though as you’ll no doubt end up in a silver shop being forced to buy that bracelet you didn’t know you wanted.
This article was written in partnership between Adventure in You and the Indonesian Tourism board as part of the 2016 Trip of Wonders Tour.