Indonesia: Exploring Yogyakarta, Java

Following a little intrepid island-hopping, it is time to explore Indonesia’s cultural city of Yogyakarta, on the exotic island of Java…

Apologies in advance for the poor-quality scanned 35mm film photos. Negatives and prints are in poor condition, from decades of less than optimal, storage.

Getting to Yogyakarta

After several fabulous days exploring the dizzying manic pace of Jakarta, need to keep travelling, with the island of Java to explore.

Train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

On arriving at the train station, discover that the 19:40 overnight train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta leaves at 20:40. Perhaps the scheduled times were lost in translation.

So, after killing 3 hours roaming through the station, the train finally arrives – only 20-minutes late. Unusual for Indonesia in 1998.

Train journey

Although more expensive, our Executive Class with only slightly reclining seats and not a sleeper cabin on the Kereta train is marginally better than 2nd Class.

A poor-quality evening meal is served, which is included in the ticket’s price, although we need to pay for all drinks, tea, coffee, and even a pillow for the night.

After a rough and uncomfortable, very long restless night with only sporadic fits of sleep, the train slowly rolls into Yogyakarta around 07:00, some 10-hours later. Almost upright is not conducive to sleep. Unlike Jakarta, nothing opens in Yogyakarta until 10:00 am. Book ourselves into the clean Monica Hotel before strolling through the city. (Surprisingly, this hotel is still open in 2021.)

A little on Yogyakarta

Gradually, Yogyakarta wakes from its sleep, coming alive with markets, stalls, and restaurants slowly opening for business. People and goods are moving frantically everywhere as I watch while devouring a tasty breakfast.

Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Yogyakarta seems to be bursting with tourists, more so than Jakarta.

Locals hassle more in this city. The Becak (cycle rickshaw) drivers are relentless, especially to foreigners.

With that aside, Yogyakarta is known as Indonesia’s cultural centre offering fine art, poetry, classical ballet, music, and Batik craftsmanship to name but a few. Yogyakarta (also Jogja) is not typical of other Indonesian cities as the Sultan of Yogyakarta rules this only royal city in Indonesia.

Exploring Yogyakarta

Having so much to offer the traveller but with limited time, you need to be selective of what to explore while in Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Rustic roof-top vistas

Bird Market

Stumbling on the bird market only by chance and not something that I avidly look for, explore the market regardless.

The only good aspect of this type of market is the intricate bamboo and fibreglass bird cages on sale. Although very artistic and ornate, I’m not a big fan of caged animals and don’t enjoy seeing many rare exotic species or any birds caged. Not spending much time at the bird market, we venture to the Water Castle.

Taman Sari (Water Castle)

Built between 1758 and 1765 the purpose of the Taman Sari Water Castle (Umbul Pasiraman) was to appease the Sultan’s desire, of hunting during his free time.

The story is that the Sultan would stand at the tower then throw a rose from the top and the Princess waiting below that caught the rose, would either become his wife or concubine.
In better times the garden was opulent, although these days somewhat neglected. Wandering through the grounds a local guide latches’ on, of course…

Taman Sari, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Entrance view

…and persuades us to visit the Batik factory close by after the visit to Taman Sari.

Tamin Sari, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Another view of the Water Castle

Make our way to the Batik factory, but slightly suspicious that a hard-sell is fast approaching.

Although striking, vibrant, and laborious, I resist the temptation to indulge in a piece of Batik textile. Instead, happy to watch how this traditional ancient technique still practised by local artists, unfold.

Dramatic Borobudur Temple

Dating back to the late 8th-century and built in honour of Mahayana Buddhism, intricately carved from over 2 million pieces of volcanic rock, 75 years completed this masterpiece using a complex interlocking approach.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Around 40-kilometres from Yogyakarta on a public bus, locals warn of pickpockets on these buses.

Borobudur is renown as the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple draws a plethora of tourists to Yogyakarta each year.

Map credit:

Majestic Borobudur Temple is incredibly beautiful and serene. A monument earning its place as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And, hailed as ‘one of the most impressive monuments ever created by humans’.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Innovative designs – 72 Buddha statues each inside its own stupa.

The 56,600 cubic metres of stone includes some 2,500-square metres of detailed stone bas-reliefs.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Although 10 levels in total, 9 stacked platforms form a cylindrical stupa, built to signify the battle between good and evil with the idea of moving darkness into light.

Unlike Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which was built as a city, impressive Borobudur was built as a temple. The Buddha images at the upper terraces called Arupadhatu in Sanskrit means formless space.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Obligatory photo when at Borobudur Temple

Venture on the incredible Pilgrim’s Walk, which is around 5-kilometres long. A path guides you through a combination of narrow stone corridors and stairways.

Borobudur temple cross section, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

Adorned with intricate ancient walls displaying 1,460 relief panels, stroll through the narration of Buddhist history.

Borobudur’s striking four sides face north, south, east, and west with stairs leading to the top. Diagram: Wikimedia Commons

The three ascending temple levels accommodate rest stops, with time to explore each level between climbing steep stairs, once more.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Stairway to enlightenment

If you can escape buying something from the glut of aggressive hawkers at each corner of the temple and on every level, then you are doing well.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Imposing monument

Surrounded by beauty in ethereal Borobudur Temple that bestows calmness despite tourists, am in awe of this marvellous monument to Buddha.

Borobudur temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Obtaining Nirvana

Reaching the summit, glance over the expansive temple that spreads across the picturesque, fertile volcanic Kedu Plains, known as the Progo River Valley. Four volcanoes flank the plains, west and east, creating a sultry environment on your visit.

Candi Pawon Temple

Map of Borobudur line, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia

From Borobudur, take a Becak ride and head to the Candi Pawon Temple, only a couple of kilometres away.

Map credit: Gunkarta (Gunawan Kartapranata is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Compared to Borobudur, Candi Pawon is tiny, simple, and believed to be dedicated to Kuvera – Buddhist God of fortune.

Mendut temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Candi Pawon in need of repair

Decide to head to the Mendut Temple only another two kilometres from Candi Pawon.

Mendut Temple

Suggest visiting the Mendut Temple before Borobudur Temple as Mendut is on a much smaller scale and older than Borobudur.

Mendut temple is located on the same lines as Candi Pawon and Borobudur. Historians believe a symbolic meaning must connect the three temples.

Standing at 3-metres high in Mendut, the commanding celestial statue of Dhyani Buddha peers down at visitors from its comfortable seat.

Buddha, Mendut temple, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, SE Asia
Dhyani Buddha

The annual Vesak Buddhist ritual of walking from Mendut through Candi Pawon and onto Borobudur is observed by Indonesia’s Buddhists, during a full moon in May or June.

Only discovered in 1836 as ruins covered in overgrown vegetation, restoration of Mendut started in 1897, and taking around 25 years to restore.

Leaving Yogyakarta

A couple of amazing full-packed days exploring, eating local delicacies, learning a little on the history of Yogyakarta and Indonesian culture, decide to keep moving.

Leaving Yogyakarta on the Kereta train tomorrow afternoon, which slices across central Java, to Surabaya in the east – we are trying to stay off Indonesia’s dangerous roads.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts at Image Earth Travel.

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18 responses to “Indonesia: Exploring Yogyakarta, Java”

  1. LuLu B - Calabrisella Mia Avatar

    That temple is just wow! To think that was man-made and so long ago…just incredible!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      It certainly is Lulu – just mesmerising and incredible!
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving me your comment. 🙂

  2. gillmorris Avatar

    I would like to explore that temple, it does remind my of Bayon Temple in Cambodia. Have you collected lots of souvenirs from your travels Nilla? Have a lovely weekend x I just had my vaccine! 🙂 xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Actually, the temple does have similar traits to Bayon.
      Of course! ☺️ When I lived on the boat, it was always small trinkets. Living on land, I collect slightly bigger souvenirs. I’m a big fan of masks and have these on my wall, not sure if I mentioned that before? Still have loads of stuff in Italy I’m trying to get back to Oz.
      Thank you and hope you do also! Great stuff! Only frontline workers are getting the vaccine here, but we’re in a different environment to Europe. X

  3. Christie Avatar

    Thank you for keeping the travel bug alive😉 Impressive temples with so many Buddhas!!
    Hope all is well, xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      No problem and happy that I could keep your travel bug alive!
      This was an amazing temple and would love to re-visit one day…
      All good here and with you? x

    2. edwinlives4ever Avatar

      Things have changed a lot since the day those pictures were taken, Nilla. I think you should come to Yogya again soon, and let’s not forget Solo.

      1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Hi Edwin,

        I’m sure it has changed a lot and although I’d love to return as there’s still so much to explore. Although sometimes, it’s best not to as the changes I see don’t seem for the best. But then, who am I to judge…

        Thanks for your feedback.

  4. 100 Country Trek Avatar

    This brings memories of our time in Indonesia. A great place to see. Great photos.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback!
      How long were you in Indonesia for, very long?

      1. 100 Country Trek Avatar

        We were in Borneo and Bali .about 3 weeks.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Need to digitise more on Indo as Bali is next. Struggling as started a new job 6 weeks ago and it’s manic!😳

      3. 100 Country Trek Avatar

        A lot of work.take care

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes it is – crazy at the moment.
        You too!

  5. the eternal traveller Avatar

    I’m with you on caged birds and animals. I’d rather see them in their natural habitat. The train journey sounds unpleasant but worth it to see these temples.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Exactly, I hate seeing elephants, tigers, etc., caged and won’t even go to a zoo.
      Ha, ha, the joys of independent travel and not going on a plush tour… 😉

  6. wetanddustyroads Avatar

    Wow, those buildings (temples) are really impressive … the detail is quite astonishing 😲.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes! Hope that you get there one day – definitely worth the trek!

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