Monday, 14 December 2015

South-East Asian Adventures: Temples, jewellery-making and traditional ballet in Yogyakarta, Java

While Jakarta may be the business and financial capital of Java, Yogyakarta is the cultural and touristic centre of the island.

Pronounced "Jokjakarta" and referred to merely as Jokja/Yogya, it's a big city with lots to do - we stayed there for a whopping three nights! I know.

In order to prevent this being the longest blog post in the world I'll try not to go into tooooo much detail about everything (famous last words) whilst still giving you a feel for the place.

Right let's crack on!

We arrived late afternoon and checked-in at the Indah Palace Hotel. ("Where are you staying?" "In Da Palace." This provided endless lols.)

The hotel was great and in a fab location just off the buzzy street, Jalan Prawirotaman.

After a twilight swim in the pool under thunder and lightning (that was awesome), we ventured out for dinner at EasyGoin' restaurant. You may be able to guess from the name that it was not an Asian place, but the fajitas were fantastic and I drank a cocktail out of a coconut the size of my head so what more could you want really?

After a delish breakfast the next morning (many a fresh fruit, pastries, chocolate milk, juice, tea and chocolate pancakes) it was time to venture off for some culture.

We were off to Borobudur temple, the biggest Buddhist temple in the world!

It was over an hour's drive away and pretty expensive to get into (if you have a student card, use it - I did, but they were not inclined to accept it. The ladies at the desk were googling NUS to make sure it was legit. Srsly.), but worth it.

The site is huge, with elephants, traditional dance performances and all sorts to entertain the tourists in the grounds around the temple.

We visited on a Sunday which unfortunately meant the place was packed with tourists (eww, tourists). Remember how I've mentioned before that being a white person in Indonesia (well, Java and Sumatra at least) feels like being a celebrity? Well nowhere has it been so intense than at Borobudur.

And it was especially weird because we weren't even the only white people there! Every few seconds, someone would come up and ask for a picture with us, look aghast when we politely declined and then often sneakily try and take pictures of us without us noticing afterwards. We always noticed, and people then tried to pretend they were taking a selfie or a panorama.

It got very annoying and - this may sound ridiculous - actually made me feel really bad for actual celebrities who have to put up with that all the time. Although I suppose it's part of the job for them. I am literally just a white person. A white person trying really hard to get a good tan too. Alas.

I asked our guide what it was all about and she said that basically it's exciting for Asians to meet white people and they want a picture to post on their Facebook pages. The trouble is, if you agree to a picture with one person you'll be there all day taking pictures with everyone.


Borobudur is huuuuuuge!

It was built in the 9th century and features over 500 statues of Buddha.

There's so much detail in the stonework which I find incredible considering how long ago it was built.

We wandered round the nine levels of the temple, trying our best not to melt in the sweltering heat (whilst all the Asian people were in jeans, hoodies and headscarves and apparently fine. Hmph.)

The top levels of Borobudur are particularly cool, featuring ginormous stone bell-shaped stupa with more Buddha statues inside.

If you go to Borobudur, make sure you don't leave before walking up the hill to get the cracking view back at the temple. It's pretty special.

After venturing back into Yogya, I had lunch, went for a swim, got a massage (oh, if only massages were as cheap back home), went out for dinner and called it a night. Why is the heat so exhausting!?

Day two in Yogya commenced in much the same fashion as day one had, with breakfast, obvs. Sarah, Molly and I then decided to pay a visit to what is supposedly one of the city's main shopping streets, Malioboro.

Yeah, don't bother.

There isn't really anything you'd want to buy and we spent the whole time being called out to by men on the street. Not yay.

However the day took a turn for the awesomer when we sat down at Viavia café back on Prawirotaman street.

This place was just fantastic!

Fresh healthy food, a great vibe and lots of delicious veggie options. It was the first time I'd seen falafel and houmous since arriving in Asia and I was so happy about it.

I'm just going to jump ahead a little because I liked Viavia so much that I went back for dinner that night too.

Falafel pitta:

Slightly blurry but super delicious pesto and pepper-topped bruschetta:

And a salad of mixed veggies, peanuts, tempe and oniony stuff:


But let's rewind, shall we?

After lunch we did something that's definitely one of the highlights of my whole trip: a silver jewellery-making class at Studio 76.

Yogya is known for its fine silver jewellery, and having been a super crafty kid who used to make her own jewellery, I was mad keen for this.

We sat down in the little traditional workshop, excited to get started.

Multiple pairs of elephant trousers are all well and good as souvenirs, but they're not exactly going to last, so I was keen to make something that I can keep forever to remind me of my travels.

I decided to make a bangle.

Our teacher was very friendly and talked us through every step of the process - he showed us what to do but then left us to do it all ourselves, which was great.

Melting, engraving, bashing (I believe that's the technical term), cutting, filing, smoothing, polishing... There's a lot involved, but I absolutely loved it.

On the inside of my bangle I wrote "Rachel Yogya 2015", and on the outside "Warm seas and coconut trees" with a little heart.

My pics aren't great as my camera didn't want to focus on something so intricate, but you'll just have to trust me when I say it looks pretty cute. Of course, it looks homemade, but I love that.

That evening the culture continued with a trip to the traditional Indonesian ballet!

We took a rickshaw ride to the open-air amphitheatre which was awesome - it's a great way to whizz through the city, particularly at night when it's a little cooler (although still hot enough to be out in just a strappy dress!)

The venue was beautiful, and we were even allowed backstage to see the dancers getting ready.

And then it was time for the show to commence!

I absolutely adore ballet so couldn't wait to see what it was going to be like.

Yeah, it turns out Indonesian ballet is pretty different to the ballet I know. They told a traditional story, but I have to admit I couldn't follow it and so 90 minutes was quite a long time to have no clue what was going on.

That said, I still enjoyed it.

The costumes were beautiful, the dancing so interesting and there was even fire, people!

And the next morning we were off again!

Yogya had been fantastic though - we'd done so much but there was still lots more I'd have liked to see and do. It's definitely worth a visit, chums!

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