A smaller city on the island of Java in Indonesia that has proven very popular with tourists, Yogyakarta is to Jakarta what Chiang Mai is to Bangkok. A small breezy city of 500,000 people, filled with temples and a slower, more relaxed pace of life, the parallels between the Thai and the Indonesian comparisons is very apt indeed.
One aspect where the analogy falls apart has to do with the local religion, as well as the area’s geology. Here, the dominant religion is Islam, with a small minority of Hindus, though the ancient temples around the area tell of a time when their numbers were much more plentiful. Additionally, given that the islands of Indonesia lie along the very active Ring of Fire seismic zone, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not uncommon in this part of the country, with nearby Mount Merapi kicking up a fuss every few years on average, and a recent tremor killed 6,000 people in the area in 2006.
All things considered though, it is extremely unlikely that will encounter difficulties of this scale during your visit, so don’t let it stop you from experiencing one of Indonesia’s most pleasant, cultured cities.
Being the former capital of a significant sultanate, one of Yogyakarta’s most notable cultural attractions is the Kraton Yogyakarta, or the Sri Sultan’s palace. This former imperial residence housed the leader of the Hamengkubuwono, as well as containing quarters for all his loyal servants. Admire the luxurious surroundings that this powerful sultan once enjoyed, and be sure to take in a regularly scheduled show featuring traditional music and dancing, all included in the price of your ticket.
Yogyakarta has long been a haven for many skilled artists, and you can enjoy the works of one of this cities’ most famous painters at the Museum Affandi. With the building being designed by Affandi himself, this gallery/museum is a work of art in itself, with dazzling attention being poured into all the elements contained within, such as the swimming pool in the backyard.
Well before the dominant religion of this area switched to Islam, the practices of Hinduism and Buddhism were common in this part of Indonesia. Dating back to the 7th to 9th century, there are several candi (temples) located within an easy day trip from Yogyakarta. One such candi worth seeing is Candi Prambanan, which is an ancient Hindu temple that was built to honour the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Unbeknownst to most visitors, Candi Prambanan is one of the largest Hindu temples still standing in Southeast Asia. Due to this designation, it has garnered status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and deservedly so, as the spires will remind seasoned travelers of the better known ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Depending on the level of volcanic activity, you may not be able to do this, but if conditions permit, go on an approach hike at nearby Mount Merapi. On the way to the base of this very active volcano, observe the power of the bowels of the earth to take out our puny cities, towns, and villages, as you pass by the fairly recent ruins of houses that were devastated by the most recent major eruption in the past decade.
Those hunting for a piece of Indonesia will find it at Beringharjo Market, a day shopping baazar that contains the very best food, clothing, antiques and crafts of Yogyakarta and vicinity. Seek out Batik cloth, which can sell from many thousands to many millions of Indonesian Rupiah, depending on the piece and the quality of the fabric. Long famous for spices since the times of European monarchs, the food markets also sell a bewildering array of spices (the vast majority grown locally), including cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper and ginger all available here at local rates!
Finally, Yogyakarta has several local foods that are definitely worth your while to try and experience. Gudeg stands out among them, as it is a curry consisting of jackfruit, chicken and egg, served over a bed of steamed white rice, making for a sweet and satisfying experience. Additionally, be sure to sample some Rujak Es Crim, which is a fruit salad that is made up of apples, papayas, mangoes, and pineapples, with palm sugar, salt, lime juice, chilies, and ice cream. Not the dessert that you’re used to eating, but it will define the end of an interesting stay in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.