I promised another post about the attractions in Yogyakarta in my last blog entry. However, being caught up in meeting relatives means that there’s a delay in me fulfilling the promise. The extra time does give me more space to write more coherently so here it is!
Shopping and exercising your haggling skills
As mentioned, Yogyakarta is a city that I enjoy here in Indonesia. Its relatively compact size means that it’s easy for visitors to complete the whole checklist within two to three nights. Yogya’s deep spiritual link to the traditional Javanese belief system Kejawen and the deep reference to the Sultan, also permeates the whole city. In one of the well-known one-stop Batik shop near Malioboro, Mirota Batik (Jl. Ahmad Yani No. 9, Yogyakarta) – there’s a picture of the previous Sultan Sri Hamengkubuwono IX near the entrance, being positioned and decorated in so much respect and love. This store is also a good place to start for you to hunt for some souvenirs to bring back home along with any kinds of batiks (cap (stamp print) or tulis (hand-drawn)) on silk or cotton. As a guide, batik tulis is more expensive than batik cap as it requires more skills and is more labour intensive to finish one.
If you are on a ‘treasure’ hunt, you can continue your walk along Jl. Malioboro (which is a continuation of Jl. Ahmad Yani). Jl. is an abbreviation of Jalan – an Indonesian word for “Street”. Here you will find more Batik stores lining the street along with t-shirt, batik, bag and knick-knack sellers on both sides of the footpath. Haggle if you like, as it is almost expected by the sellers. I have been advised that you should peg your lowest price to be around 30% of the quoted amount. You can try to ask for 50% of the price, but be prepared for some harsh or even curse words coming from the sellers. Haha. Well, even the most polite Yogyakartans can be unhappy too! You should also try to play coy, if you do like the merchandise – chances are, the same goods are also sold by another seller metres away. Another word of caution is to buy your batiks from the stores only, for the quality that you expect. Besides, you can’t try the shirt or dress if you buy it from the street vendors. Be ready not to find your size, if you are a Westerner, as sizes tend to be on the smaller ends.
If you are still hungry for some batiks, another batik store that we visited is Batik Rumah (Jl. Nogosari Lor No. 8, Yogyakarta). The store, away from the mad crowd of Malioboro, is apparently a favourite for domestic visitors as I could hear some Jakartan accents as well as buyers from outside Yogyakarta. You will also find some bigger size shirts and dresses and since they also produce the batiks that they sell, you have a greater assurance of the quality of the goods as well.
Just be mindful that on established stores, haggling is not acceptable. There is an Indonesian custom however, to ask whether there is a discount if you pay using certain local credit cards, with local banks having promotion tie-ins with various stores all over the country.
Dining like the locals …
Now that shopping is sorted, if you do want to explore the local culinary scene, do ask the locals on where to go – rather than trusting your instinct and visit the first Nasi Gudeg shop that you find. Nasi Gudeg is the local delicacy in Yogyakarta – which is a plate of rice served with some young jackfruit slow-cooked in coconut milk (either served fully absorbed: Gudeg Kering or still with some remaining coconut milk leftover: Gudeg Basah). Some shredded chicken along with spicy krecek are the usual condiments as well. Krecek is cooked beef skin – and although it does sound weird, it is quite a fitting accompaniment to the dish. Again, ask a local for the best Gudeg experience in town rather than paying too much for something that you wouldn’t enjoy. I received this tip from Vera Susanti, the owner/manager of Dusun Jogja Village Inn in Yogyakarta.
There are also other local desserts and food that you may want to try, like bakpia pathok (bite-sized flaky pastry pie with mungbean filling) or gethuk (cassava cake eaten with shredded coconut). The locals would know where to buy the best ones. Yani and I also got to visit a friend of ours who has a chicken noodle restaurant in the heart of the city, Mie Ayam Citra (Jl. Rip Sumoharjo 27, Yogyakarta). We tried the spicy Mie Ayam Rica Komplit (Spicy chicken noodle with the lot) that we enjoyed. Even if you think you can handle some heat in your food, taste the minced spicy chicken first before you slap the chilli sauce on your noodle!
To complete our culinary experience, we also went a bit outside of town to try Sate Klathak P. Pong (Jl. Stadion Sultan Agung (Jl. Imogiri Timur Km 7, Wonokromo)). The meat on the satays are simply seasoned with salt and skewered on bicycle wheel spokes. You can opt to dine traditionally by sitting on the floor with a low-rise table (lesehan) or if you prefer, on the usual table and chairs setting. There are other dishes that you can try – like Tongseng or Tengkleng (grilled meat and bone with the marrow).
Soaking in the culture and history
Jogja is rich with history – and although I have mentioned that I wish more visitors would visit Jogja and that it is actually quite comparable to Bali in terms of attractions and beauty, you may be quite disappointed if you are after the wild and boisterous scenes in Kuta. However, if you are a visitor who is lamenting the booming party scene in Bali, then Jogya may be the place for you.
The place that you should visit is the royal sultanate palace, Kraton Yogyakarta – this is where Sultan of Yogyakarta traditionally resides, and where in the days of old you would see faithful guards and servants working for the sultans, with numerous concubines serving the Sultan. The current Sultan, Sultan Hamengkubuwono X does not have any concubines besides the Queen – following the more acceptable norm, whereas his dad reportedly did not have a designated Queen but have five concubines. A tip for you – whether you are local or not – is to accept the offer for a guide to walk with you, so you get to hear the story behind each room and each artefact. Yani and I passed on the offer, so we missed on some of the background story, although we could read the label on the artefacts. If you don’t speak any Bahasa Indonesia, you will be totally lost as well as the labels are often monolingual only. Be totally respectful as well, and if you are the spiritual kind, follow every guidance on not touching the artefacts or even sitting on the spots that you aren’t allowed to. Cases of possessions have been told where visitors suddenly speak with the most polite form of Javanese demanding various items until the spirit is told to return.
Following the Kraton, you may also want to visit the Taman Sari (the royal water garden) where in the days of old, the ladies from the Kraton would come here to bathe and socialise. We didn’t get to visit Taman Sari due to time limitation, and we also didn’t get to visit Vredeburgfort near Jl. Malioboro. Vredeburgfort is a former Dutch fortress complex in Yogyakarta that has been converted into a museum. If you are hungry for history and the local culture, you may want to visit all of these sites as well while you are in Jogja. If you are the adventurous kind for the local hustle and bustle of a traditional market (along with the visual, auditory and olfactory assaults), you can also walk on from Vredeburgfort to Pasar Beringharjo (Jl. Ahmad Yani No. 16, Yogyakarta). This is where you will experience Asia in its core! This market is just across the road from Mirota Batik (see my notes on shopping in the previous section).
There are other spots in Jogja that we didn’t get to visit, but those that I mention here will be your essential spots to visit. There are more places to visit outside of Jogja, like the southern beaches as well as the historic temples. We got to visit two well-known world heritage temple sites: Borobudur and Prambanan. These temple complexes are on two different areas outside of Yogyakarta, so if you want to do all the physical activities on one day, you can combine these two sites in one day. Alternatively, you may want to go to one of the temple complexes combined with some city attractions on one day, with the other temple complex on a different day. Borobudur is one of a major historic Buddhist temple in South East Asia, whereas Prambanan – the more dramatic temple complex – is an example of a Hindu temple complex with various temples devoted to different gods and causes. Borobudur is more majestic with one massive temple complex rising on the plains surrounded by low-lying hills, and I’ve been told that it is especially pretty around sunrise.
However, Prambanan is dramatic with a number of temple spires reaching to the sky – almost like Angkor Watt or something that you see in an Indiana Jones movie. There are also various minor temples that you can see along the way – like Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon – near Borobudur. If you are a foreigner, unfortunately you will have to pay extra compared to the locals. For example, to enter Borobudur, you will have to pay around USD 20 for an adult, or USD 10 for a concession ticket. For locals, the local entry only costs Rp 30,000 (less than USD 3). This is also the case to enter Prambanan and the Kraton – somebody must have the business acumen to maximise the visitors’ revenue! Another thing that you should be aware of is the annoying number of touts especially in Borobudur. I was forewarned not to show any interest in any of the goods, as once I made an offer to one, the transaction itself would attract other sellers to me. Come well prepared with an umbrella and a bottle of water. Thankfully when we did the tour, both were prepared by the hotel. So, stay away from those renting umbrellas, selling hats, little statues and stupas, or t-shirts and you will thank me for it. Once you have finished the walk up the temple and down again, walk straight on and pass the kiosks. You can always buy the souvenirs in town. Just to show how silly the prices are set – once we came out of the temple complex, we were offered 5 t-shirts for Rp 100,000 (roughly around USD 8). Once we walked through the kiosks, another tout called out to us to sell 8 t-shirts for the same amount, and nearing the exit, another seller offered 10 for the Rp 100,000. While this is a small amount in the scheme of things, nobody likes to be taken for a ride.
So those are my tips for Yogyakarta – I’m sure we will return to this beautiful town to explore other tourist attractions here and try other culinary spots. I hope you will consider visiting Yogyakarta either along with your visit to Bali, or instead of the overly touristy Bali. Who knows, perhaps you will fall in love with the city as have I.