Our taxi turned into a tiny street just off the Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street) and came to an almost immediate halt. Max rolled down the window and stuck his head outside to check for the source of the hold-up. Sounds of motorcycle honks, car engines, and loud chatter flooded the vehicle. We found ourselves smack in the middle of a day market and dozens of locals were now forced to make their way around our taxi to get to the stalls along the street that were selling everything from fruits and veggies to freshly caught fish that was still breathlessly twitching inside the buckets. There was no point in trying to drive through the commotion, so we grabbed our backpacks, paid the driver and made our way to our hotel on foot. Hotel Poncowinatan, our home for the next 4 nights, was just a few hundred meters away, located right in the heart of this bustling pop up market.
Over the next 4 days, this became our favourite place to stock up on snacks, try new street foods and watch the locals go about the daily life in Yogyakarta.
This market, among with many other neat little pockets of culture made us feel that despite being a major tourist destination in Indonesia, Yogyakarta or as it’s often referred to by the locals, Jogjakarta, still manages to maintain its authenticity and appeal.
Renowned for being the getaway to the world famous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, Yogyakarta draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors on a yearly basis. They arrive in the city, fork off $100+ on organised tours to the temples and depart content that they have ticked a box on their bucket list. But Yogyakarta deserves a better visit! There is so much to see in the city that it’s worth planning a few extra days to explore.
The Must See List
Prambanan + Borobudur
Fortunately, the biggest draw cards of the region, Prambanan and Borobudur, do live up to their hype. But the best way to explore both is at your own pace!
We took a “sunset tour” to Prambanan and despite only paying 75,000 IRP (great deal) for the return ride to the temple, we regretted it almost immediately. With only 3 hours to explore on our own, we felt rushed and constraint by the minivan departure time. We had enough time to explore both Candi Sewu (large Buddhist temple complex meaning “one thousand temples” located just one kilometre north of Prambanan) and Prambanan at Sunset, but not enough time to enjoy either one of the temples once the crowds subsided. Just like the rest of the crowds we rushed out of the temple grounds to catch our ride back to Jogjakarta.
Having learned from our mistake at Prambanan, we chose to rent a scooter and explore Borobudur at our own pace. Arriving just in time for sunrise we shared a
magical overrated sunrise with hundreds of other tourists. Luckily this time, we had the luxury of time and were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the temple shortly after the sunrise crowds departed.
Back in town, Kraton Yogyakarta or the Sri Sultan’s Palace remains the biggest attraction after the temples. The Kraton consists of two separate entrances: the Main Court (Pagilaran & Siti Hinggil), and the Residence, with each one requiring a separate entrance ticket. You can take a guided tour of the courtyard and the living quarters with one of the local student volunteers who offer tours of the Kraton as part of their university internship. Their knowledge of the Kraton itself will impress you, but their ability to discuss Indonesian history and cultural insights may vary.
You can easily spend 1-2 hours exploring each section of the Kraton, so choose the one you are most interested in seeing and budget your time accordingly. We recommend the Residence over the Main Court.
Taman Sari, also known as the water palace, is one of the sections of the Prince’s Palace, located about 2kms from Kraton Yogyakarta. The partly ruined complex of Taman Sari was originally built as a pleasure garden by the first Sultan in 1765.
The water pools may be the highlight of the palace, but if you explore a bit further, you’ll love getting lost in the intricate network of tunnels and rooms that you can explore at your own pace.
Shopping on Malioboro Street
As touristy of an experience as it might be, the 2km stretch of shops is worth checking out. First of all, you probably won’t be able to avoid them as they line Jalan Malioboro, which you will probably take on your way to Kraton Yogyakarta. Take your time popping into the shops and checking out the local textiles and souvenirs. It’s a great place to pick up a few gifts for those back home. Don’t forget to bargain hard!
Strolling along Malioboro Street is a fun activity even without the shopping. If nothing else, it’s a great place to people watch!
Lesser Known Spots
Bird markets are one of the most cultural yet controversial attractions in all of Java and Jogjakarta boasts one of the biggest bird markets in the region. The market, located near Taman Sari is a place worth checking out. Here you’ll find birds, reptiles, cats, dogs, bunnies and many other animals (some legal some not) that are waiting to be sold for some ungodly amount.
Go into it with an open mind. It may look/feel wrong and cruel but with or without Western tourists bird keeping and thus bird markets will continue to be a part of Indonesian culture.
Get lost on your way to Taman Sari
The neighbourhood near Taman Sari is probably our favourite part of the entire city. Here tiny alleyways wind lazily in random directions, creating perfect neighbourhood playground for the local children. Watch adults go about their daily life as you pass by their humble homes and enjoy the kids giggling and screaming “bule“ (foreigner) as they point into your direction and shyly run to hide in their homes.
When the hustle and bustle of Jogja got a bit too much, we hopped on a scooter and set off to explore the villages surrounding the city. There is nothing particular to see and nothing special to do but we always find that exploring the countryside is the best way to see real life outside of the tourist hot spots. Drive around, stop for lunch at one of the local warungs and experience true Javanese culture away from the other tourists.
Some tour companies may offer Ratu Boko as an add on to the Prambanan trip. This archaeological site, known to local Javanese as Kraton Ratu Boko, is located on a plateau, about three kilometres south of Prambanan. We didn’t get a chance to check out ourselves but from what we heard from other travelers that it was well worth the trip.
Avoid the main roads and travel to Ratu Boko via smaller side roads for a chance to admire some of the countryside and local life.
Eat Like a Local
You’ll never go hungry in Yogyakarta, as the city offers over 500 restaurant choices ranging from basic eateries on Jalan Malioboro to high-end western restaurants scattered all over the city. But if you want our advice, forget TripAdvisor and choose to eat at one of the small mom and pop shops that pop up on the side of the road in the evenings.
Our favourite was Warung Mie Jakarta, located on Jalan Pakuningratan right across the street from Hotel Pakuning. The shop run by a local family, has only 1 table which we always shared with other locals. The food was so good that we are there daily in an attempt to try every dish on their menu (we fell a few short). Try Nasi Gudeg, Cap Cay, Fuyunghai, or Biskit Ayam and of course, don’t forget to order a glass of their delicious Es Teh.
Essential Travel Info:
Getting in: You can fly directly into Yogyakarta (airport JOG) from a all major domestic cities. Air Asia also connect Yogyakarta with Kuala Lumpur and Tigerair – with Singapore.
Getting around: If you stay in central Jogja you can cover a lot of the city on foot, although becaks, taxis, and horse carriages are easy to come by if you get tired of walking.
Where to stay: We stayed at Hotel Poncowinatan, a local no frills hotel in central Yogyakarta for just $23/night with breakfast. It’s great value for what you get but dont expect anything fancy. If you are looking for something a bit nicer, we recommend the Hotel Neo Malioboro for its convenient location and budget friendly prices. Click here to check availability for your travel dates!
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