Attractions in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta
By Thorn Mulli

The Borobudur Temple [ Qwertyvied, Pixabay]

In 2018, Yogyakarta popularly known as Jogja generated a whopping 9.3 billion in revenue from tourism. Interestingly, the biggest chunk of this revenue was from local tourists something that Kenya can draw lessons. 

Travelog had the opportunity to visit this special province of Indonesia. It is special because it is ruled by a recognised monarchy thanks to its significant contribution to the survival of the Indonesian Republic. 

It actually was the capital of Indonesia from 1946 to 1948, the world's largest island country with more than seventeen thousand islands. The province, one of 34 provinces, has a three-pronged approach to tourism. Their touristic focus is nature, fabricated super attractions and an abundance of crosscutting culture. While the distance and lack of direct flights from Kenya is a major constraint, this is a destination worth exploring.

Here are some attractions:

Borobudur

The best-known tourist attraction around Yogyakarta is Borobudur, one of the best temple sites in Southeast Asia alongside Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and Bagan in Myanmar.  Borobudur is a single temple, and it’s huge. In fact, it is considered to be the largest Buddhist monument on Earth, a giant pyramid with 9 levels, 2672 carved panels and 504 Buddha statues. To give you an idea, on the top-level, there are 72 bell-shaped stupas, each of them containing a statue of the Buddha.

The Borobudur temple [Jumbojet, Pixabay]

Prambanan

Another stunning temple and one that is believed by many to be even more beautiful than Borobudur is the wonderful Prambanan. This is also a UNESCO-world heritage site, a complex of Hindu temples dedicated to the god Shiva. 

Whereas Borobudur is famous for its sheer size, the Prambanan temples are best known for their height and intricate decoration – the tallest building is forty-seven meter high! The three biggest temples are dedicated to the main Hindu gods, Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, and are decorated with scenes from the Ramayana.

 Ramayana Ballet

After visiting Prambanan, stick around for the nightly Ramayana Ballet, where you will have the chance to see dancers reenact the scenes of the Ramayana that you have admired in the temples. 

I was privileged to savour a front-row seat to the popular Ramayana ballet that evoked memories of a popular television shows by the same name from the old days when KTN and KBC were the only television stations. 

It’s an unforgettable experience, reminiscent of Petra by Night – on one side, you’ll have the temples all lit up, and right in front, you’ll see beautiful skilled dancers in colourful costumes bringing these ancient tales to life. Enjoying this ballet performance of Ramayana is truly one of the best things to do in Yogyakarta, Indonesia!

The Prambanan Temple [Patricia van den Berg, Pixabay]

Make your own batik at the Batik Museum

Batik is the most authentic and favourite textile in Java and Indonesia probably. If you want to know more about the ancient art of Batik visit the Batik Museum developed on May 12, 1977, on the effort of Hadi Nugroho household.

Located at the heart of Jogja, your tour begins with learning the ancient batik tools, then admiring the stunning fabric on display before joining a batik workshop to try your hand at making your very own batik souvenirs. 

The best souvenirs are handmade ones but in this case, you have to have a steady hand. We were given a piece of cloth with a drawing traced on it, and a tool filled with melted wax that we were supposed to use to trace the outline of the drawing. 

While my attempt was a flop compared to the skilled women at the museum, I truly appreciated the process and why the resultant fabric is so costly. To paint a picture, it actually takes at least three paint and drying sessions, boiling to remove wax, and cautious drying before you can enjoy your fabric.

Batik making [AnglesNViews, Pixabay]

Head to Malioboro

One of the best and most famous things to do in Yogyakarta is checking out Malioboro, the famous shopping street – even though the entire surrounding area is also known as Malioboro. Malioboro is a bargain shopping paradise, and ideal for those who want to stock up on souvenirs to take home. You’ll find bags, batik fabrics, Javanese sculptures, artworks of all kinds, printed t-shirts and more, on sale both along street stalls and small shops. 

Malioboro is also often full of street artists, especially in the evening! Besides street food, there’s also one more thing to do in Malioboro – eating street food! As soon as night falls, street food carts (known in Indonesian as ‘lesehan’) start lining the street.

Lessons from Jogja:

  • Voluntary community service guided by law achieves wonders.

Take for instance, the move to close the popular Malioboro Shopping Street once a month for cleanup. 

Every Sunday is also a car-free day to encourage a healthy lifestyle. One can only imagine what Nairobi could become if we all pitched in. What would happen if we used the Nairobi River as our front yard and not a back yard? The only way to clean up rivers is to treat them as our own property and not the government’s responsibility.

  • Keep prices competitive. 

The price of accommodation in one of Kenya’s oldest hotel in the capital is Sh21, 000. It’s equivalent, the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta - a five-star luxury option which you can steal at an average of Sh8, 000. And unlike here where we charge extra for a double, the rate is standard.

Street food in Jogja costs an average of 20, 000 Indonesian Rupiah. This might sound exorbitant but divide that by 130, the average exchange rate to the shilling, and it is a steal. The next time you plan your holiday think twice.

  • To effectively compete with other destinations, stick to and perfect your strengths. 

While Bali is the most famous tourist destination in Indonesia, Jogja realises that their strength lies their culture trove. They, for instance, insist that citizens wear Batik (a handmade cloth akin to the kitenge) at least once a month. 

Horse carriages and rickshaw carriage are still an accepted form of transport. They also are an educational hub and the province has at least 300, 000 students with only ten per cent drawn from the predominantly Javanese local population.

  • Tolerance is a virtue that pays. 

Just like Kenya, Jogja is a melting pot of culture. The only difference is that they actually celebrate their differences. It is not odd to shake hands with a Muslim guide as you enjoy the architecture of a Buddhist temple before watching a Hindu-inspired ballet.

  • Continuously improve the infrastructure to the destination. 

Jogjakarta’s new airport scheduled for completion in 2010 will boast the longest runaway in Indonesia and a capacity to serve at least 20 million passengers annually. The current one caters for the eight million passengers.

  • Thomas Edison when talking about innovation noted, “There’s a way to do it better-if only you find it. Most Kenyans consider the Jack Fruit (fenesi) that grows in arid areas a ‘poor man’s fruit. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the Javanese have a traditional recipe using palm sugar and coconut milk that turns this fruit into a delicacy called Guden.