Bali may be Indonesia’s main resort isle, but when it comes to cultural attractions, there’s no doubt that only one place comes in mind, Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta) or often known simply as Jogja. Java the heart of Indonesia. Dominated by rich countryside nuance and the famous volcanic peak of Merapi, Yogyakarta possesses landscape as rich as its history. Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim empires made their mark in this wonderful city before the colonialization of the Dutch in the 17th century. Each of them left behind the most enduring remains of the country in form of monuments, attractions and traditions. Paired with thriving arts scene, pedestrian shopping and tremendous amount of traditional but delicious culinary, Jogja offers a taste of Classic Java.
Indonesia Java International Destination. As the capital of Indonesia from 1946 until 1950 (just after the independence of the country), Jogja has long been regarded as the cradle of traditional Javanese culture. The soul of the city is the Sultan’s Palace (Keraton), which is responsible for nurturing the traditional culture starting from batik, balet, music, poetry until puppet shows. The streets nearby Keraton house some of the most talented artisans in Jogja. Here, you can watch master craftsmen at work in their studios and showrooms – like living museums, these workshops offer exclusive insights into the history and practice of Jogja’s traditional arts.
The most identical item to the city is Batik. Batik is a type of traditional cloth that is manually designed by hand using wax-resist dyeing technique. The most famous is Silk Batik. A single original batik cloth can take months to produce. Each original Batik pieces have unique patterns, distinguishing one from another. But today, due to modern advances in the textile industry, Batik has been extended to include fabrics which incorporate traditional batik patterns even if they are not produced using the wax-resist dyeing techniques. Despite that, there are still many original Batik makers around Yogyakarta.
Similar to the Batik, Jogja’s silversmith crafts items with skill and patience. The center of the silverware industry in Jogja is Kotagede. Here, you can watch the silversmiths as they show you how silver is made from its raw material until it is forged into beautiful jewelry. Buying a piece of locally made jewelry or Batik or other traditional products that is sold all over the city, can provide enduring souvenirs of this region’s rich artistic traditions.
While the city life has its charm, it’s hard not to get lost in the romance of Jogja’s history at one of the World Heritage site , Prambanan – a series of majestic Hindu temples dating from the 10th century, just 20 minutes of drive east of downtown Yogyakarta. Families picnic under overgrown bushes of blindingly pink bougainvillea and tourists race to get the best photo opportunities of the majestic stone buildings. On several occasions, your visit can end at the park’s open-air theatre, where the Ramayana (an ancient Hindu epic) Ballet Performance takes place.
Slightly further afield, dozens of smaller temples dot the countryside, amidst endless terraced rice fields and palm trees that grow under the shadows of the region’s volcanic peaks. Set over 2,000 square meters, the intricate Buddhist buildings, stupas and shrines of Candi Plaosan are a prime example. When visiting this site, you shall feel something incredibly soul satisfying, sitting in the shade of these 9th century monuments, enveloped by silence, knowing you may be one of the only people to admire them that day.
The region’s other World Heritage site is Borobudur, which is about 40 kilometers outside of Yogyakarta. Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited site and the world’s largest Buddhist monument. Borobudur enjoys a surreal setting atop a small plateau, surrounded by jungle and flanked by a pair of active volcanoes. The temple itself dates from the 9th century and comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platrforms, each adorned with 2,672 intricate bas reliefs and more than 500 Buddha statues. Escape the crowds and visit at dawn – as the sun lifts the mist off the jungle, you’ll be guaranteed to experience one of those “so this is what it means to be alive” moments.
In the far north of Yogyakarta, stands the glorious Mount Merapi with a glow of its own. Merapi is one of Indonesia’s most active volcano. It has erupted 68 times since 1548, but still manages to attract curious tourists to its lava lakes and sulfuric smoke. The slopes of the mountain are dotted with ancient Buddhists and Hindu shrines: the western slopes are particularly alluring thanks to the Sengi Complex which dates back to the 8th century and is carved with dazzling motifs of climbing plants and flowers, reminiscent of the surrounding scenery.
An even more pleasant spot to enjoy the scenery is from the Torunda Bar at Amanjiwo, a stunning 34-villa resort on the outskirts of Borobudur. Set among verdant rice terraces and palm trees overlooking jade green paddy fields and the distant peaks of Merapi and Merbabu, the resort takes its design cues from the Buddhist monument it overlooks, with circular limestone buildings, soaring bell-shaped rotundas and an amphitheatre-style pool. The suites themselves come with four poster beds, terrazzo floors, and furniture that’s been hand carved from coconut wood. All rooms have a private garden terrace and some feature individual plunge pools. Staying here, you’ll begin to understand what it might be like to be a Javanese royal member.
Like many wellness centers in Central Java, treatments in Jogja’s spas are inspired by ancient Javanese rituals. Here, jamu, or traditioinal Indonesian herb, is alive and well, and can be sampled in everything from herbal elixirs, said to cure migraines or hypertension, to body scrubs and wraps and traditional Javanese massage.
Jogja’s cuisine is also a complex collection of influences. Menus across town alternate between much-loved royal dishes, to traditional snacks. Jogja is particularly famous for its sweets. While bite-size snacks like kipo, or green colored tapioca filled with coconut, make an obvious dessert, local dishes like gudeg, a curry of jackfruit, chicken and egg is more surprising, with its distinctive sugary overtones thanks to generous dash of palm sugar.
No visit to Jogja would be complete without sampling the local freshwater fish, called gurame, which is similar in taste to barramundi and is farmed in lakes across Central Java. Then be sure to wash down your meal with a mug of strong sweet Javanese coffee. Established by the Dutch in the 17th century, the coffee farms around Jogja produce both Arabica and Robusta coffee. Many still offer site tours, allowing you to purchase fresh beans, right at their source, and offering you the chance to take home another cup of classic Java, home grown in Jogja.