Impressed by the extravagance of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Myanmar), and even more so by the sheer size of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, I was surprised that neither were the largest Buddhist temples in the world. Then I discovered that the largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur Temple, is in fact located in Yogyakarta.
In spite of this, Yogyakarta (pronounced “JogJakarta”) usually doesn’t reach the top of most people’s “must visit” places when travelling around Asia.
The truth is that there isn’t a lot to do in the city itself. That said, it would still be a perfect stop to cover in Indonesia if you have 1-2 days to spare in your itinerary.
Nasi Gudeg at Gudeg Yu Djum
As we arrived into Yogyakarta, first thing was first, we wanted to try some local delicacies. A local friend urged us to try “Gudeg” which is a traditional Javanese dish unique to this area of Yogyakarta (and Central Java). Gudeg is a sauce which is made mainly from unripe jackfruit – it is slightly sweet and so we were warned that “it’s not for everyone”. It’s typically served on rice, with chicken, crispy beef skin, boiled egg and peanuts.
The Gudeg sauce was interesting, but I concede, it’s not a crowd pleaser. I was otherwise not a huge fan of the overall combination either.
I definitely enjoyed the other common Indonesian dishes more – especially the typical peanut sauce-drenched satay skewers and garlic fried veggies.
Wish between the Banyan Twin Trees
Among the top things-to-do were to see the two huge Banyan Twin Trees and walk around in the busy streets of Malioboro. These two are not exactly bucket list activities, and therefore can be skipped if you don’t have time.
The ‘challenge’ was to walk in a straight line and pass in between the two trees blindfolded – if you succeed, your wish was meant to come true. Trust me, it’s so much harder than you’d expect!
But the sights we saw from our one-day tour the next day was really where the charm of Yogyjakarta was.
Catching the Sunrise at Borobudur Temple *must see*
We were picked up at 3:30am from our hotel to head towards the largest Buddhist temple in the world, Borobudur, to see the sunrise. It was only a short walk to the temple itself and a couple stories of stairs, before you could already capture the beauty of this sight.
This place attracts a large number of tourists, as do a lot of sunrise spots. The unique site, the charm and beauty of this place was nonetheless never lost among the numerous wandering visitors. If you stay just a little longer, the crowd starts to leave after sunrise and the site suddenly feels quite serene. It’s definitely the one thing you have to see in Yogyjakarta.
Another very memorable sunrise in Asia I’d highly recommend is in Phu Chi Fah – a relatively unheard of place you can reach to from Chiang Rai.
Mount Merapi Jeep Tour
We then joined a Mount Merapi Jeep Tour which took us around the bottom of Mount Merapi. We were shocked to witness some of the abandoned villages, learning that this active volcano had erupted as recent as in both 2006 and 2010. There were a couple of interesting things to see along the way, but simply riding among the landscape on the jeep was a fun experience in itself.
Finally we visited the Prambanan Temple. It was impressively large – in fact, one of the biggest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia.
SixSenses Kitchen *must visit*
By the 36th hour, we probably had four consecutive meals of Indonesian food. While we loved the satays, fried rices and peanut sauces, we were starting to crave something different… and perhaps non-Asian.
To our surprise, we found SixSenses Kitchen. It was a beautiful, serene and romantic restaurant in the middle of the often chaotic streets of Yogyakarta. It was headed by a chef from Barcelona, serving delicious food and Spanish wines. They served generous portions of high quality food at extremely reasonable prices – it’s definitely a place worth visiting for something a little more upscale, although maybe not if you’re looking for an authentic local experience.
A cultural destination less frequented
When I look for new places to visit around Southeast Asia, Yogyakarta rarely comes out on top. It’s not a city with an abundance of activities, and while 36 hours is probably all you need to cover the key attractions, it was also an extremely eventful 36 hours I’d recommend to anyone living in Asia.