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Film Review: Tarung Sarung (2020)

Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.

Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.

Synopsis

Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.

Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.

Thoughts

Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.

Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).

Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.

What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).

There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.

That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.

Verdict

Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Food Review: Balinese Food @ Bumbu Bali, Bandar Puteri Puchong

Bumbu Bali has been around for many years, and is well known among Puchong-ites for its Balinese and Western fusion dishes served in a relaxing atmosphere. Despite having lived in Puchong for almost all my life, I’ve only been here a couple of times because of its higher-than-average price.  But since it was the Bruh’s birthday, we decided to splurge on a nice meal. 🙂

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Dim lighting makes for an intimate setting, with cosy wooden chairs and tables, and one side of the restaurant adorned with various Balinese decorations like paintings and statues (some of these are for sale).

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The birthday boy had the Siap Mepaggang (RM31); BBQ chicken with spicy coconut sauce.

When it came we were taken aback by the humongous portion – they essentially served half a chicken on the plate. The dish also came with Nasi Kuning (rice with turmeric), various sambal sauces, Rempeyek (anchovy cracker), Lawar Kacang (beans salad) and sauteed kangkong. If you’re a small eater, I suggest sharing this.

Tried a bite and felt the chicken was a little dry, but this is quite common in Indonesian and Malay cooking (think dry rendang) and they seem to like the meat to be on the tough side rather than moist and juicy.

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Pops had the Nasi Campur (RM37), consisting of Balinese grilled lemongrass prawns, squid, fish, chicken rendang and sate lilit, as well as the same condiments as the Bruh’s set. Again, the portion was humongous, and even my dad who is a big eater had trouble finishing it.

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N and I shared the Seafood Platter (RM39), which had grilled fish fillet, squid and prawns. It came served with fries, fruit and a salad. The seafood was pretty good, with a nice smokiness.

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For snacks, we shared the fried chicken strips (RM17), served with garlic pepper sauce. This was mostly chicken skin but oh-so-addictive. The sauce was strong and garlicky.

I have to say that everything was salty though. Or maybe it’s just because my fam and I are used to milder flavours, because N said the seasoning was just right lol. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t tasty, it was just a bit on the salty side.

Service was excellent, although there seem to be wayyy too many servers – I think there must have been more than 10 of them to service 5 or 6 tables for dinner!

Owing to the big portions, its best to come in a group if you’re planning a visit. 🙂

BUMBU BALI 

18 & 18-1, Persiaran Puteri 1, Bandar Puteri, 47100 Puchong, Selangor

Open daily: 11AM – 11PM

 

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 🙂

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

Review: Taman Sari Bar & Grill, Marriott Yogyakarta

If you’re looking to indulge in some excellent grilled fare while in Yogyakarta,Indonesia, look no further than Taman Sari Bar & Grill, located within Marriott Yogyakarta Hotel. Named after a royal garden, the establishment is located just next to the pool, with an open layout that exudes chill vibes – great for intimate gatherings, small birthday parties with friends, and romantic candlelit dinners.

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In the day time, you can lounge with a cooler or two after coming up from the pool, and grab a couple of snacks while you’re at it. Come night, the ambient lighting and wooden skylight gives the impression of dining under the stars.

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During a recent stay, I had dinner at the resto and was suitably impressed. For starters, we had the Taman Sari Flatbread (IDR45,000 / RM12) – handcrafted flat bread straight from the wood-fired oven. There were three flavours, namely plain, garlic rub and fire spiced, served with Taman Sari’s sambal. The warm and toasty slices were fluffy and light – I especially liked the fragrant garlic rub, although the other two were equally tasty.

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For mains, I had the Striploin Angus (300gm), from stockyard Black Angus Beef 70+ days grained (IDR 355,000 /RM100), served with a side of corn cob, jacket potato and mushroom sauce. The slab of beef was humongous. I ordered mine medium rare. It’s notoriously difficult to get steaks done to the right level, but they nailed it here. Still slightly bloody on the inside with juices flowing, but not charred on the outside. The knife slid through the meat like butter. With each slice dipped into the sauce, it elevated the flavour of meat to another level. Pure. Bliss.

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To wash it down, a refreshing glass of Yogya Sunrise Mocktail (IDR45000), a sweet concoction of orange, strawberry, lychee, pear and grenadine.

For such a classy establishment, I’m quite surprised at how relatively affordable the prices are at Taman Sari. If ever I return to Yogyakarta, i can definitely see myself returning to have that steak again. It’s hard to find good steak anywhere, really.

TAMAN SARI BAR & GRILL MARRIOTT YOGYAKARTA 

Jl. Raya Ringrad Utara | Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel, Sleman 55283, Indonesia

Phone: +62 274 6000888

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 – so 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! 🙂

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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. 🙂

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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 – the largest in Yogyakarta – making 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!