Indonesia p3, Java

Written by on June 25, 2013 in Asia, General with 2 Comments

I’d been in Indonesia for almost a month, but most of my time had been spent underwater and at dive resorts, so I thought it was about time I checked out the more cultural side of this country. Yogyakarta sounded like the perfect place to start.  Yogyakarta, which some have nicknamed “Yogya”, pronounced “Jog-ja”, is a small-ish town of <400,000 people that is nestled right in the heart of Java, an Indonesian island with a population of 135 million.  Yes – you read that correctly…135 million people!  Java is the most populous island in the world, and holds 60% of Indonesia’s population.  Somehow Yogya has managed to retain a lot of culture and tradition and is renowned as a centre of classical Javanese fine art and culture such as batik, ballet, drama, music, poetry, and puppet shows.  It also is in a perfect location to explore two nearby UNESCO heritage temples, Borobudur and Prambanan.

I didn’t arrive until late, but it was early enough to arrange to be picked up to watch the sunrise the next morning over Borobudur, a Buddhist temple about an hour away.  There was a 2 hour time difference between Java and Papua, and I’d been waking up early for diving in Papua, so figured if there was ever a day that would be easier to wake up at 330am, it would be tomorrow.

I woke up for sunrise and dozed off on the minivan ride to our lookout point.  There were already 50 or so people up there setting up their cameras on tripods and preparing for the sun to come up.  It was surprisingly a bit chilly up there, and I ordered a coffee just to warm up my hands.  I don’t have a tripod or a camera with a big lens, so this was the best I could do for a pre-dawn shot.  You can kind of see the temple complex in the middle and to the right a bit.  Mount Merapi, an active volcano, looms in the background.


As it got lighter and lighter, it also became obvious that a giant cloud of fog was moving in fast.  Literally just as the sun’s rays broke across the horizon, our view was completely blocked.  Doh!  I can not believe I woke up at 3am for this!  Are you fricking kidding me?


We hiked down the 15 minute trail to meet our driver and headed towards the temple.  Now that it was light outside, I was able to take in the beautiful landscapes dotted with rice fields and small villages.  I hired a guide to teach me about the temple, which was cheap (in my opinion) at ~$8.


Built in the 9th century, the temple’s design reflects India’s influence on the region. It also depicts the gupta style from India and shows influence of Buddhism as well as Hinduism. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.  Evidence suggest Borobudur was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th century decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam


I was quite surprised to be a star attraction for some Indonesians who obviously didn’t live in touristy areas and hadn’t seen many blond white women before.  I was asked to take dozens of pictures with people throughout the morning, which was cute at first, but got to wear on me after awhile.


After Borobudur, we made a quick stop at the Mendut Temple, which wasn’t as impressive, but did have some interesting statues inside, as well as a gigantic Banyan tree next door.


I was pretty wiped out and went back to the hotel to take a nap.  I had purposely picked a hotel with a pool, but it rained all afternoon, so it didn’t do me much good.  It was a pretty cute place, though.


I didn’t even really need the air conditioning either.  Lesson learned.  The rainy afternoon did give me the opportunity to head to the visa office as I needed to apply for a 30 day extension to my visa.  I always hate parting with my passport, but if it was going to give me another month to enjoy Indonesia, fine.  I paid extra to have the extension rushed so I could pick it up the next afternoon.

On the way back to the hotel, I attempted to go to the movies.  Apparently everyone in Yogyakarta also had the same idea as I encountered the longest line at a cinema that I have ever seen.  Anywhere!  A little bummed out, I headed out to the street to find another taxi to head back to the hostel as no movie was worth waiting  that long.  I was approached by several guys who were scalping tickets to all the afternoon movies.  They wanted triple the normal price for a movie if I wanted to go in the next hour, but only double if I wanted to go that night.  Are you kidding me?!?  I guess I was not going to see a movie in Yogya!

I brought my laptop to dinner with me at a little cafe across the street, where I tried the Sate Ayam (chicken satays with peanut sauce) and chased it down with a couple Bintangs.  There weren’t many people out due to the rain, so I returned to my guesthouse and caught up on a couple more episodes of Game of Thrones.  I’ve since finished watching Season 3 and all I have to say is OMG!  Episode 9 was CRAZY!

Anyway, I spent time the next morning bouncing around to various tourist shops inquiring and eventually setting up my transportation and accommodation for the next couple of days.  The weather was iffy, so I jumped in an ojek (like a bicycle rickshaw) and stopped at several nearby batik factories as I was interested in how batiks are  made.  There is something so peaceful about being driven around in one of these things.  It’s such a slow pace, and my driver was super-friendly and chatty and just happy to have a client.  He drove me around for 2 hours for the equivalent of a dollar.  Sweet!


They were more than happy to take me on a tour and walk me through the process, which was really interesting.  The woman below is hand drawing the design with wax.


Here’s a guy who was using a stamp to create the design.  I learned that designs in one region may vary from traditional designs from another region.


Then the cloth is dyed, and then a second application of wax is applied before the cloth is dyed another color.  Next, all the wax that has been applied thus far is removed by heating the wax and scraping it off and also by applying hot water and sponging off the remaining wax.  This process repeats, depending on how many colors are used.  It sounds simple, but batik is considered an art form and most batiks are done completely by hand.  There is a big difference in quality (and cost) between those done by hand vs those done by machine.  It was cool to see the finished products hanging to dry, and gave me a much higher appreciation for the art form and why it’s so expensive to buy real batiks.


Later that afternoon I hopped in a taxi to go pick up my passport and then headed to Prambanan, a Hindu temple just outside of town, where I had hoped to catch a good sunset and then was staying after to see the Ramayana Ballet in an outdoor theater nearby.  Built in the 9th century, Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.


I hired a private guide, which was only ~$8 and I thought well worth it as my days of carrying around my Lonely Planet guide have long been over.  Sadly, the bad weather continued and it began to rain just before we entered the complex. WTF?  Rain or no rain, the temple was still impressive.


Prambanan bears a strong resemblance to the type of architecture at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, although there is just the one location here, rather than the complex of temples in Angkor.  I wandered around for a couple hours and had a lot of time to kill before the ballet, which didn’t start until 730p.  There was no sunset, as the rain continued through the afternoon, so I sought shelter at various food stands just outside the exit. When you exit the temple, all the ladies running their working at the stalls run out to try to sell you something and get you to stop at their stall. I felt bad giving my business to just one, so had one beer in four different ones, as I made my way towards the entrance by the time they closed.  It was fun getting to know a couple of the ladies and playing with the kids while I passed the time.  They eventually kicked me out when the temple closed at 6, at which point I headed over to the theater.

The outdoor venue was actually quite impressive, with an amazing view of the now lit-up temple in the background.  Many people were on package tours which included a buffet dinner at the restaurant inside the theater.   I wasn’t hungry, and was able to talk them into letting me in if I ordered a drink.  The rain cleared for awhile, making the setting pretty fantastic.


Of course, as soon as the ballet started, the rain started to fall again.  I couldn’t believe they kept dancing in the rain for nearly 20 minutes, until puddles started forming and people started leaving.  They decided to take a 30 minute break to see if the rain would stop.  I was just about to leave when they called us on the loud speaker to return.  Luckily the rain held off for the last hour of the show.  The stage, with Prambanan behind it, was quite spectacular.


And the costumes were amazing.


But, in all honesty, I was falling asleep by the end, and was ready to go about half an hour before the show finished.  I was sitting next to a nice American family, who offered me a ride with their driver, which was a nice gesture as I was dreading having to negotiate with the taxis now that the rain had started again.

The next morning, I was picked up at 8am in a minivan and spent the next 13 hours driving East to the base of Mount Bromo, where I got a few hours sleep before the 3am wake up call to head up to a viewpoint on top of Mount Penanjakan to watch the sunrise over a few volcanoes in the area.   It was way too crowded at the top, but I was relieved that it looked like the clouds, fog and rain was going to spare us and we were actually going to see a sunrise.


It was beautiful!  Mount Bromo is the second volcano deep, on the left of this picture, with the smoke coming out of its caldera. Mount Senaru is the big volcano in the background, and is still active.  Mount Batok is in the foreground.


After the sun came up, we hopped into our 4-wheel drive and headed down to the base of Bromo, where we followed a trail over what felt like a lunar landscape and climbed several flights of stairs


for the chance to peer down into Bromo’s steaming caldera.


Mount Batok was to our right on our walk and is no longer active, which is why it actually has some vegetation on its slopes.


At last, the weather in Java cooperated.  If I had come all this way to be fogged in, it would have been extremely disappointing.  Especially as we had just as long a travel day in front of us.  It was only 9am and we headed down the hill to have breakfast and check out of our guesthouse before the grueling 11 hour journey to Bali.  If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed in the area near Bromo as it was quite beautiful and would have been great to go on a hike or two and break up the journey.  The landscape reminded me of Sapa in Vietnam.


Oh well.  I probably should have spent more time exploring additional “treasures” in Java, but I was ready to head back to Bali and to find out first hand why it’s such a popular (and touristy) destination.

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2 Reader Comments

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  1. Louis Robinson says:

    This is the first time I have viewed everything you have done and you really put us to shame !! You have been so active and it looks like you are having a great time

    Catch up soon


  2. Herb Glatter says:

    “scalping” movie tickets priceless! did they offer popcorn?

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