Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta, or a combination of either) is one of the most interesting and curious places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, and I was fortunate enough to visit this city with my good friend Kate. It’s located centrally on the island of Java, and it’s the heart of Javanese art and culture; it’s walls are freshly dripping with street art, and, in my personal opinion, the people are highly intuitive and connected with their culture and spirituality. These factors contributed to 10 unforgettable experiences in Yogya.
1. Visiting the Temple of Borobudur.
This temple is still under the radar as a major Southeast Asia travel destination, but I found that to be very refreshing! I had always dreamed of seeing these colossal stupas, so visiting this temple (only an hour drive from Yogya) was a major travel milestone!
2. Visiting the underground mosque of Taman Sari.
Light pours in from the top, so the actual mosque isn’t underground, but, the mosque was once only accessible by the underground passages which were filled with water and used by the Sultan of Yogya. I’m sure he couldn’t resist climbing these quirky, MC Escher-esque stairs. I couldn’t either.
(Travel Tip: You may need to ask to be taken here; it’s a short walk from the main Taman Sari, and it’s not necessarily a place that’s included in the short tour of the main buildings and baths.)
3. Watching traditional Wayang come to life.
Wayang refers to shadow puppets, which are a big part of storytelling in Indonesian culture. We sat with a sweet young man, Ari, who gave us an extremely informative talk about the shadow puppet he was creating; every minute detail of this puppet represented a treasure trove of spiritual insight and Indonesian wisdom. We covered all the bases of this particular puppet character from its feminine and masculine energy, to its ego and impending orgasm.
We watched as he used his tools to produce ornate designs. The puppets were then painted and sold.
4. Crying when the shadow puppet maker told me all about my life.
Many of the people we met in Yogjakarta seemed to have a very deep sense of themselves and others around them. After his long-winded Wayang spiel, Ari (pictured below) looked at us intently, and then said, “I think you are very open and true people. Have you been meditating?”
He went on tell Kate and I so precisely where we were each at in our lives that it brought tears to my eyes. He articulated my current struggles with life and love more poignantly and effectively than I could have, damn it. His entire being was so present and genuine, and I know he had the gift of inspiring others, like me, to live in the same way.
5. Letting the locals lead us.
They wanted nothing more! We were bombard by so many giggly gangs of young Indonesian people who just wanted to practice their English, shake our hands, and guide us to our next location. We had one person after another helping us out, showing us around, and sharing their culture with us.
We let a friendly man lead us around Pasar Beringharjo, the local three story market. He had said from the beginning with a chuckle that he didn’t want any money. He laughed heartily and chatted with vendors as plucked different herbs and spices out of their bulk bags, which he would hand to us to smell. He showed us the fried bats that were eaten to ward off asthma, joked with us like we were old friends, and thought nothing of his generosity.
6. Trying an avocado smoothie from a convenient store.
Imagine my delight and repulsion at this sight. We came across this gem while on our nightly quest for a bar of chocolate. I had to try it because where the heck else was I going to find a convenient store where I get an avocado slurpee like it’s no big deal? (P.S. I loved it.)
7. Marveling at the street art.
Murals, contemporary art, graffiti, political artwork, global street art- it has many names, and even more contributors; there are countless groups, artists, and schools that continually contribute to the art all over Yogyakarta. Every wall is a canvas for social and political opinions, and I can’t say that I minded; it definitely sets Yogya apart.
I found the artwork to be thought provoking, and some of it even made me laugh. And in one tiny spots in this big city we found a splendid little saying in red paint which read… “life is short, travel more…” <3
8. Taking a waltz on Malioboro.
Malioboro Street in the evening time gave off a strange ‘Old West’ vibe: horse drawn carriages waiting for riders, dusty wooden items being sold outside shops, antiques, and clouds of cigarette smoke. At Mirota Batik we sifted through mounds of cheap (but awesome) souvenirs and a bunch o’ batik while being serenaded by an excellent piano player.
9. Eating at Via Via… several times.
Hallelujah! We had found our place. It served organic, healthy Indonesian food, delicious drinks, and creative twists on international food. Via Via is an oasis complete with meditation classes, a yoga studio, a bakery, and a gift shop.
They even support the local community and its development through their eco-friendly and sustainable tours and their general approach to responsible tourism. (We also loved Milas for these same reasons.) As I savored the special of the day, we flipped through their book of tours and were won over by the full day ‘Spiritual Java‘ tour, which leads us to #10…
10. Going on a spiritual journey.
Meet our fearless leaders- Wayan, a spiritual healer (on the right), and Patrick, a Belgian man who does anthropology work in Java, speak Bahasa, and knows a ridiculous amount about Javanese culture and wisdom (on the left).
During the morning we hiked to the peak of Gunung Nglanggeran, Patuk (seen above). Following our hike, we hit several spiritual spots (certain trees, a grave site, and a waterfall) where our duo would explain about the sacredness and history of the site while sucking down cigarettes. At these sites we would meditate for a short time while Wayan led us in prayer. On our journey we met an old midwife, who showed us around her beautiful backyard.
Later on in the evening, we watched the sunset atop a hill overlooking a rocky and beautiful beach. After the sun ducked down behind the water, I did as Wayan did and dunked myself in a pocket of fresh water near the ocean, which supposedly has healing properties.
After a somewhat painful acupressure session from Wayan (my energy was all in balance- whew), we sat on the porch of a small house, sipped fresh coconuts, and pulled bites of home cooked fish off the bones. On the steps below a man strummed his guitar and sang as his naked baby squealed beside him (unforgettable in itself).
We ended our day at Pantai Ngobaran, an open air dwelling for ancestors and several white statues of Hindu deities. We meditated here for about 30 minutes (a solid session) on the sand under Vishnu while listening to the waves crash intensely on the rocky surface below.
During this spiritual journey, I was reminded of the importance of meditation in my daily life, and I gained insight into Java’s powerhouse of mysticism and spirituality, which is deeply embedded in the culture. Thanks Patrick and Wayan! Here’s their website.
Yogya brings to mind this quote: “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”
This city is buzzing with positive vibes and I could practically smell the spirituality in the air. Being in a place with such genuine, connected people opened up doors that allowed me to feel even more connected to myself and everything going on around me. The experiences we had were wonderful, but the people we encountered rendered these experiences unforgettable.
Have you visited Yogyakarta? What unforgettable experiences did you have?