Having spent two days out and about in a car, it was time to explore what the city of Yogya had to offer pedestrians. Our hostel was down a rabbit warren of streets barely wide enough to take a scooter and we tried to avoid the main roads in preference of these winding alleyways where real life was going on left and right. It was also August which meant that everywhere was decked out for Independence celebrations; the alleys were ablaze with red and white.
As far as we can tell, the air never moves in Yogya, probably because of the narrow lanes that we loved so much, so we were soon sweating buckets and guzzling water by the litre. Outside each attraction we visited, rickshaw drivers called out to us, confident that we would want to be ferried between places, and watched in mild amusement as we waved them off and soldiered on on foot.
A quick side note here: Everything in Yogya seems to have several names, including the city itself which goes by Yogyakarta, Jogjakarta, Jogja or Yogya, and this can get a bit confusing. We have chosen to use only one name for each of the places that we visited rather than listing them all. If you give the names a google you will find all of the alternatives pretty swiftly.
Our first stop, Yogyakarta Palace, is worthy of a stop if for no other reason than the open courtyards somehow coax the breeze to pay an occasional visit. A guide is also worthwhile as there is very limited signage inside; you can engage one of the official guides for a good price at the ticket desk. There was a gamelan performance going on when we arrived. Gamelan is an acquired taste and can sound like an awful lot of discordant notes played on instruments that don’t speak to each other. If you give it a bit of time though, you may well find the music oddly soothing.
We certainly had no desire to linger beyond a single song and followed our guide in to the next courtyard in which the main buildings sit, including the living quarters of the current Sultan.
Nearly all of the structures are open sided, to allow a breeze through, and the whole space lends itself well to staging performances with small bandstands and larger audience halls.
Even the former Sultan’s office is open to the elements with a spectacular golden-gilded roof and ostentatious outdoor chandelier.
From here we walked to the Water Palace. Maybe it was a ten-minute walk, but it was certainly a sweaty one and we longed for the cool that a name like “Water Palace” promised. When we stepped through the gateway however, we found ourselves in a walled area that was a complete suntrap and offered no relief from the heat whatsoever. There’s no doubt that the Water Palace is beautiful in its own slightly uncared-for way and many a sweaty person was angling to get the perfect instagrammable photo. Definitely go for a visit; definitely try for a cloudy day.
The Water Palace is split in to several sections across a large area interspersed with narrow streets, shops, restaurants and houses, which makes it quite difficult to navigate. The leaflet that you are given upon entry is supremely unhelpful at providing any illumination, but does make for a very helpful and free fan. Fortunately, the first area is easy enough to find.
After that it is a bit of a maze as you walk through the narrow streets of town. We are not sure if we saw it all, but we found ourselves in tunnels and buildings which certainly looked as though they may be parts of the palace.
Fortunately, the area in which the palace sits is also very pretty, so despite being an infuriating experience Caro was kept from exploding with frustration by the fact that the walk was pretty. After a quick lunch, we traipsed back to the hostel, where James managed to find an Indonesian girl streaming the rugby and settled down with a beer to watch New Zealand thrash Australia.
That evening we visited Jalan Maliboro, the main shopping street which comes alive, and is absolutely jam packed, in the evening. It was crazy busy. We are dreadful hagglers, although this skill has been upgraded from non-existant to woeful on our travels. We also hadn’t been able to find advice anywhere on what a good benchmark for buying clothes in Indonesia should be, which meant that we were too scared to actually engage in making a purchase in case we got ripped off. Given that getting ripped off in Indonesia usually means paying 75p rather than 50p, we weren’t concerned about the money, more about looking like the gormless tourists that we are. We had walked all the way up one side of the road and most of the way back down the other side before we finally got our act together and let ourselves get ripped off like everyone else.
Another Yogya night time tradition is paying a visit Alun Alun Kidul, a large open space behind the palace with two enormous banyan trees in the middle and a road around the edge. On the perimeter road are hundreds of luminous peddle cars which you can hire and peddle round the green. We gave it a miss, but it is certainly a spectacle.
The banyan trees carry some mystique and a challenge. The rules of the game are the same no matter who you ask: you are blindfolded and have to walk between the two trees in a straight line. Sounds simple, and it is in principle, but a whole lot more difficult in practice and we watched many people veer wildly off course and walk in to the walls around the trees before we attempted it ourselves. It was pretty steady going but we did both make it through in a fairly straight line albeit it with many “if you let me walk in to someone I will be so pissed” type comments. So, the game is clear but the prize is not; some say that you should make a wish and it will come true, some say it means that you will not waiver from your course, still others say that it is how a Sultan’s daughter chose her suitor way back when. For us it was a free bit of fun.
We were not overly impressed by the food in Yogya, it was only ok for the most part. One place that we would definitely recommend is Special Sambol, a chain of restaurants with all the feel of a local hole in the wall. We arrived, were shown to a low table with cushions on the floor for seats, and were presented with an order form entirely in Bahasa. With the help of google translate we managed to order food and it arrived within minutes in generous delicious portions.
We tried 3 different types of sambol but they weren’t really the hero of the meal, everything else was. As we ate, a steady stream of both locals and tourists edged through the tables to find seats and hordes of takeaway drivers stood chatting with the staff as they waited for the deliveries to be prepared. It was a good relaxed tasty experience and it cost absolutely nothing, they were almost paying us to eat. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Yogya.
Our three days in Yogya drew to a close. We saw so much in those three days that looking back on it now it’s amazing that we didn’t expire in the heat. Yogya is a wonderful, friendly town with so much to offer. We understand how long-term travellers can get stuck there, it’s a lovely mix of diversions and relaxation, the whole place vibrates with a sort of frantic inactivity that is captivating. We don’t tend to linger though, and the next morning found us on the train to Probolinggo with Mount Bromo in our sights.