Yogyakarta – Cultural Capital

The region of Yogyakarta is one of the two last Sultanates in Indonesia. His Majesty Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X is not only the sultan, but also the democratically elected Governor of the Special Region Yogyakarta. The people of Yogyakarta are very proud of this special status of the region as the sultanate played an important role in the liberation process from the colonial control of the Dutch.

Until today, the city of Yogyakarta with its 100.000 students is a center of culture and art. Here, the complex Javanese language is still taught, and amongst other Javanese traditions the world famous art of crafting Batik is kept alive.

As the center of the Javanese culture Yogyakarta has a lot to offer for a tourist: Endless shopping facilities in the city center with colonial remainders and a Sultan’s palace, and two of the most important temple ruins of Southeast Asia right at the city’s borders.

Coming from Jakarta, we literally breathe in the relaxed and relatively clean atmosphere of Yogyakarta – or “Jogja”, as the connoisseurs entitle the city. Jogja contrasts Indonesia’s capital in several ways. No skyscrapers, less smog and the beautiful old buildings in the city center are not the only criteria that explain its popularity among tourists. Right out of the city and to mention alongside Angkor in Cambodia or Ayutthaya in Thailand, stand the popular ruins of the Prambanan and the Borobodur temples.

The city center of Yogyakarta

The Malioboro street is much too touristic, but you won’t have seen Yogyakarta if you haven’t walked down this strip at least once. One sales stand offers so-called “Coca Cola” batik and printed T-shirts, the other cheap woodwork souvenirs and then a really serious guy tries to convince you to visit his “high quality batik arts shop just around the corner”. This patterns repeats endlessly throughout the whole street. While Chris and I are trying our best to keep a distance to all those shops my mom is taking a different approach and stops for exhaustive inspection of the sales stands.

travel tipp infoBatik Scams in Yogyakarta: The beauty of traveling in Southeast Asia is that you need not fear physical aggression from the people around you. Instead the few bad people that you have to be aware of are tricksters, betrayers and sweet talkers! Especially in Yogyakarta, the “capital of Javanese arts and crafts”, Batik scams are very common. If you want to buy some Batik art, inform yourself first on how to determine the quality of a cloth (quite difficult for beginners), and then: bargain hard! Don’t fall for common lies like “we are a fixed price government store” or “Can you see all the students here? We invest the money in educating batik arts.” Etc. Some liars are very inventive and the sales people are professionals in talking you into an overpriced piece of cloth! Just make your mind up about your personal price limits before you enter a shop and commit to it.
Read this nice and informative website on the history of batik and the production process!

Some interesting modern art sculptures line the end of Malioboro street: A huge Scrat watches over the passengers and a yellow street sign is melting away like one of Dali’s watches, just to mention two. After crossing the next street further down we get to the entry of the Kraton, an old part of the city, partially walled. The Kraton contains the Sultan’s palace, The Bird Market, the Underground Mosque and the Taman Sari, an old bathing house.

Although we heard good things about the other places, we decide to visit the Sultan’s Palace within the Kraton. It is a neat and lofty palace complex with a beautiful exhibition of traditional Javanese Batik art and offers some shelter from the midday heat.


Borobodur is one of the largest Buddhist temple compounds in whole Southeast Asia. It has been built in the midst of the Javanese jungle in the 8th and 9th century as a monument for the Syailendra Dynasty that reigned over Java for more than 500 years.

The Borobodur temple compound consists of three temples, of which the largest and most outstanding is the Candi Borobodur itself. Two significantly smaller temples, the Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon, stand east of the big pyramid of Borobodur surrounded by some greens and village-like living areas.

The Candi Borobodur – a symbolic journey to Nirvana

The fascination of Borobodur lies in its direct reference and harmony to Buddhist cosmology: The huge pyramid consists of ten platforms and a stupa on top, which symbolizes the ten stages a Buddhist has to go through to reach Nirvana. The platforms consist of three parts:

  1. The base platform stands for the “Realm of Desires”
  2. The following five square platforms stand for the “Realm of Forms”
  3. And the three circular platforms with the stupa on top symbolize the “Realm of the Formless”

Intricate reliefs on the lower platforms tell buddhistic tales, while on the upper three circular platforms you discover a lot of Buddha statues covered up in stupas.

We walk up the many stairs with a lot of other tourists. Due to his blondness Christian attracts students of any age and gender. He is even interviewed, and we get the feeling that we are the main attraction here. Typical for Indonesia, I’d say. But besides us there is a lot to discover: The temple structure is huge and vast. Walking among long strips of reliefs and around Buddha statues we reach the top of the temple and are rewarded a slightly rain-clouded, but green view into the jungle surrounding us, and even onto one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes, the Gunung Merapi.

Going down again and back to the parking lot is a bit of a hassle, as we must pass by an endless row of souvenir sales stands. Be aware you get the right exit to find back to your driver/bus, as there are several parking lots (A, B, C etc.) at several exits.

The world’s most expensive coffee: Cat poo from questionable origin

Candi Pawon is situated in a nice village-like atmosphere where our driver stops over. Besides visiting the beautiful small temple we can try the popular “Kopi Luwak”: A coffee that is made of the excrements of the weasel-like jungle inhabitant called Asian palm civet. Maybe you better know it under the name of “Cat poo coffee”.

The coffee is sold for about 100 US$ per kg in Indonesia, exported to other countries it will be a manifold of this price. We just go for a try and order a cup of it.

It is a good cup of coffee for a – how fitting – shitload of money, but as a coffee junkie I must admit I had the same quality of coffee served to me in any café of an Italian city for 50 cents.

Adding in a questionable production procedure (Is all of this popular expensive coffee really gathered in the wild? Or is it more likely to come from a mass production farm with horrible conditions for the animal? You never know…), I rather go for unexcremented, normal coffee again. Read here a nice article from TIME magazine on the origins and the current status of Luwak coffee and its production.

I found even more intriguing the article from the guy who introduced the “Cat poo coffee” into the western world: Here is his article in the Guardian.

A beautiful tree

The Candi Mendut is slightly larger than the Pawon, and situated on a green field with a beautiful, big old tree. In contrast to Pawon, the statues inside the temple are intact. The tree offers very welcome shelter from the heat. But due to the fact that a bunch of eager scarf sellers are sticking to our heels we leave the place soon.


The archaeological site of Prambanan consists of the Prambanan temple compound and the Sewu Temple, Bubrah Temple and Lumbung Temple.
Dating back to the 8th century the largest Hindu-Buddhist temple complex of Indonesia has been abandoned soon after its completion. Now, the UNESCO has helped reconstructing many of the temples. Until today you see a lot of unfinished grounds where a wild 3D puzzle of stones awaits the patient archeologist.

Candi Prambanan – Holy trinity of Hinduism

A great row of unreconstructed stones frames the six main temples of Prambanan: Here once stood 250 smaller temples that surrounded the six greater ones. With help of the UNESCO Indonesian archaeologists have restored three large temples decorated with a myriad of delicate stone carvings and its three little sisters next to them. The temples are dedicated to the Trimurti, the three main deities in Hindu belief:

  1. Shiva – the Destroyer of the world
  2. Vishnu – the Keeper of the world
  3. Brahman – the Creator of the world.

Corresponding to each big temple you find a smaller one: In Hindu belief, every deity has an animal that he rides. The smaller temples are dedicated to these “Carriages” of the deities:

  1. The bull Nanti for Shiva
  2. The Garuda, a creature which is half man and half eagle, for Vishnu
  3. The goose Hamsa for Brahman

We enjoy discovering the temples in the tropical heat (bring enough water!) and – again – take too many pictures.

Candi Sewu and the smaller Candi Bubrah and Candi Lumbung

In contrast to the Hindu complex of Prambanan, just a few hundred meters further in the midday heat we find the large temple complex of Candi Sewu, a major Buddhist temple site.

Some intricate statues of (Dvarapala guardians ) edge the entry stairs to the temple site. A lot of puzzling is still left to the archeologist here, and we are walking through half-reconstucted the ruins with an Indiana-Jones-feeling. We discover several remainders of reliefs and delicate structures within the Sewu temple compound.

Around Sewu are some smaller ruins of the Bubrah and Lumbung temples, which are interesting to discover, too.

Soon, the day’s heat is getting to us, and we leave tired and full of an ancient culture’s impressions in search of a nice warung in the city center.

Arriving on Yogyakarta

Arriving in Yogyakarta is straightforward: There are numerous buses arriving from Jakarta every day. As the air fares are dirt cheap for domestic flights, we opt for a relaxed Garuda Indonesia flight from Jakarta. The airport is a short 15min taxi ride away from downtown.

As we are travelling with “the elderly” (my parents 😛 ), we settle down in a real hotel with pool and amenities like a comfy shuttle service to the city center. What we heard from other travelers is that there is a great choice of budget accommodation from 7$ upwards in the backpacker’s area of Jalan Sosrowijayan.

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