I recently had the opportunity to travel with a small group of Infinity agents to a new destination for Infinity – Yogyakarta, on the Indonesian Island of Java.
Flying Garuda Airlines to Yogyakarta via Bali, our short trip to this ancient city began with a crazy “Amazing Race” style dash through the new Denpasar airport to make our onward connection (I’d recommended at least 2 hours connection time if you are flying straight through!).
Only an hour’s flight from Bali, arriving at Yogyakarta’s Adisucipto International Airport was a totally different experience; there were no sky bridges, so we exited straight onto the runway, surrounded by baggage carts and refuelling trucks, and new planes taxiing right up to the walkway. The small bustling terminal was jammed full of people, with about 4 planes all landing within a few minutes of each other, but our bags appeared quickly and soon we were out into the hot, humid Yogyakarta evening.
Fuad, our guide for the duration of our stay met us just outside the departure area and showed us to our van. We loaded up and we were soon dodging mopeds and motorcycles on the busy evening roads. Fuad gave us a quick introduction to the Special District of Yogyakarta (or Jogja as the locals call it), Indonesia’s famed centre of traditional Javanese culture, art and history.
We were staying at the Grand Aston Yogyakarta, a decent hotel close to the centre of the city, and after a quick refresh, we headed out to Jalan Maliboro, the shopping and nightlife hub of the city. We took a taxi downtown, but the city is also famous for it’s Becaks, a bicycle rickshaw, a must-do for any trip to Jogja. The Legian Gardan Restaurant was recommended to us by our guide, as was two traditional Javanese dishes, Gudeg and Beef Rendang. After some traditional delights and the ubiquitous bottles of Bintang, we headed back to the Grand Aston for a nightcap in the rooftop bar, Vanilla Sky.
A 3am wake-up call had us down in the lobby to meet Fuad for a sunrise trip visit to the 9th Century Buddhist Temple of Borobudur, single most-visited tourist attraction in Indonesia. The quiet city streets, devoid of the usual moped mayhem, led us 40km north of the city into the lush green countryside. A storm during the night had left the roads slick with rain, but it had done little to reduce the heat of the steamy tropical pre-dawn morning. Soon enough we arrived at the Monohara Borobudur Resort, a hotel sitting at the base of the temple and our departure point for the sunrise tour.
We were given a ticket and a torch and soon set off in the dark on a gentle stroll though the resort’s gardens towards the gates of the temple. The slow first blush of dawn began to creep into the sky and we could just make-out the looming structure above us. Using our torches to guide us, we began our ascent up the three levels of the temple to await the spectacular sunrise. Fuad, our guide joined us at the top and gave us an amazing insight of the whole temple.
As the sun began to creep over the horizon, a veritable shutter-frenzy ensued as both our intrepid little group, and those other early bird tourists snapped away as the increasing light cast a kaleidoscope of colours across the ancient stone buddahs and stupas. Later, we made our way back down the temple, stopping at each level to view the intricate statues and carvings, with Fuad giving us a detailed explanation of the bas-relief story of Prince Siddhartha and the birth of Buddha, which ringed the entire 1st level of the temple.
After what felt like hours at the temple, it was time for breakfast, which we were lucky enough to sample from the nearby Plataran Resort (complete with magnificent views over Borobudur in the distance). Following breakfast, we visited a number of other local temples and attractions, including the smaller Buddhist temples of Pawon and Mendat, a Kopi Luwak coffee roaster and a local silver workshop.
We were back in Yogyakarta by early afternoon ready for some time by the pool to relax and recharge after a fantastic morning of sightseeing. That evening, we were fortunate to visit the Phoenix Hotel, a member of Accor’s M Gallery collection, and a truly beautiful hotel in Jogja. Retaining much of its Dutch Colonial facade, the hotel also paid homage to the ancient Javanese culture and society, and the amazing blend of colonial and traditional created a wonderful hotel full of unique touches and hidden delights in all its rooms and facilities. Dinner was no less spectacular, with a fabulous French-Indonesian fusion style menu.
Our second morning in Jogja offered a slightly more respectable 9am start, Fuad met us again in the lobby and took us on a journey through the city to the Keraton, the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s palace, followed by a walking tour through the artisans village, a visit to the ancient sultan’s Water Palace and finally to a large city park in Yogyakarta where the locals have a traditional of trying to walk blindfolded between two large Banyan trees.
The game is known as masangin, which stands for “masuk dua beringin” (entering two banyan trees). Locals rent blindfold for a small fee (about IDR5000) to locals and tourists alike. It is believed that only those having pure hearts and not bearing evil intentions can walk pass the banyan trees – only one person in our group of 6 managed to walk straight and true through the centre of the trees.
Wrapping up our whirlwind visit to Jogja, we had lunch at nDalem Ngabean, a former Prince’s palace, now turned into a convention centre and traditional Javanese buffet lunch restaurant, before heading back to the airport to bid goodbye to Jogja.
My overall impression of Yogyakarta was of the fantastic local culture and very friendly locals. The wonderful mix of the Muslim faith combined with Javanese and Buddhist traditions have helped create and incredibly warm, welcoming and open society.
We never for a moment felt unsafe or threatened, and we rarely encountered the incessant street-sellers that plague some of Bali’s sites (apart from a couple at the temples), and the taxi drivers were less “adventurous” in setting their fares compared to Bali. Jogja remains a largely undiscovered destination for Australian tourists, our group even had requests to be in “selfie’s” from the local school children while touring the Sultan’s Palace.
A fantastic addition to any Bali holiday, Yogyakarta’s mix of culture and history provides a great counterpoint to Bali’s sundrenched beaches and hedonistic nightlife. Next time you’re in Bali, go beyond the beaches and explore the history and culture of Jogja … you’ll not be disappointed.
Written by Al Morris, Digital Marketer, traveller and beagle owner.