I woke from my nap after my five-hour flight from Hong Kong to the most incredible view of volcanoes peaking through the clouds below me. I feel like I’ve been travelling in circles around the world in a mad attempt to get to Indonesia. It’s not quite the case, but at this incredible moment, descending into the clouds above Java, it certainly feels like it.
Many, perhaps most, people I have met in Hong Kong have been to Bali. Quite a few of them feel they “know” Bali quite well, perhaps have even visited two or three times. Mention Indonesia to these people, and they feel they know it already based upon their visits to Bali. However, much more than merely Bali, Indonesia is a nation of 17,000 islands! It can certainly be difficult to know where to begin an adventure beyond Bali in such a diverse, scattered, and lovely country.
I began mine in Yogyakarta, the second city of Indonesia, the cultural and musical capital of the nation, if not the political centre. It sits on Java, one of the most mystical and fabulous islands of the world. Java, even the name evokes romantic childhood dreams of jungles and thousand-year-old ruins with monkeys scampering about.
Getting There and Away
Garuda Airlines, the national carrier of Indonesia flies by way of Jakarta to Yogyakarta (or Yogya for short) daily. Garuda has had some image problems in the past, and as a result, they have updated their fleet of jets, and revamped their service dramatically. Over the last ten or fifteen years, they have jumped up in quality and are now one of the more pleasant and reliable carriers of all of Asia.
What to See
The sights of Yogya are focused on the arts: music, painting, batik cloth designs, and the shops which sell these wonderful items. Most people end up on Malioboro Street at some point, rummaging through the piles of wares for inexpensive souvenirs and funny arty t-shirts and batik fabric. I did so as well, but only briefly as I had another more time-consuming destination: the Sultan’s Palace. The Sultan of Jogyakarta still lives in the palace, and still rules the vicinity of Yogya, but parts of the palace are open to the public, and its fabulous buildings and treasures are well worth exploring. This was a fun and exciting and exhausting way to spend a day getting to know the centre of Yogya, and by the end of this day, I could walk no more.
The most important site near Yogya, the one which nearly every visitor to the region makes a straight line to, is Borobudor. This is the largest Buddhist monument on the planet. It was built around 800AD, is roughly 300 years older than Angkor Wat, and is a massive mountain of a place. Despite the similarities with Angkor, it is absolutely and unmistakably Indonesian.
It is very popular to get up early, and go to spend a couple of hours there at sunrise, enjoying the golden shadows of the rising sun, as they stretch across the jungles of Java. One must get up very early however, as the drive takes about an hour each way, but it is well worth it. The building is covered in carvings, (over 2670, with more than 500 Buddha statues) and from the top are incredible views out to the mountains and volcanoes of the surrounding Java countryside.
Where to Stay
The Mesa Stila Resort and Spa, is a place of beauty and retreat. Each of their buildings was purchased somewhere on Java, and carefully taken apart and moved to this incredible location. It is an active coffee plantation, and organic farm, and takes great pride in the way they spoil their guests. This is the sort of place which offers bathtubs big enough for three or four people in each of their villas, as well as flat-screen televisions. At the top of the hill, a ten-minute walk from the beautiful terrace, I found myself lounging on under the gaze of the sleeping giant volcano facing me. One is always aware of these sleeping giants around you as you move about the property, from aromatherapy massages, to time in their hamam, to the infinity pool, to the organic restaurant, to the bicycle tours through local villages, and over jungle-clad mountains, to the yoga classes, you won’t be bored in this retreat!
Java is a place everyone should get to. The diversity of activities, the culture, the food, and the wonderful warm people, and should be much better known. I was very excited and happy to have spent time here on my way to explore the 17,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago…where next?
By Dylan Hiroms