Tag Archives: Indonesia

Travel Guide: Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta, also known as Jogja because it’s easier to say (according to the local guide who answered my question about that), is located on the Indonesian island of Java. It’s the only Javanese city still ruled by a monarch and is home to Indonesia’s best universities. A large student population, special government status, and a unique heritage and culture make Jogja a lovely place to spend a long weekend. I’ve been wanting to visit for some time and I was really glad to finally have the opportunity to do so.

We arrived early in the afternoon and started off with a walk to get our bearings. Jogja is bright, sunny, and hot and we were happy to take the suggestions of a few locals who stopped us to chat. They sent us to a couple batik art galleries and told us about cultural events taking place over the weekend. As we walked, we saw quite a few murals, which is always a highlight for me.

We walked along Jalan Malioboro, a very busy central street lined with shops and street sellers selling souvenirs and batik clothing. It was entirely too hot and overwhelming to be there during the day and we decided to go back in the evening. Jalan Malioboro is very tourist-oriented and the real local markets, which we saw by car the next day, are located a few streets over.

The primary reason for our visit to Jogja was to see Borobudur and Prambanan, two very famous temples. We went on a Friday to avoid weekend crowds and that actually worked out really well. Borobudur dates back to the ninth century and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world and designed so that visitors follow the path of Buddhism from the base of the temple, symbolising the world of desire, up to the top of the temple, symbolising the Buddhist cosmology of forms and then of formlessness.

It was amazing to see how much had been reconstructed, as well as how much hadn’t. Indonesia experiences frequent earthquakes and their effects are present here as much as elsewhere.

Borobudur is about an hour and a half away from Jogja and our driver pointed out interesting spots along the way, told us about Indonesian farming, and answered our questions about life in Jogja and the rest of Indonesia. On our way back to the car my friend commented that it’s interesting how the best-known part of Borobudur, the stupas at the top, are hidden until you get there. I mused that this fit into the design of the temple – you have to do the hard work on the individual self before reaching that point of clarity.

Our next stop was Prambanan, Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple and also a UNESCO site. It’s about two hours from Borobudur and, just like the first temple, took us about two hours to explore. I was really glad we went because the two temples were completely different. The architecture was noticeably different, in keeping with the typical style of each religion, but so was the feel. There was a sense of mystery at Prambanan that I had not experienced at Borobudur.

Prambanan tells the story of the Hindu Ramayana epic and has temples dedicated to different Hindu deities, the most important of whom are Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector), and Shiva (the Destroyer).

The ruins here were even more prominent than at Borobudur, too, due to significant damage from a 2006 earthquake.

The grounds around Prambanan are home to yet more Buddhist temples. We stopped to look at Lumbung . . .

. . . and Bubrah . . .

. . . and spent some time wandering around Sewu, which was definitely the coolest of the three. It was actively undergoing renovation, but empty other than us and the workers. It’s weird to wander a temple complex removed from crowds. Borobudur wasn’t busy but there were people around every corner. At Sewu, we were keenly aware of being alone and aware of the novelty of the experience.

The following day we visited Batik Winotosastro, an active batik workshop that also hosts batik classes for visitors. Our experience there was fantastic and I highly recommend a visit. A lovely woman introduced us to the workshop and set us right to work. We chose patterns to trace onto our cloth and then she moved us over to real batikers. We learned how to hold the dipper that contains the wax (I’ll be honest – I found this really difficult) and proceeded to trace the lines we’d just penciled. The batikers were working on additional layers of colour beyond the base layer and it was amazing to watch them and see how intricate, detailed, and precise their lines were. They prettied up our wax outlines while our guide showed us around the workshop.

Batik can be hand drawn or stamped, we learned. The stamps are copper and have been around a very long time, but the hand drawn batik are more expensive. When our batik were prettier than we’d left them, our guide took us over to the woman responsible for dyeing . . .

. . . and the man who boiled off the wax . . .

. . . and finally to the women with sewing machines who hemmed the edges to finish off.

It was a real pleasure to learn from such a knowledge person and to experience how an actual batik workshop operates. Watching a traditional process in action was a great learning experience and says a lot about Jogja’s desire to maintain its heritage. I am always glad to support places like that.

Our afternoon destination was a quick trip to the Water Castle, which is located on the grounds of the royal palace. The only section preserved today is the bathing complex where the sultan and his ladies would relax.

I really liked the neighbourhood around the Water Castle, too. It was bright and colourful, though very quiet. We noticed that people in Jogja tended to avoid the outdoors in the middle of the day, which is not what I have seen in other places with similar weather but definitely something that I understand.

For our last evening, we headed back down Jalan Malioboro to experience the night market. It was busy and crowded and still rather overwhelming but I’m really glad we went.

I was particularly taken by the street food stalls that opened up and attracted just about everybody.

And furthermore, we were in Indonesia. They take coffee very seriously here. Filter coffee from a street cart!

Before going to the airport the following day, we went back to the royal palace, the Kraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat. The palace hosts cultural performances daily so we got to hear some Javanese music and see traditional dance.

The palace also has several museums explaining different traditions and rituals. There are a few artifacts on display throughout the complex, as well.

After another cup of coffee from Tanamera Coffee, a local roastery and café that we visited a couple of times, it was time to go. We had a lovely long weekend in Yogyakarta and I would definitely recommend it for lovers of history, art, and culture. Happy travels!

Travel Guide: Ubud, Bali

To recover from our grade 10 trip to Cambodia and to celebrate Chinese New Year, I headed to the city of Ubud on the Indonesian island of Bali. The stereotypical Bali experience is one of beaches and parties, but Ubud is actually located inland without a beach. This helpful map comes from Lonely Planet:

map_of_bali

I honestly didn’t do much while I was in Ubud and it was fantastic. My very wonderful Airbnb hosts directed me to the Yoga Barn where I bought a three-class pass and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Not only was the studio beautiful, but they also had a delicious juice bar! I took the photos below standing on the deck of Yoga Barn’s complex:

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When I wasn’t in the studio, I walked around town, visited a few must-see sights (the market and palace), ate top notch vegetarian food (Ubud is perfect for those on a health kick with all the yoga and organic restaurants), drank local wine, and wandered in and out of shops.

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I loved this.

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Balinese people love beautiful objects. This was set on the sidewalk in front of a jewelry store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Example of the offerings I saw everywhere. There was one in front of my door each morning when I woke up.

Most families live in compounds, each of which contains the family temple. Balinese Hinduism is quite different from the more familiar Indian Hinduism, and I was glad to learn about it from my hosts. All around Bali people were erecting bamboo poles like the one below to prepare for the Galungan celebration, marking the return of gods and ancestors. I saw multiple families sitting outside and around their homes stapling together the bamboo flower decorations that wrap these poles, as well as putting together other offerings like the ones seen above.

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As I wandered, I took pictures. While many of the photos below are the exteriors of temples, others are family compounds. Many of these, like the one where I stayed, are used in part for guest houses. The hospitality and tourism sector is the primary industry in Bali right now, thanks in part to the artists who came to Bali in the 1980s in search of an “untouched” place for inspiration. Rice farming, which still happens in Bali though not in trendy Ubud, was basically the only industry before the tourists arrived.

The architecture was probably the most interesting aspect of Ubud for me. I loved the stonework and the solidity and stateliness it gave to the city. Ubud felt solid, strong, and anchored in tradition. The more I talked to my hosts, the more I learned how family and religion are the center of Balinese life. In a very old world way, most people know each other, are related in some manner, and have been in their homes for generations. As a result, people are happy and comfortable and crime is relatively low. Add that to the yoga and it is no wonder being in Ubud left me feeling calm and centered.

Ubud Market, on the other hand, is the opposite of calm and centered. It is as cluttered and chaotic as any market I’ve seen, which made it a wonderful spot to take pictures:

Yes, it started to pour shortly after I took these photos. I ran into a nearby cafe for cover.

 

And that was my time in Ubud. Yoga, food, shopping (I actually made purchases for once!), and wandering. I took it very easy this trip (for once) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. How can you not in a place that has flower patterned sidewalks?

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Travel Guide: Surabaya

I turned 25 at the beginning of January and Mitch took me to Surabaya, on the Indonesian island Java, this weekend for my present! This was a very short trip for me. I landed at 8:45pm Friday night and flew out at 12:10pm Sunday afternoon. My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 5pm so I was supposed to have all of Sunday in Surabaya, but AirAsia cancelled my flight and moved me to the earlier one. Ah well, such is life and such is travelling on discount airlines. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful day on Saturday!

Indonesia is laughably cheap, which should also tell you how poor of a country it is. As a result, though, we stayed in a gorgeous hotel with a stunning pool, ate decadent food, and hired a driver to take us up to Mount Bromo, an extinct volcano. Seeing the volcano was the reason Mitch chose Surabaya as the place to visit.

Shots of our beautiful hotel in which we had a king-size bed, delicious cocktails, and ordered room service as a snack:

Hotel lobby Hotel exterior while they were filling the pool Rooms

Unfortunately, I saw basically nothing of Surabaya itself. From sitting in traffic, I can tell you that it’s very dense and not walkable, at least not where we were. The driver on Saturday told us that West Surabaya is the expat area with the international school, so maybe it would have been different over there. We did see lots of cool graffiti, though! This is the only example of which I managed to snap a decent picture from the car:

Graffiti

Saturday was a dreary day, as all of the photos suggest, but the rain didn’t start until about 3 hours into the 3.5-hour journey up to see Mount Bromo, located on the Tengger Caldera. We had been warned that it was not a good day to try to see Bromo, but that’s what we get for traveling during the rainy season. The best time of day is supposed to be sunrise and even there there’s a 50% chance of clouds and rain. We figured we’d make do with what we had to work with and I’m really glad we did! Even though the drive was very long, we got to see a lot of Java that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. The diver was very knowledgable and friendly, making for a pleasant and educational journey. He drove past the zoo so we could see the iconic statue of an intertwined shark (sura) and crocodile (baya). Who knew?! All of these photos were taken from a moving car, so they’re not the best. Sorry!

Mosque
One of the MANY mosques we passed on the way

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Motorcycles
Surabaya has even more motorcycles than anywhere we’ve been in Malaysia, which is saying a lot. Except for the guy in the front of this photo, all other adults we saw were actually wearing helmets! We even saw a couple kids in helmets, which was rather surprising.

Along the way, the driver pointed out a community that had been utterly destroyed by mudslides. No one has been able to figure out how to stop the mud, so now it goes through pipes into a river that leads to the ocean. We saw flattened stone houses, a ruined mosque, and a new road as a result.

Mud flowing into the river Muddy river Canoe

We drove through little villages and towns that became increasingly sparse and increasingly agricultural as we got further from Surabaya. The terrain reminded me a lot of our trip to Cameron Highlands. Different trees, though.

The kids walking home from school in their uniforms made me smile. Kids in uniforms are just so adorable.P1050006

Painted building that we passed:

Traditional Indonesia

Mount Bromo is easily recognizable because it has no top. We were able to see it from one of the two lookout points on the caldera. Had the weather cooperated, we would have taken a Jeep closer to the mountain and gone exploring around and up it, but we had to be contact with gazing through the clouds and rain. Despite those conditions, it was an impressive sight:

Mount Bromo Mount Bromo Again And . . . Mount Bromo!

Nature is really amazing and rather terrifying if you think about it. My favorite photo from the whole adventure was this one because I think it really captures the awesomeness (and I mean that in the literal sense of the word) of Mother Nature and whoever helps her:

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In addition to our volcanic expedition on Saturday, Mitch found an incredible Japanese restaurant inside the Shangri-La Hotel, which is probably the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been in. Our sushi, vegetable, and fish selections were excellent. There were French and Italian restaurants inside, too, and our dessert at the Italian place consisted of red wine and crème brûlée over which the server poured flaming rum. Wow!

Every so often I re-realize how wonderful it is that Mitch and I are traveling and going to new places and trying new things. We really are lucky. Thanks for such a unique birthday gift, Mitch!

Update: Mitch read this post after I published it and made a couple embarrassing corrections. Firstly, Mount Bromo is an active volcano. Secondly, the volcano in the foreground of my photos is not actually Mount Bromo; Mount Bromo is the one to the left with the white cloud-like smoke floating above it. I think I honestly cut it out of most of my photos while I was taking them, but I swear I saw it! I just didn’t know what I was seeing, apparently. Oops . . .