Indonesia, A country that is the worlds largest archipelago with over 13,000 islands along has the worlds highest Muslim population. The country has many special meanings to me. Most importantly is that it is the place of my birth and this country is rich in culture that I want to know more about. A month before this trip, my brother decided that he and I should take a trip somewhere during Chinese New Year as this year we had a 4 day weekend. After weeks of debating on destinations, we decided on Yogyakarta. We choose this city in Indonesia as it is one I have never been to and, for a history buff like me, it is filled with world heritage sites.
After a carefully planned itinerary, which allowed us to see all the main historical sites along with some Batik shopping, we then booked our flight. This soon turned out to be a bit of a problem. In terms of mass movement, CNY is compared to thanksgiving in the United States as it as a lot of people going back home to visit their relatives. It made getting flights rather difficult. After some research we soon ended up choosing Garuda Indonesia. Garuda were the only airline to offer convenient times but with a draw back. We were forced to transit through Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport.
Soon it was time for us to travel and web left the day after CNY eve when the traffic would be lighter. We got into the cab and headed straight for Changi Airport Terminal 3. The terminal was relatively empty and my brother and I were able to secure exit row seats for both our flights. After clearing immigration we got a light bite to eat along with a keyboard for my IPad for me to blog with and then we headed for the aircraft. After a short flight we soon landed at Jakarta’s Soekarno Hatta International Airport.
We had a choice upon landing. We could try to get ourselves onto the earlier flight to Yogyakarta or wait 2 and a bit hours for our original flight. Sadly after much effort we were forced to do the latter but we were able to find a lounge for the two of us to relax in and plan the trip. 3 hours later and we made it onto our final flight to Yogyakarta. The landing into Yogyakarta offered up some amazing scenery of the mountains and the beautiful coast line that stretched on for miles on end. As we were going to land the heavens poured in and we were in for a wet landing. As we touched down the two jets of our 737 roared as the pilot engaged the reverse thrust and soon came to a stop just before the end of the runway. We then taxied to the terminal to find it had no gates. At the terminal we had to wait for the airport staff to provide us with umbrellas as there was no covered walk way between the airplane and the terminal.
The approach into Yogyakarta
One of the many local airlines that fly here
After crossing what was quite literally the length of the airports main terminal building we were finally inside and started to look for our driver who would take us to the hotel. After finding out driver we headed for the car, a Toyota Innova, and went into the town towards our hotel. The had a good mix of the modernity that Indonesia is slowing coming to along with some of the old traditional housing. Soon we arrived at the hotel, the Tentrem hotel and we checked in and freshened up prior to going out for dinner. The hotel boasted modern amenities that many would come to expect in hotels in places such as Singapore or Hong Kong and incredibly friendly staff. We decided to eat outside for our first dinner in Yogyakarta. The staff at the hotel had managed to find us a fully vegetarian restaurant that served only Indonesian cuisine. We then proceeded to get a taxi to bring us to the restaurant. It was during this cab right we got a full glimpse of the city the two of us would be spending the next two days in.
The city has a lot of cultural heritage and it is the only region in Indonesia to be in a separate government zone. This is because it is the only state in Indonesia to still have a Monarchy. The city still had many of the old buildings from its Dutch colonial past along with its royal past. There were a lot of the old traiditional buildings, which the restaurant we would be dining at, was a great example. The restaurant was a series of straw huts which had a lot of little tables in it. Since my brother and I had not eaten since 7 am we decided to try a lot of the food. We tried Kuay Teow goreng, mushroom and tempeh satay, tahu goreng, gado gado all with copious amounts of sambal spice. By the end of the meal we were incredibly stuffed, we felt like we just attended a family reunion dinner, which seemed pretty apt as it was the first day of Chinese New Year. After the dinner, which only cost us 16 Singapore dollars, we got into a cab to head back to the hotel. After we got back to the hotel, we called our parents just to see how they were doing and to tell them about the mini feast the two of us had. Then we made plans for tomorrow in which we would try to cover almost all of the major sites in this region of Java.
Food glorious food
Tahu goreng with insane sambal
A warm lemon-ginger drink
The next day we woke up bright and early to prepare for the long day ahead. The day started with a big breakfast and a mental preparation for the long amounts of driving and walking we would be doing. The first stop was the World Famous Borobudur temple. The temple was constructed sometime in the 12 century and it was completed 300 years before the famous Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The construction took over 75 years and during that time it had the same architect throughout. The architecture is predominantly features Buddha statues, 503 to be exact and over 47 Stupas. What was interesting was that the Buddha statues were each doing one of 6 different hand poses. The temple has 4 levels to it and the very top is over 35 metres above the base which is where the entrance to the temple is. Just like Angkor Wat, the walls on each level had carvings which depicted a story. In this temple it was depicting the story of the king who ordered the construction.
After the temple, we drove to Mount Merapi, one of the active volcanos that populate Indonesia. It towers over the city at a height of 3670 metres and it last erupted in November 2010. The eruption cause massive damage to the area a lot of which is still visible. We drove to base camp to go round the base on one of their off road tours. At the place my brother and were in line trying to book the off road tour on one of many of their old Toyota Land Cruisers. Whilst waiting for the car, two accountants from Jakarta offered to share their car with us for the trip. After some minor discussion my brother and I agreed to share the car. The two accountants we had met were called Valentina and Karina, two accountants in their 20s who were visiting the region during their CNY break.
Nalin and I with Valentina and Karina
It was their second time to Mount Merapi as their first visit was prior to the last major eruption in 2010 so all the previous paths have been destroyed. The off road tour took us to some interesting sites around the base of the volcano. The fist site was a little shrine/museum dedicated to the victims who died or lost possessions during the last eruption. The next site was rock formation called Alien Rock. Its namesake comes from the almost humanlike face formed from the lava flowing from the Volcano. The next site was a place where there was a bunker built to protect people from the lava in case of an eruption.
During the last eruption two people were killed inside the bunker when the door did ott close properly and the lava flowed in. The last site was a lava dam, built to protect the low lying villages from the lava. There was heat and steam coming from the rock formations surrounding the dam.
After the visit to the volcano we went straight for one of the oldest Hindu Temples in the region, Prambanan temple. The temple complex has shrines for the Hindu holy trinity, Shiva, the destroyer, Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver. The complex has two main temples, one dedicated to the holy trinity which had inscriptions depicting the story of how this temple came to be. The other temple, 800 metres south of the main temple has carvings showing the story of Ramayana.
The temple was quite crowded today as a massive school group had come to visit. The architecture is similar to the Borobudur temple we saw earlier in the morning but with no stupas and no Buddha statues. It was quite interesting to see a strong Buddhist and Hindu influence in this area. Indonesia has the worlds largest Muslim population with over a hundred and thirty million and yet so much of it’s history is filled with Hindu and Buddhist routes. Many of which are still seen in modern times in the resort island of Bali. After taking some photos of the temple we headed to the smaller temple to have a look at the Ramayana carvings. On the way my brother and I noticed small nurseries for children to play in and a puppet show where they performed the Ramayana every week. The long walk to the other temple turned out to be a waste as the temple was closed but nevertheless we were able to sneak a couple shots and walked away with some good memories.
After this we headed to a lookout point where we could see the entire city with Mount Merapi in the background. The place was called Roku Baku and just like the previous sights we saw today it was the sight of an old Hindu temple. To get to the highest point on the site we had to climb up several stairs and a small incline slope towards the side of the temple to get a glimpse of the view. The view was quite breathtaking as the volcano really made the town look small under its impressive size. After visiting the lookout point and enjoying a complementary drink, my brother and I headed back to the hotel for some rest and a short trip to the spa. We both got massages to relieve all the stress and pain from the walking and travelling done today.
After refreshing and treating ourselves we went for dinner where I managed to get myself some proper Indonesian Mie Goreng. I have always loved Mie Goreng and when it’s made properly with sambal chilli it is a god send to the taste buds. Along with the Mie Goreng we had some drinks too and afterwards we got some dessert. For the dessert my brother and I ordered too much, we ended up having a cheesecake, a chocolate cake and an Indonesian speciality. After the meal, the two of us went to sleep to prepare for our last day in Yogyakarta and our journey back home.
The next day we woke up fully refreshed and ready for the day. We decided to do a little shopping as this region was famous for good quality Batik shirts but we first did some sightseeing. We first stopped by the old palace where the royal family which still exists today, used to live in historical times. It was the residence of the family till the predecessor to the current Sultan passed away in 1988. The palace was well maintained and all the visitors were not allowed to step on any of the marble flooring so we had to go around the main floors of the complex. The Palace was quite crowded as there was a large school group and several tour groups as well. After the visit to the old palace we visited a place called the Water Palace. This was the old palace where the king’s concubines would be accommodated. It is called the water palace as this was the site of a large bath where the concubines would bathe and clean. At the palace there was a lookout point where we got a bird’s eye view of the place. Afterwards we went to the batik store to get us some authentic batik shirts. After much trial and error we finally found two shirts, one for each of us, that we liked.
Soon we had to head back to the hotel to prepare for our long journey back home. After settling our luggage and the bill we sat down for our last lunch which consisted of yet more Mie Goreng. Then we went to the airport to settle in to the long flight back home.