Review: Breakfast / Lunch +Yogyakarta Kitchen @ Marriott Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta Kitchen is Marriott Yogyakarta‘s all-day dining restaurant, serving both international and local cuisine. Bright, well lit and cheerful, the place is spacious and inviting, with plenty of natural sunlight filtering in through the glass windows.

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The Moo and I got to dine here for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout our stay at the hotel. Here are some highlights ūüôā

BREAKFAST BUFFET 

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Yogyakarta Kitchen serves the typical five-star hotel breakfast buffet fare. For a ‘Western’ breakfast, opt for fluffy pancakes with syrup, waffles, beef or chicken sausages and bacon strips, eggs, as well as various cakes and pastries.

My personal favourite (which I had for two mornings in a row) was the Steak and Eggs.

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This came highly recommended by the hotel’s marcomm manager – and it was DA BOMB. The sunny side up eggs were perfect, with crisp edges and golden runny centres, drizzled over with a dash of soy sauce. On top, a sizable chunk of grilled steak coated in a savoury sauce, and a crunchy, slightly charred piece of toast. The combination of flavours and textures was pure heaven.

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Cold fruit juices to quench your thirst.

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Freshly baked pastries such as croissants, rolls and other goodies. Best eaten with a thick pat of butter and jam, or assorted cheese.

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Have I mentioned that I friggin’ love Brie cheese?

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For those with a sweet tooth, try the traditional Indonesian cakes, or kuih muih.

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Or go for more conventional favourites like muffins, tarts and puddings.

LUNCH 

One can opt for the buffet lunch, but Moo and I had the ala-carte options on our first day in Jogja.

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Moo had chicken noodles, which came served with a thick savoury sweet sauce with a generous amount of chicken meat, egg and veggies. Curiously, the clear soup was served separately, and you add as much or as little as you like. The clear soup mixes with the sauce, creating a flavourful broth.

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I had the rice set, which came served with a local specialty – gudeg – a traditional Javanese dish of unripe jackfruit stew. The texture surprised me, as it had a similar consistency to meat strips ala pulled pork. Also in the set was stewed cow skin, egg, and a crunchy side of emping (cracker).

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Buffet options: traditional Indonesian salads that you can customise to your liking.

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DINNER 

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Desserts making a reappearance – but with a greater variety than the lunch /breakfast spread. Instead of plates, they were displayed on a cold marble table with chocolate swirls. I liked the chocolate mousse, which was sweet but light, as well as the lemon meringue tarts and tiramisu.

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Too pretty to make the first cut. :/

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Noodle bar where you can pick from a selection of fresh veggies and ingredients to go with your noodle soup.

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Local dishes that can be eaten with rice.

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Do try the penne carbonara, which is cooked to order and served piping hot. I like how generous they are with the bacon bits, and the carbonara sauce was creamy without being cloying, clinging beautifully to each strand of pasta.

Prices for breakfast start from IDR180,000.

YOGYAKARTA KITCHEN 

Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel Lobby Floor, Jl. Ringroad Utara, Kaliwaru, Condongcatur, Kec. Depok, Kabupaten Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55281, Indonesia

Opening hours: 6AM – 10PM

For reservations – Phone: +62 0274 6000888; ext= 1308

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Taman Sari Water Castle

Most visitors to Yogyakarta in Indonesia will no doubt make a beeline for the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan – but there is a lesser known attraction within the city that is well worth a visit. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kraton (palace), Taman Sari¬†(literally, beautiful garden) is an 18th century royal garden – once the leisure grounds for the old Sultanate of Yogyakarta.

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Spread across a large area, Taman Sari was also called the Water Castle, as its main complex featured a man-made lake – complete with artificial islands and buildings, which the royal family could reach via boat. The water has since been drained, and replaced with clusters of homes.

The East entrance (where you pay a fee for entry) might not seem very impressive, but venture in and you’ll discover meandering pathways, secret underground chambers, defensive structures and a well-preserved central bathing complex called Umbul Pasiraman, which is very popular with tourists.

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… and for good reason.

The story goes that the complex was used by the palace concubines and serving women, where they would bathe and frolic in the pools.  The Sultan would be up in the tower, observing, and if one caught his fancy, he would pick her as a companion for the night.

It’s easy to imagine how the scene would have looked like back in the day – the turqoise pools, the calming stone and greenery, the blue sky reflected in the water, the beautiful maidens.

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Moving on, we ventured past the West gate, which is more intricate than the east, decorated with floral motifs, foliage and birds.

**From this point on, it is highly recommended you get a guide from the village (which is within the chateau grounds), as the layout is extremely confusing. You might just end up wandering into dead ends, on a roof, or someone’s backyard lol. The guides are ‘volunteers’, and you’ll find many of them loitering around the area. They have a minimum fee (can’t remember how much exactly but I think it was like RM20-30) but you can pay more if you’re satisfied with your guide.

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Your guide will most probably take you through Kampung Taman, which are settlements within the royal gardens. There are about 2,700 residents living within the grounds. The narrow alleyways often feature colourful graffiti with a local flavour, like these Javanese characters.

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Some of the structures are already in ruins. Our guide led us up to a vantage point where we could see over the roofs of the settlements, which stretched out a fair distance.

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Traversing the labyrinthian complex through underground passages, we search for another photogenic area – the Sumur Gumuling underground mosque. Natural sunlight filtered in through strategic gaps, illuminating the otherwise dark tunnels.

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The mosque is, imo, one of the most unique areas of Taman Sari. A circular one-storeyed structure, it used to sit on an artificial island (before the lake was drained), and could only be reached via an underwater tunnel. The building was open in the middle, similar to a well (hence the name ‘Sumur’ (well in the Javanese language) and featured an elevated platform with four staircases, as well as various ‘windows’ surrounding it. The imam (religious leader) would stand in the center to give sermons. There is also a pool on the ground floor which was used for ritual ablution.

 

It is entirely possible to explore Taman Sari without a guide, if you like wandering and discovering things on your own – but the mosque area is notoriously difficult to find. We certainly would have missed it if not for our guide.

Entrance to Taman Sari is a cheap IDR 15,000 (USD 1.50 – RM6).

Address: Wisata Taman Sari, Jl. Tamanan, Patehan, Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55133, Indonesia

Opening hours: (Daily) 9AM – 6PM

Hotel Review: Modern Luxury at Marriott Yogyakarta, Indonesia

During my recent stay in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Moomikins and I were privileged to stay at Marriott Yogyakarta, the latest five-star hotel to join the city’s burgeoning tourism scene.

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Modern and contemporary, the 347-room hotel is Marriott’s first foray into Indonesia, and impresses with its top notch facilities and delectable dining options. Its close location to the Adi Sutjipto Airport and various attractions also make it the perfect base for both business and leisure¬†travelers.

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Marriott hotels are one of my favourite places to stay at because they have this cosy, warm and welcoming ambience, as opposed to some five-star places which may feel luxurious but ‘detached’, somehow.¬† The spacious lobby boasts unique local touches, such as decorative kawung batik motifs and Javanese elements.

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Official photo vs my photo in 3…2…1….

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This is why people hire professional photographers. :’D¬†

We stayed in the spacious Deluxe Pool room, which had twin beds and a view of the pool. There was an additional sofa bed in the corner, as well as a work table. Instead of a conventional walled-off bathroom, the design featured sliding walls Рso you can open them up for more space.

As mentioned, I like the cosy, warm ambience you get from the dark wood, clean lines and calming colour scheme. Cleanliness was top notch, there were a lot of channels on the widescreen TV to choose from, and the beds were soft but supportive.

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Welcome towels in cute shapes! ūüôā

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Refreshing herbal drinks upon checking in to the room.

DINING

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There are plenty of dining options within the hotel. During our stay, we got to dine at the all-day dining Yogyakarta Kitchen. Bright and welcoming, the restaurant serves international-style buffet, which includes several firm Indonesian favourites.

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Dinner is best spent at the Taman Sari Bar & Grill by the poolside. Specialising in Mediterranean cuisine, the charming outdoor patio dishes out a selection of steaks, seafood and grilled items as you dine under the stars.

*PS: Will be posting an in-depth review of both resto in separate posts. ūüôā

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No five star hotel would be complete without a spot of pampering and relaxation.¬†Marriott Yogyakarta is home to Quan, the brand’s signature spa. The spa menu includes various treatments, from traditional massages to body wraps and foot baths. At the recommendation of the friendly therapist, I went for the Swedish massage, which focuses on soothing muscles and releasing tension.

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Besides tourism, Yogyakarta is also a hub for business and MICE, so its not surprising that Marriott has the facilities to match, including meeting rooms equipped with state-of-the-art AV equipment, as well as the 1,870-square-meter pillarless ballroom Рthe largest in Yogyakarta Рmaking it the grandest venue in town for special occasions.

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The hotel even has its own atelier for weddings, where the bride and groom-to-be can select outfits from local designers, and discuss with the hotel team on table setting, decorations, etc.

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Marriott Yogyakarta is located directly next to Hartono Mall, a modern shopping centre with retail outlets, departmental store, cinema, entertainment centre and restaurants. It was extremely convenient for me and Moo, because she could just pop over for food or shopping when I was busy with work.

We didn’t have time to check out some of the other facilities such as the pool and the gym, but all in all, I enjoyed my time thoroughly at Marriott Yogyakarta, and would definitely consider it as a place for accommodation if I’m ever in the city again. Beautiful rooms and convenient facilities aside, it is also strategically located, with excellent food and even better hospitality.

Rooms start from USD80 (about RM320+) onwards.

MARRIOTT YOGYAKARTA

Jl. Ringroad Utara, Kaliwaru, Condongcatur, Kec. Depok, Kabupaten Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55283, Indonesia

Reservations: +62 274 6000888

*I was invited for a review in the capacity of work, which has been published in a magazine. The views here are entirely my own. 

 

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Experiencing the Merapi Lava Jeep Tour

Mother Nature can be both a beautiful and terrible thing – as we witnessed during a recent trip to Mount Merapi, on the borders of Central Java and Yogyakarta in Indonesia. Towering at over 2,930 metres above sea level, it is the most active volcano in Indonesia, and has erupted consistently every few years since the 1500s.

Mount Merapi in 2014
Image via Wikimedia Commons by Crisco 1492
Like most mountains and volcanoes, Merapi is shrouded in legends and mystery, and plays a big part in Javanese mythology. The name is believed to be derived from Javanese Meru – after the mythical mountain of gods in Hinduism, and Api (fire). It holds special significance in the Yogyakartan royal family, with the belief being that there is a spirit world within the mountain ruled by spirit rulers, with a setup that is a direct reflection of the (mortal) royal court.

The volcano, in fact, lies along an axis that runs through Yogyakarta city via the Kraton (sultan’s palace) until it reaches the Southern Ocean. It is therefore seen as sacred, with the spirits of the mountain at Merapi, the Sultan of Yogyakarta as the ruler of the Javanese kingdom, and Nyi Roro Kidul (a sea goddess/deity) as the queen of the Southern Ocean.

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Despite the volcano’s active status, there are many villages scattered on the slopes of the mountain, with settlements as high up as 1,700 metres. Agriculture is a mainstay owing to the rich volcanic soil, but other prominent industries include tourism and the mining of volcanic rocks.

The Merapi Lava Jeep Tour offers visitors an insight into life on Merapi’s slopes. There are several routes to choose from, lasting from an hour to three or more. Tours are conducted on an open top jeep. During our visit, we were a little pressed for time so we opted for the shortest (90 minutes). Before setting off, your driver will hand out masks to protect from the dust and ash along the route. Roads are not paved so expect a bumpy ride!

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The last major eruption on Mount Merapi was in 2010, which claimed hundreds of lives. As we headed to our first stop, our guide pointed out homes that were destroyed and had been left abandoned, reclaimed by nature. It was haunting, and eerie, to say the least.

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The Sisa Hartaku Mini Museum (literally “the remains of my belongings”) has exhibits¬†detailing the destructive power of the volcano. Formerly a home, it was destroyed during the 2010 eruption, and the owner, Riyanto (who managed to escape with his family) , decided to convert the place into a museum.

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The rather macabre exterior features skulls of livestock that were killed during the eruption.

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The ‘living room’ area with a wall clock that was said to have stopped at the moment of the eruption – a reminder of a disaster, frozen in time.

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Cutlery and other household items such as calculators, some of which are partially melted, all covered in a layer of dust and ash.

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Casettes, books, electronics.

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Remains of a melted radio.

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A section of the wall with skulls of small wildlife and photos of the volcano before, during and after the eruption.

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There’s something extremely haunting about seeing the remains in the museum, and the huge impact natural disasters can have on ordinary lives. That being said, I admire the resilient spirit of the people who live on Merapi’s slopes – they accept that this is part and parcel of life on the mountain, and carry on as best as they can. Because for better or worse, this, to them, is home.

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“Disaster is not the end of everything”¬†¬†

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“Merapi has never broken its promise” – a graffiti showcasing the resilient spirit of people who live here, knowing that it’s not a matter of if, but when.¬†

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We next made our way to a vantage point, but it was a cloudy day and the volcano was hidden behind thick clouds. We could only see the outline of an imposing, conical shape in the distance.

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From the vantage point, a lava channel that had cut into the earth from the eruption’s flow, forming a deep ravine where no grass grows.

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The Alien Stone was another stop on our Merapi lava tour. The giant chunk of rock was hurled out of the volcano during the 2010 eruption, and the locals believe it bears the features of their late village head, who was also killed in the disaster. The other side of the rock is said to resemble the face of a lion:

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The last stop on our tour was Bunker Kaliaderm, which was built in 2005 as an emergency shelter. The beautiful and calm surroundings is in stark contrast to the terror the place has seen. During a major eruption in 2006, two rescue workers fleeing from the fast-moving pyroclastic flow of ash were trapped within, in up to six feet of boiling hot ash (reaching temperatures of up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit). They suffered horrific deaths; one trapped in a corner, the other in the bathroom was boiled alive, according to our guide.

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Remains of lava that seeped into the bunker.

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Flowers that only grow on Merapi’s slopes.

The Merapi Lava Jeep Tour offers a fascinating insight into the beautiful yet terrible power of mother nature, and I highly suggest going on a more comprehensive tour if time allows.

Jeep rentals start from 350,000 IDR per jeep (RM100 or about USD24).

A guide on how to get to the area here. 

PS: There are not many rest rooms around aside from those at the jeep base camp, so better do all your business before going on the tour!

 

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Ullen Sewatu Museum + Lunch at Beukenhof Restaurant

Yogyakarta is a haven for culture and art enthusiasts. Beyond its two major attractions – the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples of Bodobudur and Prambanan, respectively, there are many museums where one can visit to get a better understanding of more recent Javanese culture.

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One of these is the Ullen Sewatu Museum, tucked in the Kaliurang Highlands of Yogyakarta. It is located close to the Mount Merapi National Park.

The museum has various relics and artifacts from the royal houses and kratons (palaces) of Java, such as the kingdoms of Yogyakarta, Pakualam, Surakarta and Mangkunegaran. The museum grounds sit within a lush area of nicely landscaped gardens, making for a pleasant walk as you move from building to building. The reception is a chic, minimalist space with several stone statues.

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Photos are not allowed in the museum except in selected areas. Visitors will be taken on a guided tour of the exhibits, which include, among others, portraits of royals, batik fabric and patterns unique to the region, court musical instruments, as well as costumes and regalia. Tbh, it was difficult to absorb all the information of the various princes and kings in such a short time.

One of the more interesting sections (for me, at least) was a room with poetry encased in glass. These were written by members of the royal family to cheer up a beautiful, love struck princess, who fell in love with a commoner and became sad and depressed because she could not marry him. It was many years before they finally received blessings and were united.

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The only place we were allowed to photograph: a replica of a Borobudur temple relief in an outdoor area.

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You’ll be hungry after the tour, so head to Beukenhof Restaurant within the museum grounds for some European fare. The colonial-inspired interior features patterned, tiled floors, Ionic columns and quaint wooden chairs paired with spotless white dining cloths. There is also a veranda overlooking the gardens, transporting visitors to a quaint countryside manor somewhere in Europe. ūüôā

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We chose to dine outdoors in the fresh air.

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Nothing like a hot, foamy cup of caramel latte to brighten up the day and give you a boost!

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Meal for three + candle for ambience

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I forgot to take a picture of the menu, but I had fried fish in pesto sauce on a bed of mushrooms, served with baby potatoes. Fish was nice and fresh, flavours came together well, no complaints. The establishment is rather pricey, so be prepared to shell out a bit for your mains.

Ullen Sewatu is a nice, educational museum that is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trip. Tickets are priced at IDR100,000 for foreigners.

ULLEN SEWATU MUSEUM 

Jalan Boyong KM 25, Kaliurang Barat, Sleman, Yogyakarta

Phone: +62 274 895161

Opening hours: 830AM – 4PM (Tues-Fri), 830AM – 5.30PM (Sat-Sun). Closed Mondays

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Exploring Malioboro Street, The Shopping District

If shopping is your thing, then Jalan Malioboro in downtown Yogyakarta, Indonesia should be on your list of places to visit while in town. Tucked in a historic part of the city, the street and its surroundings are home to numerous shops selling everything from souvenirs and cheap clothing for tourists, as well as hotels, massage parlours and restaurants.

Shopping has never been of much interest to me (gasp ikr am I even a girl) so when the Moo and I paid a visit, our guide was incredulous that we left empty-handed (apparently the previous member of the media he brought spent a whopping FIVE hours here lol).

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I was more intrigued by the lively atmosphere, especially the sight of the horse-drawn carriages and open-top ‘becak’ tricycles that putter up and down the street ferrying passengers, as well as the variety of stalls selling street food. Also within walking distance are several historical buildings, such as the Yogyakartan Palace aka Kraton and the Fort Vredeburg Museum (a former Dutch fort turned museum dedicated to the history of Dutch colonisation in Indonesia). Unfortunately it was late during our visit and both were closed to visitors. Still got to see the beautiful architecture from the outside, though!

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Horses. Felt a bit sorry for them because the street was so noisy / chaotic that it must have been an assault on their senses. ūüė¶

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We did manage to pop into one of the larger batik/souvenir shops. The batik clothes, bags and pouches were nice but on the pricier side. **limited budget, had to pass.

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A batik-making class was in session, with this elegant elderly lady providing a demonstration to a small class of young children.

Indonesians are proud of their batik heritage, and different regions have their own specialty batik motifs and designs. Unique to Yogyakarta is the ‘kawung’ motif, which was previously reserved for the royal family. Pictured above (correct me if I’m wrong) is the Parang motif, which like its namesake, resembles a sword. Locals call it the ‘tongue of fire’. Poetic, no?

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Matryoshka dolls with a local touch. The traditional costume of Javanese men features a batik sarong, while the women wear kebaya (which is also what Malays in Malaysia wear).

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Entrance to Kampung Ketandan aka Chinatown, along Malioboro Street. Like many Chinatowns all around the world, it features a large arch with decorative dragons and curving roof.

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Just outside Beringharjo Market (a traditional market) nearby are makeshift food stalls, many of which begin operating after sundown. A must-try here is bakpia, a Yogyakartan specialty. The round, baked biscuit, an Indonesian Chinese dessert, is filled with various fillings such as mung bean, red bean, and even cheese and chocolate. We bought some to take home and I really liked the light, flaky pastry, which balanced out the sweetness of the filling on the inside.

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Snacks for sale.

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A street vendor preparing what looked like the Japanese takoyaki.

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We got onto a becak which took us on a ride around the streets. Similar to the tricycle of the Philippines, minus the welded roof, the becak comprises of a motorbike with a sidecar attached which can fit 2 people at a time (similarity ends there since you can fit like 5-6 people on a trike lol)

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Surrounded by an open field is the Kraton Yogyakarta, or its full name the Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat. The palace complex is the official seat of the Sultan of Yogyakarta and the royal family, besides serving as a centre of Javanese culture and a museum displaying artefacts. The palace is guarded by Guards, similar to other palace complexes around the world.

**Fun fact: Indonesia is a republic, but Yogyakarta has the status of ‘Special Region’,¬† in that it has its own sultan and is a provincial-level autonomous region on its own. It is the only officially recognised monarchy in Indonesia, with the Sultan as its governor.

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So even if you’re not big on shopping, Malioboro Street still has plenty to offer ! Might be a spot you want to put on your itinerary while exploring Yogyakarta.

MALIOBORO STREET 

Jalan Malioboro, Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55122

  • Best for: Shopping – souvenirs, clothes, bargains
  • Also check out: Architecture of historical buildings, atmosphere
  • While here: Ride a becak!
  • Nearby: Fort Vredeburg, Beringharjo Market, Taman Sari (Water Castle), Kraton

 

Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan, Yogyakarta

If you’re big on culture and the arts, then the Ramayana Ballet @ Prambanan is a MUST-SEE when visiting Yogyakarta in Indonesia.¬† A unique blend of Javanese dance and Hindu mythology, the performance is based on the Hindu epic Ramayana – and chronicles the tale of Rama, the Hindu prince on a quest to save his wife Sita from the clutches of an evil demon king. The show is held in an open-air amphitheatre against a gorgeous backdrop of the Prambanan Hindu temple – a UNESCO World Heritage site – which adds to the mystery and exotic allure of the entire performance.

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The majestic Prambanan temple complex dates back to the 9th century and is dedicated to Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator, the Preserver and the Transformer (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). There are hundreds of smaller shrines within the compound, but the main one towers over 47 metres into the air and features intricate reliefs and carvings – one of which is the epic Ramayana, of which the ballet is based on.

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The 2-hour show is divided into two parts, with an intermission. Although it doesn’t have dialogue, there are screens explaining the ‘scene’ on both sides of the amphitheatre.

The massive production features over 200 actors, all of whom are skilled in the art of Javanese dance, which emphasises precise yet graceful movements that are spellbinding to watch.

Video: 

Synopsis: 

The story starts with Rama Wijaya, the prince of Ayodya Kingdom, winning the hand of a beautiful princess named Dewi Sita, through an archery competition. However, the evil ruler of Alengkadiraja, Prabu Rawana, is eager to marry Sita himself. The scene transitions to Dandaka Forest, where Rama, Sita and Rama’s younger brother, Laksmana, are out on an adventure. Rawana sees this as the perfect chance to capture Sita, so he orders one of his followers to change into a golden deer to attract her attention. Sita is awed by its beauty and asks Rama to catch it, which he obliges. After waiting for a long time, she grows worried and begs Laksmana to look for him. Before leaving, he draws a magic circle to protect her. As soon as she is left alone, Rawana disguises himself as a beggar and lures the innocent, kind Sita out before capturing her and flying off to his own kingdom.

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Rama eventually realises he has been tricked when the deer transforms back into an evil giant. He manages to kill it, and upon rushing back, realises that Sita has gone missing. The brothers set off to search for her.

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Meanwhile, Rawana carrying Sita meets a mystical bird, Jatayu, who realises she is being kidnapped. There is a fight to save her but ultimately, the bird falls prey to the demon king. As he lay dying, the brothers arrive and find out that it is Rawana who has spirited Sita away.

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Moments later, a white monkey named Hanuman arrives. Hanuman is searching for heroes to help kill Subali, a member of his tribe who has taken his uncle’s woman by force. Rama decides to help, and after helping the monkey kingdom solve their problems, Hanuman is sent to help Rama in his quest.

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In the kingdom of Alengka, Sita is being held against her will. Rawana’s niece, Trijata, comes to comfort her in the garden. Rawana arrives and asks Sita to be his wife, which she refuses. This drives him into a fit of rage, but Trijata convinces him to spare her, after which he leaves. As Sita laments her predicament, she hears a song sung by Hanuman, who explains that he is there on the orders of her husband. Hanuman destroys the garden, but is no match for Rawana’s son Indrajit, who captures him and sentences him to be burnt alive.

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Just before Hanuman is set on fire, he escapes and turns the tide, burning down the kingdom.

(This was one of my favourite scenes in the production! The actors were using real fire, and even seated at a distance, I could feel the heat coming from the stage)

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A large statue of Hanuman rising up from back stage, flanked by burning ‘buildings’ (straw structures that represented houses)

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Hanuman makes his way just outside the burning kingdom, where Rama and the rest of the ape troops are waiting. After receiving the report on troop strength, Rama commands Hanuman and other monkey generals to lead the troop on an attack on the kingdom of Alengka.

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The war results in the deaths of both Rawana’s son, Indarjit, and his younger brother Kumbakarna. Rawana finally leads his troops to face Rama and a battle ensues. Of course, the hero triumphs, killing the evil demon king with an arrow, before Hanuman drops a mountain (yes, a mountain – Mount Sumawana) on Rawana’s body.

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Sita is finally rescued, but Rama refuses to accept her (kinda lol since he came all this way to save her and all, wut) until she proves her purity. To show her innocence, Sita burns herself, and with the help of the God of Fire, walks out unscathed. Her proof makes Rama happy and the pair lived happily ever after.

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I was truly awed by the grace and beauty of the dance, as well as how they recreated the Ramayana epic into such a mesmerising show. It’s something I admire greatly in Indonesia – they work hard to protect their culture and keep it alive, unlike in Malaysia where rising religious conservatism has resulted in some authorities ‘banning’ traditional arts, deeming them “against religion” (like the Mak Yong in Kelantan, a pre-Islamic Malay dance).¬† A majority of Yogyakartans are Muslim, and they have two of the grandest ancient Buddhist and Hindu monuments in Southeast Asia, which are well maintained and kept as national treasures. I believe carrying on tradition and being proud of your heritage has no bearing on what you believe in, if you are truly a follower of the faith.

The Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan is held every alternate day. Tickets start from 125,000 IDR (RM35 – USD8 ) USD to 400,000 IDR (RM113 – USD27) depending on seating.

For the full schedule and to make reservations, go to visitramayana.com  

 

*Photos not watermarked are courtesy of PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur

Travelogue Yogyakarta: The Ancient Temple of Borobudur

There are moments in life that are simply unforgettable : Looking at your newborn for the first time, achieving a high point in your career, or simply visiting a place that has been on your travel bucket list for a long time.

For me, one of those moments was finally stepping foot into the ancient Buddhist temple of¬†Borobudur, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Built in the 9th century by the Hindu-Buddhist Sailendra dynasty, it was abandoned in the 14th century after the Javanese embraced Islam. It wasn’t until the 1800s that British explorers, on the advice of natives, rediscovered the temple and gradually reclaimed it from the jungle growth. Today, Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site.¬†

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**Photo Courtesy of Marriott Yogyakarta 

Borobudur has always been a place I wanted to visit ever since I was a kid, after reading about it in books. The night before, I felt like a kid again anticipating a big trip Рand despite going to bed early, was unable to get any sleep.

We departed the hotel at 2.30AM. From Yogyakarta City, the temple is some 40km away, a journey that takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours.

The temple opens at 4 AM for the Sunrise Tour, and you take a 15 minute walk to the grounds in chilly weather, armed only with tiny torches. As we approached the temple, we were greeted by the sight of a gigantic, looming shape in the darkness, and a clear sky of beautiful stars. It was breathtaking, to say the least.

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The stone steps are high and uneven in places, so caution is advised. Depending on when you’re visiting, the sun might come out earlier or later. We planted ourselves to face the twin volcanoes of Mount Merbabu and Mount Merapi in the distance, and waited.

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Our guide told us it was actually a ‘quiet’ morning with a lesser number of tourists. Apparently, on busy days, there can be thousands of people in a single sunrise tour!

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When the sun finally came out, I was mind blown. It rose right in between the twin peaks, the rays forming a stunning V-shape. The colours – pink, blue, orange – contrasting against the dark silhouettes of stupas, was ethereal.

The crowd collectively oohed and ahhed and snapped millions of pictures. I took a few, stood still, and let the powerful emotions wash over me. Its difficult to put into words – I felt truly blessed to be alive, to be in a place that has withstood the long passage of time.

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As the temple is gradually bathed in the morning light, details that were cloaked in darkness become visible : the stupas and reliefs, the statues, the intricacy of its structure.

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The most magical thing, for me, was how different the surroundings looked from different directions – standing at the Merbabu/Merapi gate, everything was a blazing gold and orange, but walk a couple of steps to the other gate and you see an amazing sea of blue and green, shrouded in mist.

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In daylight, visitors will see that the temple consists of nine stacked platforms – the bottom six of which are square, and the top three circular, topped by a big central dome. When viewed from above, it resembles a mandala, which in Buddhism and Hinduism, represents the universe.

We were extremely lucky to get a knowledgeable local guide, who was able to explain to us, in detail, about the history and meaning behind many of the temple’s reliefs and symbols.

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**Photo Courtesy of Marriott Yogyakarta 

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Perhaps the most unique thing about Borobudur is that its more like a giant storybook etched in stone, since there are no shrines or chambers like other temples.

The temple’s bottom levels represent the ‘mortal’ realm, or ‘realm of forms’, which are decorated with thousands of reliefs depicting tales of Buddha’s life, the life of his disciples, and legends and figures from Buddhist mythology.

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Following the principles of Buddhism, the top three levels represent achieving ‘nirvana’ – moving from ‘form’ to ‘formlessness’ as we become free from suffering and the mortal cycle of birth, pain, old age, and death. Here, visitors will find 72 perforated stupas, each housing a statue of a stone Buddha within. The central dome on top represents the final state that all beings should strive for, ie Nirvana.

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The main material or building blocks of the temple are volcanic stone, extracted from the nearby volcanoes, hence the grey colour. Its close proximity to the volcanoes means that the temple is often under threat from eruptions. In fact, several years ago, Borobudur was closed for several months to facilitate a cleanup, after Mount Merapi erupted and covered the entire complex in a layer of volcanic ash.

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Old stone (left) and new stone used to restore parts of the temple that were destroyed in multiple eruptions over a thousand years. Some of the reliefs are, in fact, faded beyond repair.

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Conventionally, one will visit from the bottom levels to the top, but since we were already on the upper levels, we made our way down instead. Although one will see many Indian elements, Borobudur incorporates touches that are uniquely Javanese, blending with the local mythos and architecture.

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One of the most fascinating explanations that our guide provided was that of Kala-Makara, the monster that sits over archways (above).

A ravenous demon lion known as ‘Kirtimukha’ in Hindu mythology,¬† it was created by Lord Shiva and is a representation of the god himself, devouring everything in its path. Although I can’t find any research online to back this up,¬† our guide said that it was representative of time – which, to me, was an apt description.Time devours everything and reduces even the mightiest kingdoms into rubble.

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There are thousands of reliefs within Borobudur. Some are depicted in continuous chapters – like pages of a book, you explore each as you make your way around the square platforms. Others tell a story within a single panel. One can’t help but marvel at the level of detail and the excellent craftsmanship of Borobudur’s artisans and builders. They did not have the tools and technology that we have – and yet were able to produce such amazing works of art that have withstood the test of time for over a millennia.

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Scene of Buddha as a deer in its past life.

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Similar to the gargoyles of Europe, Borobudur has water spouts shaped like mythical creatures such as monstrous lions and makara (a type of sea monster), which were used to drain water from the structure when it rains. As for Buddha statues, there are about 504 statues within the complex, although originally there might have been more.

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A makara waterspout

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Clearer picture of the tiers in daylight

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Even for someone living in the 21st century, an era of skyscrapers and giant buildings, Borobudur still took my breath away – so I can only imagine how it must have felt for visitors and pilgrims in the past when they first laid eyes on this magnificent structure. The temple is still an important place for Indonesian Buddhists, and is where they have a grand Wesak Day celebration every year to commemorate the birth of Buddha.

Entry for the sunrise tour is 450,000 IDR (RM128 – USD30). You can also opt for a day trip at a cheaper price.

Tips: Wear proper shoes and bring a scarf! It gets quite chilly in the morning.

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The package included breakfast at Manohara Restaurant, which is where we set off for the tour earlier. The kuih-muih (cakes) and fried banana topped with cheese was awesome after all that walking!

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Hearty fried rice meal with sausages, crisps and side of salad.

GETTING TO BOROBUDUR 

By Public Transport: From the city, take the Trans-Jogja busses 2B and 2A to Jombor Bus Terminal in northern Yogyakarta. There, board a bus that goes directly to Borobudur Bus Terminal (trip of 60 – 90 minutes). From there, walk 5 minutes to reach Borobudur Temple.

By Minivan: Some tour operators offer packages that take you directly to Borobudur, or may stop at attractions along the way.