Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Yogyakarta’s a pretty cool place – it’s known for its culture, due to the nearby temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, and also its central palace that shows daily music and dance performances, like the royal Rayamana ballet. Despite all of this culture it has to offer, Yogyakarta is nonetheless and Indonesian city, and first impressions are still of a bustling main street with tuk-tuks everywhere and modernised shop-fronts and malls.

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Having said that, the hostels there are pretty nice and we ended up staying in La Javanaise Homestay, which was really homely (as the name promises!) and featured a traditional Indonesian central room with beautiful sculptures and furniture, as well as delicious breakfast like banana pancakes, cooked by the nan of the house. We spent quite a lot of time here drinking the free coffee sitting on our balcony, and mapping out plans, whilst we waited for our visa extension to go through (which took over a week!)

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Our time in town was mainly spent shmoozing around, eating on the numerous food markets and restaurants, and occasionally doing something cultural like seeing the Rayamana ballet on a Sunday morning at the palace. At just a 50p a ticket, the palace is really good value and they have different dances there each day, and if you get there super early (like we did) you can sit directly in front of the dancers – offering a more intimate dance experience than the grander shows on offer at Prambanan temple. The dancers’ muscle control was really incredible, with eyerything poised, from toes to eyes to pursed lips – and the stories were easy to follow from the costumes and movements, from battles to romances. The whole thing is soundtracked by ‘gamelan’ singers playing traditional instruments sat just behind them. It was truly great to watch!

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We also got down with a little shopping in Yogya (as the locals call it), as the main street is totally dominated by batik and craft shops. The shop ladies – as with the locals generally – were SUPER happy to see us, perhaps because not that many travellers venture as far as Java, and we often had to stop for photo ops with kids on the street and shopkeepers.

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The food in Yogya was pretty phenomenal, and it’s where I first got obsessed with Gado-Gado, a delicious salad of crunchy veg with a thick spicy peanut sauce. We also tried local delicacy Nasi Gudeg, which is curry made of spicy jackfruit, so good we ate it five times! There were also loads of other Indonesian classics that we tried there – see Food Blog for full details.

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On one of our days off from the visa office, we rented a car with our pals to visit Borobudur temple which was really cool. We went there for sunrise – which our buddies viewed by paying to go through a hotel and clamber up on the temple itself (the ‘postcard’ shot), but given the mist we went to a cheaper viewpoint, where we proceeded to see NOTHING… due to the mist. It was pretty lol hiking all the way to the lookout and then trying to make out what we could see in the mist and trying to guess what was the outline of a temple, and what was the outline of a tree.

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However, once we’d made our way in, we were happy to be there before the crowds, and spent a happy few hours walking around the various levels of the temple, making up explanations of what the relief pictures could mean. Bird-headed monster? Infidelity? Who knows. The four levels offered amazingly preserved relief as it was hidden in dense jungle until the ’80s, and it reminded us of the walls of Angkar Thom at Angkar Wat. The levels offered some good photo ops, with buddha statues facing outwards punctuating the corners and edges.

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At the top, there are several latticed bells, some including encased buddha statues, and some missing their heads! Religious tension. The view from the top of the surrounding jungle was pretty ace, and we basked in the sun admiring the buddhas atop the stupa for some time.

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For our last night with friends, we went for drinks in a bar that evolved into burgers on the street and a sing-along to karaoke (as all good nights should). And then, armed with our new visa extensions, we took a flight to the faraway island of Sulawesi, for some underwater adventures in the national park, Pulau Bunaken!

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