Finally, Southeast Asia, am I right? I’ve been talking about it since May and you’re like, ‘why am I hearing about Portugal and Kenya and Dublin? Gimme Asia!!’ and I hear ya, I really do. But the wait is over. We’re here now. This is stop five: Jogja, Java, Indonesia.
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Sweet, sweet Jogja, where do I even begin? From the start I guess (duh). We arrived in Jogja on a Friday afternoon, after an eight-hour train ride from Jakarta. Like all good things in my life, Jogja was not love at first sight.
But wait, flashback to Jakarta first.
After a 14-hour flight from London Heathrow we finally landed in Jakarta, late Wednesday evening of the 18th October. This wasn’t a random ‘oh let’s wait till we get to the airport and see which destination is cheaper when we get there’ kind of thing. No. We hand picked Indonesia as our first destination a while back (eight months before to be precise). To be even more precise, we hand picked the island of Bali in Indonesia as our first destination, because we heard so many lovely things about it from our friends, because we read so many lovely things about it online, and because we saw that Ubud (a village in Bali) had a very good nomad score on Nomad List. (This is important workwise).
So eight months before, we book our flight and a hotel in Ubud for the first two nights. That’s it. That is all that we book for our trip.
Fast-forward to September, when we were in Kenya, we get a text from our friend (who is also going to Bali but to do volunteer work) saying there’s an evacuation going on in Bali due to one of the volcanoes possibly maybe going to erupt. We keep an eye on the news (which we probably shouldn’t have, but glad we did) and decide not to go to Bali yet, to stay somewhere in Java for a while and wait until things calm down. (It also helped our decision when we heard our friend’s institution was moving volunteers to Jakarta until the situation calmed down).
So here we are in Jakarta, late evening on Wednesday, trying to find our driver who is going to take us through the horrendous Jakarta traffic to our hotel – it takes us about two hours to drive the 24km to the hotel. We go for dinner with our friend (the volunteer), at a lovely lovely restaurant, with delicious food, and she tells us all that she’s learned already in the one week she’s been here. Her knowledge is pretty impressive. She tell us about her life at the institution/centre, about the culture, about the city, about her children (she’s teaching kids English), but most importantly, she tell us: ‘you have to download Grab’.
(Grab is kind of like Uber but it works much better than Uber and it’s more common here in Southeast Asia. It’s great because it works amazingly and it’s cheap. If you’re travelling on your own, you can get a GrabBike instead of a car, you hop on and off you go. Just don’t grab on too tight, they’re not fond of public/ strangers touching, even if it is something as innocent/urgent as ‘holding on for dear life’ on a bike in Jakarta.)
Back in our hotel we fall into a coma, you know 14-hour flight + jet lag + dinner with friend + it’s actually nighttime now = coma.
We spend only two nights in Jakarta, sorting out our next move, which is very difficult to do when you are in a constant zombie state. Somehow we manage to book a train to Yogyakarta – from our research it sounds like it will be the most interesting option for us in Java – and we book a homestay for the first three nights. (So there’s not much I can tell you about Jakarta).
We read somewhere (the web again) that the train ride is very beautiful as it rides through different landscapes and villages. Well, I wouldn’t know, because the jet lag combined with the ‘sorting things out’ fuss kicks in and I fall asleep every two seconds. I can tell you that the seats are incredibly comfortable, and for those who struggle with airplane legroom, here you’ll have aplenty.
We arrive in Jogja. It’s Friday 4pm.
We’re not too impressed. We get a Grab from the station and it takes us something like one hour to get to our homestay which is only 5.5 km away! Jeez this is worst than Jakarta! (we think). There is traffic everywhere. There are pretty much no sidewalks. Crossing the streets is pure adrenaline – will I make it to the other side or the other other side? Often, the streets smell terribly.
Our homestay is crowded with backpackers, loud ones too. Sure they are young and they are just having fun, but don’t they know we’re an elderly couple looking for a peaceful rest after walking all day in 300 degrees trying to figure out what da hell we’re doing? We realise that clearly this is not the neighbourhood for us. It is very well located, in the centre, in walking distance (for those daredevils out there) to the city’s main attractions and the street with all the westernized restaurants that serve smoothies and fresh fruit juices made with bottled mineral water. Therefore, packed with tourists. The fun and young ones. (Sometimes they’re old and fun too).
So this leaves us no choice but to look for a place the furthest away possible, but preferably still in Jogja. We try to find a house to rent, but short-term is too expensive. Booking.com to the rescue. We find an amazing deal: a studio apartment with a small kitchenette in the students’ area of Jogja (you know, where all the Unis at) with Wi-Fi, a rooftop pool and a gym, at a pretty good price. ‘Book it. Book it NOW!’
Shit, we’ve booked it, shouldn’t we go check it out? What if it’s like the ghetto, or worst, even more touristic? Grab please!
We Grab there. To be fair it’s only 10K away, which means we’re actually not far from the centre (but it still takes us forever). As we start getting closer we realise: we like it. We go take a look at the hotel. We really like it. We find there’s an actual supermarket next-door. We love it. We go for lunch, might as well start getting to know the area. We really love it. And it’s cheap. This is perfect. We can finally relax.
We still have two nights at the homestay, which means we have all day tomorrow to just tourist around. We check out the Water Castle, Sultan’s Palace, we walk the little streets (yes we walk, turns out I am an adrenaline junkie in Jogja) and ‘Oh my gosh Jogja, how have I not noticed how cute you are?’
We enjoy our last meal at the mineral water fresh juice place – after all, we are humans too – and we pack everything for the next day.
Funny thing when we left the homestay, one of the owners asked us where we were heading to. We said we got a place in Jogja and she was disappointed that we didn’t ask her for help, because she has friends and all. She asked us where, and we said the ‘student area’, and she gave us a disapproving look and said that ‘wasn’t really authentic, not as authentic as the centre’…
This is our sub-district now, Depok. This is where we fall in love with Jogja. This is where Jogja becomes home. We stay here for 15 days. I know, seems like it isn’t long enough for all this love, but Jogja just sweeps you off your feet.
In walking distance to the flat we find not one, but three absolutely delicious restaurants. This is FANTASTIC. There’s a supermarket around the corner, as I mentioned, which came in really handy to buy fruit, water and some snacks (turns out we didn’t cook much, as we realised it was cheaper to eat out – say whaaat? I know!). Oh and there is also a self-service laundry, which was super useful (and cheap!). We also found this weird area that looked like the perfect place for a wacky music festival, with amazing wacky restaurants.
There are loads of young people around – locals, not tourists – the university students, we guessed, which gives Depok a really cool vibe (at least I thought so). There are tons of hip places, in most of which the Wi-Fi is really good BTW, and we also heard there’s a good club somewhere. We didn’t care to try (elderly couple, remember?).
And then of course there is the infinity pool, overlooking the city, which made every morning absolutely magical. Wake up, go for a swim and then just stand still, leaning over the edge, watching and hearing the city waking up.
We found out straight away that there aren’t many westerns in Depok. In the two weeks we lived there we saw maybe 10. 12 max. Also no ice or fresh juice made of bottled mineral water. How’s that for authentic?
The people of Jogja
One of the main reasons we fell in love with Jogja was because we fell in love with its people. Everyone here is kind, and gentle, and sweet and treats you with the utmost respect.
So much so, that I felt the need to write a Dreamipeople post just for/about them. You should read it, ‘cause they really are awesome.
Pictures and Interviews
Oh man do this awesome bunch like to take pictures! They are obsessed! Selfies EVERYWHERE. Pictures EVERYWHERE. Everything is a backdrop and everything is an accessory. The best one? YOU. Yup, that’s right, you, the westerner who they just spotted and who will look great and exotic on their picture.
We were asked for pictures all the time. Most of the times it’s such a sweet, shy, cute and polite request though, that you can’t possibly say no. And why would you say no?
Sometimes though, it gets too much. When we visited the temple of Borobudur it got a bit crazy, and even though most people were really kind and polite, there was the odd one who would just grab you and snap a selfie. It got to a point where I, a mere mortal, had to say ‘last picture please!’ – felt like such a diva! (And then sat with my friend in the most inaccessible place we could find, just to rest and enjoy the view for a teensy bit).
We were also interviewed by school girls quite often. They said it was their homework, that their teachers tell them to interview foreigners to practice their English. We were interviewed five times I think. It’s always the same questions: how long have you been in Jogja, what do you like about Jogja, have you tried the food, do you have suggestions to improve?…
And once the interview is over, a picture of course. But again, they are so sweet and kind, you just can’t not do it. In fact, one group of girls even went and bought us sweets after the interview. And I was like: I can’t cope, you are too cute!
What were we up to?
If you’re looking for things to do and what to see in Jogja, you can check the full tourist guide here. I’ve written it with love.
But there are a few things I have to highlight here, because they were simply brilliant.
For most of it, during the day, we stayed in (bless air conditioning, best invention ever) working – him on the app, me writing. We would go out at lunchtime for a little walk and to grab some food and then again at dinner. Dinner time was alright, but at noon it was like 400-degrees-OMG-I-am-melting. So we didn’t do much touristing during the day.
At weekends, we visited some really cool places around Jogja: Kalibiru Park, this park in the mountains/ jungle with amazing views; Borobudur, said to be the world’s largest Buddhist temple, dating back to the 9th century; Prambanan,a beautiful Hindu temple, also from the 9th century; and the Water Castle, where we returned this time with our friend and her Jogjan friend (Dena), only to find out there was an awesome bit of it that we failed to see the first time around, including some pretty cool street art. (Thank the unicorns for Dena!).
But of all the things we saw and did in Jogja nothing beats the weirdest of them all: alun-alun. Alun-alun actually means square, but it’s the square it takes place at and I don’t know if it has an actual name. All I know is that if you ask people about alun-alun at night, everyone knows what you mean. So in this square, at night, inexplicably, there are these pedal cars decorated with anything from Hello Kitty to Pokemon, but not just any decoration: neon-light decorations! And you ride these cars around the square, for as many laps as you’re willing to pay for, blasting Justin Bieber and Katy Perry songs. I mean, whaaaaaaaaat? It is like if Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny had a baby and that baby was throwing a unicorn glitter party. It is the best thing ever.
The time came to say goodbye and we just felt like there was still so much more to do and see. Not like what you feel as a tourist, when you know you didn’t visit some of the main attractions. No. It was that same feeling you have when new restaurants are opening in your neighbourhood and you want to check them all (but know damn right you probably won’t), or there is an ice cream shop you’ve been meaning to go to for ages and just didn’t have the time yet. That feeling of wanting to know your neighbourhood better. To know your place better. That feeling that one day, you should come back. Even if it is to try the same old restaurants and the same old places you are already sick of knowing.
Thank you Jogja, for making our first stop in Southeast Asia a wonderful one.
Should you visit?
As I said, I didn’t fall in love at first sight, so I can understand that, as a tourist, you might not have the same experience as we did. I still think it is worth visiting. It is full of history, and it has lovely places to see and visit (in and around), and then of course there’s the people. And the alun-alun. So, it’s a yes really, I mean how could you not?
More info on what to see and do here.