Yogyakarta, or the Special Region of Yogyakarta, is a city on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is usually pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ and is also known as Jogja or Jogjakarta (so if you want to be cool, just call it Jogja).
It is the only place in the Republic of Indonesia where a royal family still has some administrative power, rather than just being a cultural figurehead (hence why it is a ‘Special Region’), since Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX helped overthrow the Dutch colonialists during the fight for independence in 1945.
There is so much to see and do in Yogyakarta, and it is a city you definitely can’t miss when you visit Indonesia!
A huge thank you to the Indonesian Tourism board for hosting me on the amazing Trip of Wonders, highlighting some of the best cultural wonders around Indonesia.
See the sunrise at Borobudur Temple
Sunrise is the most magical time to see the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. I highly recommend making the effort of getting up early (sunrise is between around 5:09 and 5:52 depending what time of year you are there) and paying the extra to be able to photograph the temple during sunrise. Getting there early will ensure you get a good spot – I took two cameras with me so I was able to set up one to capture a timelapse while I used my other for sunrise photos.
During the rainy season (from November to March), the haze that we experienced is much less and you have the opportunity to get some even more incredible shots with stunning clouds.
Is seeing the sunrise at Borobudur really worth it for you? Check out Adam and Meghan’s article – they have some great tips!
Stay at Hotel Plataran Heritage Borobudur
If you do want to photograph sunrise at Borobudur, staying at the Plataran Heritage Borobudur is definitely worth it. The entire hotel and grounds are 100% instagrammable, plus it’s only a 12-minute drive to Borobudur Temple, rather than the 1-hour or more drive it would be from a hotel in Yogyakarta City.
Plataran Heritage Borobudur was definitely one of my favourite hotels we stayed in during the entire trip – I’m pretty sure my room there was bigger than my entire flat… I definitely wasn’t complaining!
Book your stay at Plataran Heritage Borobudur here – you won’t regret it!
Explore the water palace of Taman Sari
This palace was possibly one of my favourite places we visited on the entire trip. It is, most definitely, an architect’s wet dream. Apparently, the architecture had studied European architecture in Batavia (in the Dutch East Indies, which is now Jakarta) and that’s why the water palace has many European influences.
We started by one of the main pools and learned that the tower above the pool was where the sultan used to watch his concubines bathe and then pick out which one he ‘wanted for the night’. An interesting system for sure…
Unfortunately, the British invasion in 1812, the Java war of 1825-1830 and then an earthquake in 1867 caused significant damage to the water palace and meant that after 1867 the complex fell out of use. In the 1970s, restoration work was done on the bathing complex (Umbul Binangun) to restore it to its previous glory. Maybe one day the entire complex will be restored!
Another highlight at the water palace is the Underground Mosque – this fairly simple mosque would have been, in fact, underwater and was only accessible via underwater tunnels. Luckily for us, no swimming is now involved to reach the mosque!
Stay at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta
The Phoenix Hotel in Yogyakarta City is another architecturally beautiful hotel, plus perfectly located for exploring the city. It is only a short distance from the main sights in the city, including the Keraton, Taman Sari and Batik Plentong. It is also only a 15-minute walk or 5-minute drive to Malioboro Street (Jalan Malioboro), the most well-known shopping street in Yogyakarta. The street is basically one big market!
The hotel dates back to 1918, to the Dutch colonial era, when it was a home for a wealthy Chinese merchant. It then became a hotel until the Japanese occupation in 1942, before then reverting to a hotel in 1951 – the hotel definitely has an interesting history! You can definitely see the Chinese architectural influences throughout the hotel.
Plus, this leads me to my next suggestion…
Go for a becak ride
The Phoenix Hotel has their own becaks, making it the perfect way to get around the city. You can also get one most places in the city and they are a very cheap form of transport.
But what is a becak? The pedicab or cycle-rickshaw is a well-known form of transport, and the becak is the Indonesia version. However, unlike cycle-rickshaws in other countries, the Indonesian (and specifically Javanese) ones sit the passenger in front, with the driver at the back. This gives you a perfect view of all the city sights!
It varies whether the becak has a bicycle or a motorbike attached, but I would recommend that if you are larger than the average Indonesian then you try to get a motorised becak – I’m glad mine was motorised otherwise I’d have been feeling very bad about all the delicious food I had been eating on the trip!
Visit the Sultan’s Palace
The Sultan’s Palace or Keraton (also written kraton or karaton) is a grand palace in Yogyakarta with spectacular Javanese architecture. The Keraton was (and still is) the royal residence, as well as a focal point of the Sultan’s entire kingdom.
The Keraton is built facing directly north towards the majestic Mt. Merapi with to its south backing the Indian Ocean which is believed to be the abode of Kanjeng Ratu Loro Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas and the mystical consort of the Sultan. (Indonesian Ministry of Tourism)
We watch as the Abdi Dalem (court retainers or guardians) sit silently at their post at the palace – this is done voluntarily for five hours out of respect and dedication to the king. They smile as we start taking photos of them, cautious to not be overly distracting or to get too close. They are all dressed in blue woven lurek shirts, batik sarung and Ngayogyakarta blangkons (tightly fitted traditional Yogyakartan headdresses made from batik fabric), which serves as their uniform.
The Keraton is open to visitors from 8:30am – 12:30pm Sunday – Monday and 8:30am – 11:00am on Fridays and Saturdays. There are collections of glassware, photographs, batik and more, giving you a wonderful insight into Javanese heritage and history. There are also cultural performances held everyday, including gamelan performances (Monday and Tuesday at 10am) and dance performances (Thursday at 10am).
Another area of Indonesia that has beautiful palaces is the island of Bali! Check out Claire’s post on how to do Bali on a budget!
Learn about batik and make your own
For anyone who is artistically inclined (and also those who aren’t), making your own batik is an amazing experience. I had done it in school before in textiles class, but being able to learn about traditional techniques from the Javanese men and women at Batik Plentong and do them myself was an amazing experience. Batik is a technique of applying wax to a piece of material (this can be silk or cotton, for example for a scarf) and then the material is died, with the wax resisting the dye in the areas where it was applied. The cloth is then boiled to remove the wax, revealing the pattern of the dyed and undyed areas.
There are two options for applying the wax – canting and cap. Canting is a pen-like instrument that enables the user to create extremely intricate designs, it’s incredible to watch! A cap is a copper block stamp, and this is much quicker and more uniform, and therefore what is used for cheaper batik as it is much more efficient and therefore better for producing in bulk.
Also – they make it look so much easier than in actually is. You need a very steady hand for the perfect lines, this was where I didn’t do so well! It is a great experience to do your own batik and I would definitely recommend this!
Yogyakarta is an amazing city in terms of heritage, culture and architecture and is a must-visit for anyone travelling to Indonesia. I had an incredible time there and can’t recommend it more – have you been to Yogyakarta? Is there anything else people can’t miss out? Let me know in the comments!
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