Whenever I visit a new country or a new city, I sometimes get the feeling whether I like or dislike the place. Maybe it’s my judgmental side or maybe it’s the vibe of the place. It’s that vibe that makes me like Bratislava when I visited it in 2008, fresh from the more vibrant Budapest. As soon as I stepped out of the ferry that took me along the Danube, I smiled – by that time, I hadn’t even had any experience with the city at all and yet, I knew that I liked the city. It’s a similar kind of feeling that made me love Norway and New Zealand. It’s the vibe of the place.
Yogyakarta gives me that feeling too. In a country that is bursting at the seam with development, Yogyakarta (or locally known as Yogya or Jogja) manages to keep her character intact. The residents are well-known by the locals for being polite and courteous (although I’ve been warned not to expect any courtesy if I haggle too low!). The last time I visited Jogja was when I was still in Junior High, so I expected a lot of changes with the city.
I was relieved that the character that I love is still present as Yani and I stepped out of the train from Bandung. After seven hours sitting down on the Argo Wilis, I was ready to explore and walk around already. The city has certainly undergone a lot of changes: we could see flyovers and new buildings and developments around. Apparently there will be four new malls in town, to supplement the two existing ones. When I was here nearly twenty years ago, there weren’t any whatsoever.
Yani and I stay in a boutique hotel called Dusun Jogja Village Inn – it is located in the southern part of the city and it is still around ten minutes from the main attractions in town, like the Malioboro shopping precinct, the Kraton Yogyakarta royal sultanate palace, Vredeburgfort museum, as well as the Taman Sari royal water garden. I will write more tomorrow about the places to visit in Yogyakarta, as the plan for today is to visit Kraton Yogyakarta and Vredeburgfort before we continue our trip eastward to Surabaya.
The hotel impressed me as we arrived – we were welcomed by two cool glasses of Wedang Secang – a local drink made of ginger and cinnamon, along with other local spices. The whole complex is tastefully decorated in Javanese designs without going overboard with the whole theme. The koi pool and the relatively large swimming pool in the middle of the complex give the hotel a sense of serenity and luxury. I was also impressed with our room – all of the mod-cons are here, including the power outlets that are already equipped with universal adaptors and a wi-fi router in each room. Free wi-fi is almost a compulsory feature for me now – haha! All of these make the hotel feel like an established luxury hotel but with a down-to-earth resort feel.
I also happen to know the owner/manager – we crossed paths when I was an undergrad student in Adelaide and she was doing her high school there. Vera Susanti is very friendly and even offered to drive us to dinner, with a brief stop in a well-known batik store near Malioboro. She mentions that the philosophy that she and her brother Paul applies to all of the staff is for them to mingle and know more about the guests as they interact. She helped to arrange a car and driver for us yesterday to visit the world heritage temple sites around Yogyakarta – Borobudur and Prambanan. She even lent Yani her thermos flask filled with hot ginger drink, as Yani was feeling a tad under-the-weather yesterday.
She also offered to get me the local Nasi Gudeg delicacy (a dish made out of young jackfruit and coconut milk) for our breakfast today as she was afraid that I wouldn’t know which seller to visit and that I’d overpay. Whoa. That is certainly a five-star concierge service! Of course, knowing her as a friend certainly plays a part, but looking at the courteousness of her staff and how they are eager to interact with you and help you without being overbearing, I can’t help thinking that she’d do similarly to her guests.
Of course there are things that she would need to continue to improve with the hotel, but I’d rather stay in a place with a character than a hotel with a no identity. As my Dad said once, “Every ivory has its crack”. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the hotel to any of my friends when they come to Yogyakarta for a visit. Two or three nights in town are recommended. We didn’t get to try the spa treatment nor the swimming pool – perhaps I’ll do that the next time I’m back in town!
I will write more tomorrow about my experience in exploring Borobudur, Prambanan and other spots in Yogyakarta. After Bali, Jogja is reportedly the next most popular tourist destination in Indonesia. Although I want Jogja to stay the way it is, I wish more visitors would discover how good Yogyakarta is. It has deep spiritual culture comparable to Bali, great historic temple sites, courteous locals, great food, and great spots to buy batiks and souvenirs. It definitely has the vibe.