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Ancient temples, active volcanoes in Yogyarkarta

YOGYARKARTA: There is a new star rising in the list of quality eco-tourism destinations in Southeast Asia, and you’d never guess where it is. On the southern side of Java in Indonesia is the small city of Yogyarkarta, a tidy, thriving place of about 400,000 residents. (It can also be spelt or pronounced Jogjarkata or Yogyakarta, and is anyway shortened by the locals to Yogya, but let’s move on).


Tim Newton

Tuesday 11 February 2014, 05:58PM


The easiest way to describe the weather there is to reverse the weather we get in Phuket. Tropical, with opposite wet and dry seasons.

The city has plenty to offer, especially when it comes to fossicking around the local markets, but it’s outside the city where you can experience both adventure and the potential of spiritual enlightenment from a number of religious brands.

Buddhist and Hindu temples, active volcanoes, caving and other eco-adventures are a complete surprise for an otherwise unsurprising small Indonesian city.

Close by you also have magnificent beaches, some with volcanic black sand, others pure white. Plenty of surprises to be sure, but let’s instead head to Indonesia’s most visited attraction, Borobudur, about an hour’s drive from the city.

The temple of Borobudur is the largest Buddhist structure ever erected in stone. The actual structure, based on seven platforms, takes up a footprint of 130m by 130m and reaches 35m into the sky.

Built in the 9th Century, at a time when the local Hindu Kingdoms were being influenced by Buddhism (this is long before the influence of Islam came to Indonesia), Borobadur survives, despite being ransacked by locals, treasure hunters and passing civilisations.

The nearby volcanoes haven’t helped with preservation through their tendency to dump ash onto the structure any time they decide to erupt.

The stairs are steep, but checking out the intricate carvings as you stop at the seven terraces give you a moment to catch your breath.

It had its most recent major makeover in 1975, a joint effort by the Indonesian government and UNESCO. Whilst many other ancient religious structures around the world maintain some control over the tourist numbers and full access to the attraction, there are no such controls at Borobudur.

But if one enormous, ancient temple isn’t enough for you, there’s another enormous, ancient temple not too far away. This time from an earlier Hindu era.

Only an hour’s drive away from Borobudur, but constructed in an entirely different design and structure, Prambanan is equally fascinating to wander around.

In both cases, a local guide will go through the intricate histories and try and explain what the builders of these edifices were trying to achieve.

Nearby the Prambanan Temple complex is a nightly cultural dance show – when the weather is okay it’s performed outdoors with the temples as the backdrop; when the rain comes along they have a purpose-built theatre for the show.

Make sure you grab a copy of the free explanation of the performance, available in multiple languages, otherwise all the colour and movement may leave you bewildered.

Indonesia is one of the most active seismic regions in the world and not far out of Yogyakarta you can touch and feel a real active volcano.

If you’re wondering where all the old army jeeps from WWII ended up, I think you’ll find most of them at the base of the Merapati volcano with enthusiastic stunt drivers awaiting.

Being a passenger in the jeeps is like riding a roller coaster in the middle of an earthquake. We are issued with dust masks as the jeeps drive through the remains of the volcanic dust that spewed from the active crater only four years ago. Four years ago? And we are told it erupts every four years!

There’s plenty to see and the scenery is spectacular if the clouds decide to clear. The ride down is just as rough though, and the guides are entertained by watching us grimly hang on pretending we’re enjoying ourselves. Enough adventure. Let’s go shopping.

Yogyakarta has some spectacular markets, especially if you’re after local trinkets, batik and budget fashion. Coming from Thailand it’s hard to be impressed, but you will really enjoy the Maliobora Street market.

It must be a good kilometre long, the shopping on one side, local street food on the other. You simply won’t get through it all in a night.

If you like batik you’ve come to the right place with Yogyakarta proudly displaying a rich history in quality batik.

Whilst the local craft may have gone out of fashion for a few years, there is a new generation rediscovering the beauty and variety in Javanese batik.

Watching the painstaking artistry of authentic batik production explains the high price. One piece of the real thing can take two or three weeks to produce.

Whatever type of trip you’re looking for – be it nature, culture, shopping, age-old Hindu temples or soon-to-erupt volcanoes – this exciting corner of Indonesia seemingly has it all.

You can get to Yogyakarta easily with Silk Air flying through Singapore (only an hour’s transit at Changi) three times a week. I stayed at one of the few four star properties, The Grand Tjokro.

Member of ASEAN do not need a visa, while other countries can get a visa on arrival which costs B1,000. Check out a video report of my visit to Yogyakarta at thephuketnews.com/tv



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