Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Yogyakarta - Our Java Adventure Trip

December 2013 is the time of the year for another vacation and we manage to make a flight reserve to visit Yogyakarta, part of central region of Java. Yogyakarta also better known as Yogya or Jogja which actually means 'prosperous city'. It was an interesting visit as Jogja tourism and development are booming with many hotels under construction and a major transformation is underway. Our visit was just the right pace with 5 days and 4 nights and most major attractions in Jogja were pretty much covered in our visit.

DAY 1 - 20/12/2013 [The Arrival] 
We arrived at Adi Sucipto Airport around mid noon and proceeded to take the local bus transportation to malioboro which cost about IDR3,000/person and it was extremely cheap. It's barely 10km from airport to Hotel Dafam Fortuna in Malioboro which we stayed. However, for convenience a taxi can be chartered for roughly around IDR100,000 which was not too bad either. Since it was already late noon at around 2:30pm, we are starving like mad and decided to taste some Jogja street food for lunch. We ordered nasi goreng and mee bachok with drinks which were not bad. After having our lunch, we proceeded to the crowded malioboro streets with lots of tourists and locals alike on a buying spree. There are a lot of things available for sale ranging from T-Shirts, handicrafts, scarfs, sarungs, hats, batiks, etc. Although the merchandise sold here are rather reasonable but the price in Malioboro can be further bargain at a very much lower price.

One of the much reasonable fixed price goods in Malioboro is Pasar Seni Nadzar located at the very end of Malioboro street near Tugu Yogyakarta Train Station. We also purchased some handicrafts here and the  variety of goods are much diverse compared to Malioboro streets which sadly has mostly repetitive goods only. The javanese locals are quite friendly as we manage to speak to one of them which introduce us their finest batik art exhibition with their small studio housing Java's best artists in batik design. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed.  
We also manage to visit Malioboro Mall which is located centrally in Malioboro street. It was having a choir performances as Christmas is just around the corner. The christmas atmosphere reminded us on our last visit to Vietnam as it was the same time of the year. 

By the end of the day, we contacted Nomad Tours which we secured for our day tours to confirm our pre planned itineraries for the remaining 3 days. We did some rigorous case studies of the top attractions for Jogya initially and selected most of the tourist spots based on popularity while Nomad Tours provided us with the transportation to bring us to our planned daily visit.
DAY 2 - 21/12/2013 [Borobudur Temple & Dieng Plateau] 
We are all pumped up ready for our 1st day tour to Borobudur Temple on an early morning. Our trip to Borobudur took us about 1 hour ++ at 36km from our Hotel. Our driver insisted that he take a short cut as the main road leading to the temple has more vehicles and the journey is also in a way obstructed by traffic lights and jams. Hence, we do not mind and let the driver lead the way which crosses myriad scenes of the countryside agriculture, farming and villages which was a huge departure from city living. Frankly, it was not really a short cut as it took us a bit longer but a smoother ride bypassing the traffic congestion but nevertheless refreshing.
Finally we arrived at Borobudur Temple but no temple is in sight yet. Luckily, our driver got tickets for our visit and we skipped the queue for tickets as though we are the VVIPs,...ahem! Once we entered, there was a nice wide open  garden leading up to the elevated Borobudur which was a magnificent view. Borobudur Temple being the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist Temple, it sure has gone through a lot and still looking majestically. The tourist and school children crowd here is huge and packed with people. Borobudur is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues complete with a main dome at the top. It is also surrounded by 72 Buddhas within a stupa which is still visible from the outside but touching the Buddhas is a tad bit difficult. Borobudur is a stupa with stepped pyramid base and consist of three realms in Buddhist cosmology: Kamadhatu (realm of desire), Rupadhatu (realm of form), and Arupadhatu (realm of formlessness). As we observe the sign outside the entrance correctly prior to entering, we noticed that we are supposedly walk from the lowest base clockwise and proceeded to the top base platform.
We proceeded our walk along the path and eventually reaches the main stupa at the top which was rather huge. Most of the lower stupas right below the main one are at the edge of the floor slabs and there is no railing preventing anyone from falling to the lower platform which is probably 1.6 metres in height. We are a bit cautious as the crowd and school children are running around happily everywhere. However, the lower platform is monitored by quite a number of guards and they'll alert you if you are at the edges of the upper level. Well, we do hear the guards shouting every now and then to warn the visitors if they are too near the edges. 
From Borobudur we continue our journey to Dieng Plateau ("Abode of Gods") located 77km from our present location. Our visit to Jogja has never intended to see Dieng Plateau but as I was finishing my case reference on Jogja, I stumbled on some major tour groups which introduces Dieng and it has a few nice attractions in one spot which attracted us to list it in our day tour. Dieng Plateau is situated at 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) above sea level and dubbed as 2nd highest populated plateau after tibet. As such, this place is quite cold as we needed a sweater to visit Arjuna Temple but we were greeted with light rain upon our foot were set there. We took a few photos and make our way out. As we were walking out halfway, the rain stops probably Arjuna Temple has not shown its full grandiose potential to us. We thought oh well,...we just need to go back and have another look. We spent probably a good 1/2 hour there and Arjuna Temple really did stood up as the mid 7th century oldest standing stone temple in Central Java.

Our next stop in Dieng is the Sikidang Crater ("Deer Hopping Crater"). The reason why it's called deer hopping crater is mostly due to the nature of its brewing mud and earth heat with spewing sulphur smolder everywhere. We just have to wrap our noses with scarf as it's a hazardous and somewhat disgusting smell. The earth formation around these small craters is somewhat 'alien' as it's as though you are walking on another barren planet. As we reach the crater nearer it started drizzling again. We manage to find a nearby gazebo with a group of people which are also shielding themselves from the rain and luckily we are not threaten by the smoke from these craters as the wind did blew away most of it. Once the rain stop we slowly but surely step our way as though we are on the moon to the main crater and as the sulphur starts to penetrate all over our crevices of our body,...woo hoo we just have to surrender and retreat our selves from it. I later only found out that after my visit to Yogya that there's a magma chamber beneath the crater and possibly unstable earth around the craters. Well, a word of caution to smokers, don't throw your cigarette butts here as you might just light up the mountains!
The next attraction in Dieng is the Color and Mirror Lake. The Color Lake was said to be changing its color due to discoloration caused by algae formation under the lake. We did not spend a long time here as it was freezing cold coupled with the irregular rain drops. The view here is rather pleasant if only we can spend an hour or two to soak in the peaceful scenery. Anyway, that wraps up our first day trip in Yogya and it was a tiring marathon for a day and not forgetting the long hours travelling back to our hotel. It's sure a great start for our 1st day tour in Jogja.

DAY 3 - 22/12/2013 [Silver Craft, Batik, Indrayanthi & Parangtritis Beach] 
Our morning on our 3rd day tour started with a visit to the silver craft factory. It was sort of a side track for us as we thought maybe we should have a look since our tour did come across it as recommended by our driver. Not forgetting the batik factory which we were presented with the process of making batik using wax, etc. We did get ourselves some souvenirs on both of these occcasions.

The next visit we headed to Indrayanthi beach which was located 65km away from where we are at the southern most of Yogya. It took us roughly 1 hr and 15 minutes to arrive at the beach. It was already late afternoon and luckily the beach is filled with cafe restaurants and we had to settled down for our late lunch there. We ordered noddles and coconut drinks for our lunch - nothing very special but it did replenish our energy for us to continue walking up the hill which was located at the east end. At the very top, it was an impressive scenery overlooking to the entire Indrayanthi beach. We settle down a short while and enjoy the winds and the views before we continue our next visit. On our way out we bought some crispy seaweed snack and it was tasty!

Our last stop for the day is Parangtritis beach located 48km west from our location which took us slightly more than an hour for us to reach. At this point, we are quite drained and tired. Our guide proposed that we settle at Queen of The South Hotel in Parangtritis and decide whether we go down the beach if we have the energy. We manage to pass through Parangtritis beach and it was crowded and fully packed with tourists everywhere on our way to the hotel. Our guide did told us Parangtritis beach was badly hit by Tsunami in couple of years back. Most of the the locals do not return to work in hotels near to the beach and the incident still haunts them even now. That has led us to this somewhat deserted hotel which was once a renown hotel prior to the Tsunami and was once fully accommodated by foreigners. We can see why as we reached the hilltop, the views are spectacular overlooking to the beach below us. The winds are rather strong too but the pool fronting the banquet hall was under major reconstruction.

As we are too lazy coupled with the earlier sensory overload and certainly starving as the afternoon dwindled away, we ordered our early dinner at the banquet hall. We ordered nasi lemak rice and some spring rolls. Our waiter brought the nice spring rolls but drop it before it landed on our table...sigh. After a short while, the lady boss come to us with the replacement and greeted us. After our meal, I've decided to stroll along some pathways which seems to be some chalets next to where we seated. With much rest and relaxation, we call it a day and our guide brought us back to hotel.

DAY 4 - 23/12/2013 [Sultan Palace, Car Museum, Merapi Volcano & Prambanan] 
The fourth day was the day we've been looking forward since my first planning to Yogya and it's the Merapi volcano visit. Our tour started with a slower pace with the visit to Sultan Palace or Kraton [residence of the ruler - "Ke-Ratu-an"]. It was Monday and we were quite surprised that they are horde of visitors, some of which are local students and others are tourists like us. Sultan Palace has been the residence of the Sultan in the 1700's. It is still used as cultural performances around the large open air pavilions. There are pieces of art, portrait of the sultanate families and royal gifts to the Sultan which are exhibited here. It's interesting to see that the royalties live in simplistic lives here and respected by the locals everywhere.

Our next planned visit was supposedly Taman Sari Water Castle but the weather is not on our side. So our guide recommend that we have a visit to Museum Kareta [Car Museum]. Oh my! there are these royal horse carts with huge chunks of gold ornaments all around it. I'll let the photos for you to judge and you can almost feel the royal family heydays in your mind.

Check out the small willys vehicle on the bottom right for the sense of scale.

I mean how often one can see the volcano face to face without getting some magma heat on your face or sulphur gas choking your lungs. The last volcano I've witness was Kintamani volcano in Bali. Kintamani and Merapi were both active volcanos and some guides may cancel their tours if there's any irregular volcano activities as cautioned by authorities. Our guide did inform us that he had a very scary experience bringing a volcanologist who is reluctant to evacuate from Merapi.

We departed from our hotel in Malioboro and headed to Kaliadem which was roughly about 29km towards the north. At first, I do recalled in some of the blogs I read that Merapi volcano is visible from Kaliadem but once we reached Kaliadem, there's no sign of Merapi as it was too foggy. Kaliadem is one deserted eerie place to be as the soil are from the Merapi eruptions and the foggy environment reminds me of 'The Mist' movie. But there are a lot of Willys Military 4WD jeeps everywhere and tourists are seen flocking in and out from Kaliadem. Since we are already there we might as well book a Willys to get a closer look into the foot of the giant Merapi. Well, Nicole Kidman was here and a few other celebrity photos was shown here too.

We took 2 tickets (300,000 Rupiah/person) and up we go into the Willys jeep and that's when all the fun starts the moment the Willys engine starts. It was one heck of a ride with all the bumping, twisting and strangling of our bones due to the uneven route of soil, magma, rocks, puddles, mud - You name it and it's all here! There are some surreal sights on our way to Merapi volcano. We did saw a lot of sprouting greenery plants of vegetables planted by the locals here on the volcanic black soil. You can't imagine these black soil is actually in its utmost fertile nature for plants. There are also truckload of sand mining vehicles coming in and out non stop 24 hrs/day from nearby Merapi. Our guide did told us that these sand were used for construction sites and sold at very reasonable price. I can really imagine a whole mountain erupted and spewing million tonnes of sand around it ala' Pompeii style!

As we draw closer to Merapi, there are shocking scenes of abandoned houses already engulfed in flames during the incident. There are also a whole river covered with magma literally dried out and blackened. The most shocking news was we are literally standing 5m above ground on some of the villages buried by the eruptions. Our 1st pit stop was a small house exhibit showcasing the remnants of human belongings and the leftover of the cow bones. Our next stop bring us to the Alien Stone where a huge rock was flung all the way from Merapi eruptions. The Alien Stone does really has some resemblance of a human face but Alien maybe not. We did have our photo taken there.

Eventually we arrived to the titan foot of Merapi and here lies a bunker. We did not waste for a minute and started to walk the inclined slope towards Merapi. It was a magnificent view to behold although we arrive at about 9am it might be a perfect view if we depart much earlier. We rested for a while and we noticed that the mist from the mountain was coming towards us slowly. We took some photos and descend our way down the slopes but the mist seems to picking up speed. Luckily we descended quick enough because the mist was a total whiteout and we might not be able to see the path in front of us as our surroundings were not so visible. We visited the small bunker and I doubt that anyone can survive inside the bunker as it was way too close to Merapi. A quick check on the news revealed that 2 men was killed inside the bunker due to scorching heat from the eruption. Merapi erupted in 1930, 1994 and 2006.

Our next visit of the day was Prambanan which is also the finale day tour highlight in Yogya. Prambanan is a 9th century hindu temple built in 850 CE (Christian Era) by ruler of central Java, Rakai Pikatan during the Mataram Kingdom. It was said a Bristish surveyor of Thomas Stamford Raffles stumbled upon the ruins by pure chance in 1811. As expected, upon arriving it was sparsely crowded everywhere with tourists but it was quite pleasant with large open spaces around us and our guide ushered us in without queueing. The Candi or shrine really a stand out piece of architecture and it is a reminiscence of my  trip to Angkor Wat several years back. The main Candi consist of Candi Prambanan, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu and a few more smaller ones. Candi Shiva has a long queue to enter due to the limited visitors allowed at any one time for safety reasons. Candi Shiva did sustained some significant damages during the May 2006 earthquake but declared stable in February 2013. After queueing for more than 20 minutes we manage to enter Candi Shiva. Upon entering Candi Shiva we noticed the huge stones are reinforced with thick galvanised steel cables and some earthquake monitoring systems were in placed. Everyone are required to wear safety helmets before entering the shrine but if ever an earthquake strike, a single chunk of stone is huge enough to squash us into a pile of exhausted sugar cane juice. It was probably the scary and anxious feeling that makes you wanna explore more of Prambanan ala Indiana Jones.

It was quite an eye opener and the feeling of having a small adventure by visiting Yogya and we are very pleased and happy with our guide and the overall trip. I guess I've finally finish my long overdue blog of my trip here. Thanks for reading! Cheers!