Yogyakarta is an amazing city with plenty of things to do. It is not only the heart of Javanese culture, it is also the place where you see Buddhism and Hinduism at its best. Magnificent ancient temples and royal temples will dazzle you; while cultural dances and traditional activities will win your heart. Here is a list of Top Ten Things To Do in Yogyakarta which you could consider for a 5 – 7 days stay in Yogyakarta.
1. Watch Sunrise at Borobudur (at Magelang)
While the list is not written in any specific order, watching sunrise at Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist temple, definitely ranks as number 1 on this list. We woke up at 3 am, got transported to Manohara Hotel located on the temple grounds, got our tickets (380,000 IDR for foreign visitors and 250,000 IDR for local visitors), and started walking in complete darkness with the aid of the torchlight. It was a 10 – 15 minutes short walk to the foot of the UNESCO World Heritage complex, and a short climb of another 15 minutes to the top of the complex. You could also consider staying in Manohara hotel itself that packages the stays with sunrise / sunset tours and you won’t have to wake up as early.
We waited for an hour + before the sun came out. The moment when the first ray of light appeared in the sky, everyone quietened to witness the slow emergence of the sun. The sun slowly lifted the veil of darkness, allowing us to catch a glimpse of misty Borobudur and far beyond. Don’t be fooled by the photos that you are the only one looking at sunrise, because you are not; and there will be hundreds of other people at the same time, so have fun finding your way to avoid all the people to capture the sunrise !
After the sunrise, spend some time to explore this enormous temple with meticulous details of Buddha statues and relief panels.
For more information on Borobudur, check out the official website : borobudurpark.com
2. Visit Ratu Boko Palace
Named after the legendary King Boko, the Ratu Boko Palace remains an unsolved mystery. It is unclear whether it was used as a palace , a religious site or perhaps a defensive fortress. You’ll find at this 16 hectare compound gates, temples, pavilions and a well built of andesite stone.
Ratu Boko Palace is also an excellent vantage point to get a view of Prambanan Temple Compounds from afar; while the sprawling city of Yogyakarta could be seen from the cafe in the compound.
For More information on Ratu Bako Palace, check out the official website http://borobudurpark.com/kraton-ratu-boko-temple/
3. Visit the Prambanan Temple Compound
Built during the mid 9th century, the Prambanan Temple is the largest Hindu compound in South East Asia. The temple compound has an alternative name – Rara Jonggrang, a legend popularized by the locals. It was said that the compound originally had almost 1000 temples. Princess Rara Jonggrang gave the task of building 1000 temples in one night to Prince Bandung Bondowoso as a prerequisite to marry her. With the help of demons, Bandung Bondowoso was able to build 999 temples. Without the intention to marry him, Princess Rara Jonggang asked the villagers to perform morning activities such as pounding rice and successfully tricked the demons into thinking that morning has broken. Furious at the princess, Prince Bandung Bondowoso cast a spell on her, turning her into a stone, making her the 1000th statue in the compound.
Legends and myths aside, the compound doesn’t really have 1000 temples; it has 240 temples instead. The major ones that are intact include the three main temples dedicated to the three deities: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, three Wahana (vehicle) temples and 10 smaller temples; while the 224 pewara (shrines) are mostly in rubbles. It’s interesting that the deity’s vehicles get their own temples too. Temple Nandi is dedicated to Shiva’s vehicle the bull; Temple Garuda is dedicated to Vishnu’s vehicle the bird while Temple Angsa is dedicated to Brahma’s vehicle the swan. Explore the temples and you’ll find statues of gods and their respective vehicles enshrined within.
For more information on Prambanan Temple Compounds, see the official website http://borobudurpark.com/our-sites/prambanan/
4. Watch the Ramayana Ballet
Of Hindu origin, the Ramayana story is also popular in Indonesia. Being a country of mass diversity, the love story of Rama and Sinta is depicted very differently across the country. In Bali, it’s performed with a choir of men in trans, while in Yogyakarta, it’s performed in Javanese style with traditional gamelan orchestra against the spectacular Prambanan Temples at the background. If you are planning to watch the ballet, plan to visit the Prambanan Temples around sunset (4 pm or so), then head over to the amphitheater for the show which starts at 7.30 pm.
Ticket price vary from IDR 40,000 (student price) to IDR 375,000. For convenience, you could opt for dinner + show packages at IDR 375,000. The buffet dinner starts at 6 pm and it has a decent array of western and Indonesian dishes. For more information on ticket price, see the official website http://borobudurpark.com/ticket-price/.
5. Visit the Water Castle (Taman Sari)
Built in 1758, the Water Castle (or Taman Sari) is the former royal garden where the sultan relaxed and enjoyed his leisure times with his family.
The pool was designed conveniently with towers surrounding the pool, so the sultan could watch his concubines frolicking in the pool. The pool usually has water in it but unfortunately they were doing maintenance work so the water was drained.
Don’t forget to explore further into the palace compound to see the unique circular mosque known as Sumur Gumuling. The structure was constructed with acoustics in mind so that no speaker was required when when the prayer leader called for prayers. The way of reaching the mosque is just as the unique as the structure itself because you’ll have to go through an underground tunnel that was once the escape route for the sultan and his family.
For more information on Tamansari, see Indonesia’s Official Tourism Page
6. Wander around the artsy Kampoeng Cyber
Located right behind the Water Palace, Kampoeng Cyber is splattered with artsy murals everywhere. Even Mark Zuckerberg visited it !
The village sports some really funky streets that’s the result of an eccentric fusion of traditional Javanese murals and modern murals; every corner is a surprise.
If you get tired of walking, the village is also dotted with cafes where you could take a grab and get a cup of coffee.
7. Visit Kraton Yogyakarta (Royal Palace)
Completed in 1790, the Royal Palace was designed with specific orientation that follows the rules of Javanese cosmology. The palace faces north to Mount Merapi and its rear facing south to the Indian Ocean that are the home of mystical spirits.
It was a strange feeling walking around the palace knowing that the present sultan, Sultan Hamengku Buwono X actually still resides at the palace . With the palace guards around (lots of them) and seeing the sultan’s artifacts, it was as if I was making part of the palace’s history.
The palace’s many pavilions hold different functions such as for banquets and coronation.
Some areas in the palace are open as exhibition space while other areas are out of bounds. The museum is open daily from 8 am to 2 pm and it closes 1 hour earlier on Fridays.
The palace holds cultural musical and dance performances daily. The performance starts at 10 am from Mondays to Thursdays; 9 am on Fridays, and 9.30 am on Saturday and Sundays.
For more information on the Royal Palace, see Indonesia’s Official Tourism Website.
8. Visit the Ullen Sentalu Museum
The Ullen Sentalu Museum is the place to go if you are a history buff. The guided tour provides insights into the Javanese culture and the history of Dutch colonization. You’ll see many rare paintings, photos and letters of the royal family. The museum also exhibits antique batik collections. No photos are allowed in the museum except the outdoor area of the museum.
Drop by for lunch at the Beukenhof Restaurant attached to the museum grounds which serves drop-dead-gorgeous-cheesecakes on top of excellent western meals (I think I could totally skip proper food and just eat cheesecake for lunch!).
Admission Fee IDR 30,000 for local visitors and IDR 50,000 for foreign visitors.
For more information, see Ulen Sentalu Official Website
8. Go for a Batik Class at the Museum Batik Yogyakarta
Ever w0ndered how batik is made ? Here is your chance to make a piece of batik for yourself at the Museum Batik Yogyakarta. It’s actually easier than it looks. The instructor gave us a piece of cloth with pre-drawn designs, a pot of batik wax, and all we had to do was to use the tjanting tool to drip the wax onto the pencil-lines. It took sometime to get used to controlling the tjanting tool to make sure the batik wax is dripping onto the cloth evenly but once you get the hang of it, a beautiful piece of handmade batik cloth is on its way !
The museum is the very first museum to be established in Yogyakarta in 1977 and exhibits more than 1000 pieces of batiks in different regional and traditional styles.
9. Go For a Silver Making Class in Kota Gede
The silversmiths originally established themselves in Kota Gede making silver for the king and the royal family around the 16th century. Today, Kota Gede is a vibrant suburb with the silver trade as the major industry. Many of the houses you see here have the extraordinary blends of Javanese and Dutch elements.
We went to Ansor’s Silver for the silver-making class. We tried to make a small piece of heart-shaped pendant – a meticulous process that requires lots of patience.
Some of us managed to make the pendant, some of us did not (me !); purchasing a piece of silver at the gallery downstairs might be an easier way out 😛
10. Do Some Shopping on Maliobro Street
It would be unforgivable if you visited Yogyakarta and you went home empty handed because there is so much to see and so much to buy. Get yourself a piece of batik at least because that would be the ultimate souvenir from Yogyakarta. If you shop at smaller road-side stores, you could typically bargain till about IDR 50,000 to IDR 60,000 for a piece of batik. Bigger stores have fixed prices at the range of IDR 70,000 and up. Hamzah Batik is probably the biggest batik store in the area, selling everything under one roof – antiques, slippers, handbags and a wide range of batik for both men and women. If you are pressed for time (or if your other half does not want to walk the whole street with you), Hamzah Batik would be a good option to go.
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