As the 15th largest country in the world, Yogyakarta is acclaimed as the gateway to Indonesia’s heritage and culture, decked with captivating ancient marvels and active volcanoes on the ground.
Yogyakarta (often referred as Jogja) lies at the south of Central Java in Indonesia. Not to be confused with it’s sister state of Jakarta, Yogyakarta is different in many ways as compared to the capital city of Indonesia. To put it simply, Yogyakarta is a retreat of urban senses for one to discover the timeworn dwellings in the metropolis.
Heart of An Empire
Back in the 16th and 17th century, Sultanate of Mataram was a major power and reigned the central island of Java with influence through a strong practice of tradition and social culture. Yogyakarta is the capital of the sovereignty. Although Mataram kingdom slowly lost its dominance after Dutch colonisation, the charm still retains and is remembered by the Javanese people who are the largest ethnic group in Indonesia till today.
The city fascinates me with distinct traces of the bygone days in modern living and based in the midst of all this is Yogyakarta Marriot Hotel that let you live like a royalty.
The Crown of Town
As a traveller, it is always a plus point to be able to save time moving from one place to another especially in the city. The newest establishment in town,Yogyakarta Marriot Hotel hold all the aces in location and hospitality. The hotel is only a 20-minute car ride away from Adi Sutjipto International Airport and is located close to most of the wonders in Yogyakarta.
My Javanese experience extends from checking in to my sleek contemporary room to the daily warm greetings and smiles from everyone as well as getting pampered in the hotel’s Quan Spa. The people and its surroundings make it felt like a royal stay to me especially with the classic Marriot’s signature interior adapting the local arts with bold Kawung batik pattern and traditional weaves furniture in drawing out the city’s prized craftsmanship.
The beauty of Yogyakarta is reflected in its diversity of history and culture. Although Islam is the most practiced religion in Indonesia, Central Java takes pride in the primitive practitioners of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Borobudur remains is one of the greatest historical sites in Asia and the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The structure is entirely made of volcanic stones, cut, carved and built using indentations and joints. I have never woken up for sunrise and I am grateful to witness a spectacular daybreak from the sacred place for my first time. Since Borobudur is built around a hill, it was a sight to behold with two twin volcanoes in the horizon at sunrise. It is also recommended to hire a tour guide on site to get the most out of your experience. They are well spoken in English and knowledgeable of the relics in Borobudur.
Another man-made wonder is a 9th century Hindu sacred sanctuary known for its tall and intricate architecture. Prambanan Temple stands at 47 metres high in the city. Along the walls of the three temples, the Hindu epic of Ramayana is carved in stone and at night time, see the saga come to life in Ramayana Ballet at the temple grounds. The dance drama is led by gamelan performed under the open night sky with the three iconic temples in the background.
I also made a visit to Taman Sari Water Castle – a former royal palace for the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. Taman Sari is a resting place for Sultan Hamengkubuwono I and his family in the 18th century with water gardens, pools, pavilions and a mosque. It was said that the King at his high tower will watch his Queen and concubines bathing in the pools and throw a rose at them. The remains of the palace can only make me imagine how beautiful the place used to be. Presently, the surrounding of the castle is a settlement for thousands of residents who are skilled in batik-making and painting.
This retreat of senses is unfulfilled without savouring the traditional foods of Yogyakarta. Executive Chef Kamal of Yogyakarta Kitchen and Taman Sari Bar & Grill in the hotel is more than happy to recommend all the tasty cuisines in town and I am not disappointed. A must-try is Gudeg Jogja, a traditional dish made of braised jackfruit served with rice garnished with chicken serunding, sambal krecek, boiled quailed egg and fried tempe. For a twist, taste a western fusion of gudeg with homemade pizza at Taman Sari Bar & Grill.
Another specialty that I love is bakpia – a sweet pastry with fillings. This Chinese-Indonesian dessert is commonly filled with mung beans but now there’s a variety of stuffing like chocolate, coffee and cheese sold everywhere in the city.
Good To Know
• Learn more of Javanese myths, legends, culture and art in Ullen Sentalu Musuem. The private museum holds a display of paintings, treasures and relics from royal palaces.
• Cab-hailing services are abundant and cheap in the city. You can easily get around but do take note of prime hours (after work hours) as you can get stuck in the congestion.
• Central Java and Yogyakarta’s largest mall is right next to Yogyakarta Marriot Hotel. You can do last minute shopping for souvenirs and local brands in Hartono Mall.
• Take a jeep ride to see Mount Merapi–the most active volcano in Indonesia. ‘Sisa Hartaku’ shows the relics of destruction from the most recent eruption in 2010.
Words and photos by Jessy Wong