Indonesia is a huge country, with so much to see and do, it is hard to decide exactly where to go. When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted a mixture of cultural sights and relaxation. We had a chat to Trailfinders and decided to book the cultural part through them because they just make it so easy to travel. So take a look at the itinerary we followed and let it inspire your next big trip!
Day 1 – Yogyakarta
On day 1, we explored Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta), known as the cultural heart of Java – Lonely Planet describes it as Java’s soul. It is smaller than capital Jakarta but still packs a punch. The city is busy, with people and traffic everywhere but it still felt welcoming and accessible.
Our guide took us to the King’s Palace – the Kraton – where the monarch can still be found in residence. The buildings themselves aren’t that impressive, but it was interesting to hear about the history of the royal family – particularly how many wives the Kings have kept over the years!
Next we headed to the Taman Sari – the Water Palace – essentially where the King went to bathe. It is now a ruin, and sadly surrounded by houses within its ancient walls. Parts of it were destroyed by earthquakes and have never been rebuilt, but the structures that are still there are beautiful.
My favourite stop on day 1 was our visit to Prambanan – ancient Hindu temples just outside of Yogya centre. The temple complex is big, with three main temples dedicated to three Gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Again, many of the temples have been destroyed over time, but some are now being restored. The site is busy, and is a place a lot of local tourists visit, so sometimes the peaceful nature of the temples are lost, but don’t let this put you off.
If you want to try somewhere a bit quieter, grab a golf buggy to the Sewu Temple further away. We loved walking around these and they were almost deserted.
Accommodation – we stayed at the Eclipse Hotel in Yogyakarta, a plain hotel that seemed close to a few nice bars and restaurants (although we didn’t get to visit any).
Day 2 – Borobodur and Candirejo Village
Day 2 started with a painfully early wake up call at 3:30am to head to Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. We got there about 4am, walked up the steps to get the optimum spot and waited for the best part of two hours in the hopes of seeing a beautiful sunrise. No such luck. The clouds were dense and all we experienced was a gradual lighting of the skies. A shame, but it was nice to sit in the warm dawn air and listen to the muezzin sing the morning call to prayer from the nearby mosques.
Once it was light enough, we walked around the temple site while our guide explained what some of the intricate stone carvings mean. The temple took 75 years to build, entirely by hand and each stone stoop contains a statue of Buddha – over 1,000 in total, many of which have been beheaded over the years.
From Borobodur, we moved on to Candirejo village, where we were picked up by a local tour guide who took us around the village on the back of a horse and cart. He showed us what life in a Javanese village is like – making cassava crackers, playing gamelan, taking the kids to school, harvesting crops and drying chilli.
Accommodation – we stayed at Rumah Boedi, a beautiful hotel in the middle of nowhere that felt perfectly secluded. If you find yourself there, make sure you have the beef rendang – delicious!
Day 3 – Dieng Plateau
This day was probably the most disappointing of the tour. We took a long drive to the Dieng Volcano – a volcanic crater a good 3 hour drive from where we stayed the night before. I was expecting big things from the place – at least, bigger things than we got! I have climbed up Mount Vesuvius and was expecting it to be similar, but it wasn’t at all!
First up, the place stinks of sulphur, so buy a face mask or take a scarf to cover your nose and mouth. There are a whole range of shacks selling food (I don’t know how they stand the stench) along with, quite frankly bizarre tourist traps. Tree stumps have real owls on that you can pose with in front of the crater; a zip line whizzes into the noxious fumes with no safety harness; and if you want to stand in a certain place to get a shot, you have to pay for the privilege.
I happily would have skipped Dieng and would recommend you don’t bother either!
Accommodation – we stayed at Kayu Arum resort, which had lovely big rooms, but the only restaurant on site was pretty pricey, with slow service.
Day 4 – Gedong Songo and Mesa Stila Coffee Plantation
Talk about saving the best ’til last. The final day was probably my favourite of the entire tour! In the morning we drove to Gedong Songo, an utterly stunning set of Hindu temples that are the oldest in Java. Not only that, but they are nestled halfway up a mountain, so have the most beautiful views.
When we got there, we were asked whether we wanted to pay extra to hire horses to take us around the site or walk. Because it was so hot, we decided to go for horses, and I really think that added to the pleasure of the day. From what we could see, most people hired horses and I would have hated to think I’d have missed seeing the temple furthest away because I was too tired to walk.
I can’t recommend this site enough – I hope my pictures above capture how beautiful it is. The temples themselves are mostly in good nick, and some even still have statues in them, which seems to be quite rare out of all the temples we visited.
From Gedong Songo, it was a short drive for lunch at Mesa Stila, a Dutch style home that has huge luxury villas to stay in, a restaurant next to the pool and a coffee plantation in the grounds. We were taken around by a local tour guide, where we saw the beans on the trees, learned about the picking and roasting process and got to taste some coffee.
Indonesian coffee comes with a bit of a warning! Whereas in the UK we would strain our coffee using a cafetiere, Indonesians just serve theirs in one glass – so there is nothing to stop the ground beans sliding into your mouth. The trick is to stir and then leave it to rest for a good few minutes while the grounds settle before taking your first sip.
That night, we had a delicious Indonesian buffet dinner and watched a performance of Ramayana dance. The perfect end to our four day tour and the perfect set up for our onward trip to Bali. More on that to come!
Do you like the sound of Central Java? Have you considered Indonesia for a holiday?
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