YOGYAKARTA – Independent exploring

The Yogyakarta Monument in the heart of the city

The Yogyakarta Monument in the heart of the city. The then Sultan built a 25 – metre tall monument on this site in 1755 as a direction marker towards Mt Merapi volcano during his meditations. But an earthquake in 1869 caused it’s collapse and  replacement by what we see today.

Making the most of your tour FREE time in vibrant Yogyakarta - the culture capital

Yogyakarta is a safe and easy place to enjoy independent exploring when you have free evening or morning, either by yourself or with friends you have made on-tour.

Yogyakarta welcomes around 450,000 international visitors a year, so many local have at least a smattering of English. There is almost always someone nearby who can help you make yourself understood, give you directions and answer questions.

Our guided tour program for Yogyakarta is spread over three nights and two days and we make sure you have two evenings and a morning to rest or to do ‘your own thing’ – no one wants to be constantly herded, right?

And we aren’t all interested in the same things – for example it’s likely a lot of guys out there don’t list shopping as a favorite pastime!

Our Tour Leaders and Hostesses will help you with ideas of places and activities you might like to check out and help with transport and other arrangements. If you are little nervous, they will arrange for someone to accompany you while you learn the ropes.

Meantime, here are some options other than mainstream attraction that you might consider exploring.

Malioboro Street in the evening – buzzing with people
Pony carriages and Becaks (pedicabs) waiting for customers

Indonesia’s most famous fun shopping and eating street

We suggest you give a priority to taking a first look at Yogyakarta’s famous Marlioboro Street (we say “first” because we are confident that once you experience it you will want to visit again before you leave).

Prepare to be blown away by this kilometer-long hive of lively arts, crafts, clothing and specialty shops, food outlets, street food vendors, buskers and becaks (pedicabs – traditional pedal rickshaws). More restaurants and bars can be found in connecting side streets.

And Marlioboro never sleeps – much of it operates 24 hours a day! The vendors are usually fun and by Western standards prices for items like artifacts, craftwork, cothing and fabrics are cheap.

You can be certain you will find interesting food and it’s a great area for people watching, so it can be fun and fascinating, even if you don’t want to buy anything.

Shoppers looking for bargains in Beringharjo Market
Entry to popular Beringharjo Market, Yogyakarta

An ideal place to grab some take-home mementos and gifts

Reaching Yogyakarta on our Java tour means we are coming closer to go-home time and probably still searching for those ‘just right’ mementos as gifts for friends and family? We know a place well worth checking out.

Any market-place that has operated continuously for 350 years has to have something going for it and that’s why the Beringharjo market, located a little off Malioboro Street, has become a Yogyakarta institution.

It began in the open air under banyan trees in 1758 but it was 1925 before there were any buildings or covering. It has undergone many renovations and extensions over the decades since.

Beringharjo opens from around 8.30am and is noted for its variety and keen prices (but remember to bargain anyway).

The market has become an attraction in itself and is a great place for Batik (including silks) as well as traditional and Western clothing, wall hangings, sandals, shoes, bags, the ubiqitous T-shirts, antiques, collectibles (particularly from the Dutch colonial era), brass ornaments, figurines and more, along with the herbs and spices, fruit and vegetables, bulk foods and food stalls characteristic of every Indonesian market.

Apart from buying bargains you will enjoy looking it over. Sections are old and narrow, and it can be crowded and a bit grubby in places, but it’s safe and colorful

Reflexology (foot massage) is great for tired legs
Traditional Massage session Indonesia
Traditional Javanese body massage at De Wave Spa – super relaxing

How about some lazy indulgence and personal pampering?

So, you have a FREE morning or afternoon? Yes, a good opportunity to rest, but also a great chance to spoil yourself and Yogyakarta is just the place to do it

This city has a reputation for quality service and low prices at its many spa and massage treatment salons – perfect if you want to ease any aches, pains or stress from your touring program.

An easy option is the well-regarded spa and massage treatment centre within the hotel if you are staying with us at the Phoenix. But you will pay a little more and, perhaps, not have access to a wider range of treatments available from some outside salons.

Massage is a way of life for Indonesians and Yogyakarta has an abundance of massage centres, many within a 10-minute taxi ride from the hotel.

De Wave Spa have several locations with full body massage, reflexology, spa, jacuzzi, hair treatments and pedicure and manicure. The salon at Jalan Langensari No 21 receives good reports.

There also are good reports about the Monggo Relax Spa at Jalan Sosrowijayan No.30 (off Malioboro Street). The massage is said to be excellent, but the salon is smaller and has a more limited range of services. Prior bookings are probably necessary.

Jogja Traditional Treatment at Jalan Melati Wetan No 58 (or Jalan Rotowijayan 25 – 15 minutes from the Phoenix Hotel – receives consistently good reports. You can choose from a wide selection of treatments including a facial, full body massage, body scrub, steam treatment, shower, bath, reflexology (foot and leg massage), and even a hair cream-bath.

Here’s the best bit – you can expect to pay less than AUD$10 or $12 for an hour and half massage and less than AUD$20 for a treatment package at the De Wave or Jogja Traditional Treatment salons! But check the prices before you commit.

Indonesia’s blissful and popular treatment derived from the old Indian champi hair massage and now spreading around the world

The Indonesian hair and scalp treatment you just have to try

The salons typically will have written menus and helpful staff but the menus can be long (and confusing) at the bigger spas. If you are unsure, we suggest you try a traditional body massage, perhaps together with a facial and a hair cream-bath.

(This goes for both guys and gals. We have had profusive thanks after persuading men to forget their hang-ups and try the facial and hair treatments – the whole process will take about three hours).

Don’t be afraid to tell the therapist if your massage is too strong – the magic word is “sakit” (pronounced SARKIT, meaning hurt). The masseuse or masseur will apologize profusely and pull back on the pain level.

The hair cream-bath is a traditional Indonesian treatment Intended to leave your hair sleek, shiny and nourished. It’s also said to restore hair loss (probably based more on faith than evidence).

Regardless of efficacy, it’s a really great experience. Your hair is washed and blow-dried and thick conditioning emulsions are massaged into your scalp for 10 or 15 minutes (prepared from organics like avocado, aloe vera, carrots or celery, fruits and essential oils).

Next you go under a beauty salon steamer for 10 minutes or so (bring a book – the salon magazines are in Indonesian) followed by another wash and blow dry. The final stage is a neck and shoulder and, perhaps, gentle face massage.

This, together with a facial and full body massage, won’t just have you walking on clouds – odds are you will be floating above them!

Walking photo tour - learning how best to shoot city scenes, people and street art

If you are looking to dig a little deeper into contemporary local culture while seeing how the REAL Yogyakartans live and getting to meet some of them informally, then you will really enjoy a short walking tour.

This one comes with the bonus of expert guidance on how to capture it all in digital images for the folks at homes and as a lasting memory.

Interesting images are a feature of Yogyakarta street art

Yogyakarta is renowned for its colorful and original street art and some expert local photographers have put together a small group guided walking tour to view capture some of the best of it.

During your two-hour stroll you will be passing through some of the city’s most populated and interesting streets and alleyways, all with great picture opportunities.

The local tour leader will help you set up your digital camera (or phone camera) and suggest ideas to ensure you capture some of the best shots. And he or she will  introduce you

There are fun and surprises waiting around every corner

to the residents and youngsters you meet along the way. A lunch with the group is included in the cost along with expert help with sorting and enhancing your pictures.

This walking tour is available every Sunday morning and is a great way to see another side of life in Yogyakarta while learning more about getting the best from your camera (or smart phone).

The tour usually runs from 9am to 2pm but can arrange for you to finish a little earlier, so you can join our formal afternoon and early evening tour program. The photo tour costs about AUD$40 per person. You can see more by going to this website – https://photowalksjogja.blogspot.com/

So, how about Yogyakarta’s eating and imbibing scene?

It takes something special to become famous for how you do sate in Indonesia – that’s what Angkringan Ratu has achieved

Yep, you’ve had a couple of big and interesting days of touring. But heck. you have a FREE SUNDAY NIGHT and Jogja is a safe and lively city. Plus, we need to eat somewhere anyway!

Here are some options for stepping out to food adventures, depending on your mood and energy levels:

Eating Cheap – You  may well know by now that Yogyakarta has an abundance of food choices and an easy option is to head back out to Marlioboro Street and check out the street food vendors and cafes lining that busy thoroughfare.

But if you like Javanese food and want to explore a little further afield you might want to check out Angkringan (it means café) Ratu at Jalan Urip Sumoharjo No 3 in front of the Sahid Rich Hotel. It’s saté selection has given this modest and basic local cafe iconic status and it gets rave reviews.

Rosella Restaurant - close to town but rice fields setting
Courtyard Javanese dining at Kesuma Restaurant

Fine dining and romantic settings Yogyakarta has many fine dining restaurants serving Javanese, international and fusion dishes.

For excellence in Javanese cuisine you might consider the tiny Kesuma Restaurant. It is family run and operates out of a modified house tucked away in a side alley. Most patrons rave about the food.

The address is Jalan Sartono No 858, Mantrijeron (about 12 minutes by taxi from the Phoenix hotel). Ask the wait staff (usually family members) to help with food selections and be aware that this restaurant does NOT serve alcohol.

Another highly rated option is the Rosella Easy Dining Restaurant off Jalan Kabupaten, about a 15-minute taxi ride from the Phoenix, in a romantic setting overlooking paddy fields. Javanese dishes are the specialty with some Western and fusion. A highlight is an atmosphere of soft music (over the sounds of frogs and cicadas) and gentle lighting in a beautifully decorated traditional, open-sided Javanese joglo.

Easy Goin Grill & Garden by day – local and Western food
Blues band at Asmara Café – music styles vary

Pub Grub and bar hopping – Live music is still very much alive (pun intended) in Indonesia and even on a Sunday night you can find it, along with good cheap pub grub and plenty of local atmosphere, in the side streets running off Malioboro like Jalan Sosrowijayan.

A couple of popular venues include the Easy Goin Resto Grill & Garden in Jalan Prawirotaman (good local and Western food, especially Mexican) and the Asmara Café (abbreviated to ASCOS by locals) Art and Coffee Shop in Jalan Tirtodipuran. Remember, sometimes the live music starts late at Indonesian venues and it can be played LOUD.

Neon pedal cars are just part of the evening fun at Yogyakarta’s Alub Alun Kidul (Kadul Square)

Still have some get up and go? Well, let’s put it to good use

If you are young at heart and the weather is good, perhaps grab a taxi for a 15-minute journey to Alun Alun Kidul, the large public square south of the Sultan’s Palace. Once there, take a stroll and a look around.

This is people watcher paradise. Indonesians love to sit or walk around and look at other people sitting and walking around – it must be that feeling of being part of the “crowd”.

Whatever, local mums, dads and kids and visitors flock here. And where there are crowds in Indonesia, fun usually follows!

At Kidul Square it comes as “neon cars” (pedal cars decked out with bright, multi-colored flashing lights), buskers, street foods, stalls, novelty hawkers, balloons, glow sticks and, sometimes, carnival rides.

A traditional fun challenge is a kind of Blind Man’s Buff where people try walking blind-folded between two very large and ancient banyan trees (after first being spun around three times). 

According to myth and legend, if you succeed you have proved your purity of heart and all your wishes will come true. Visitors are welcome to try – maybe a chance to set yourself up for a life of good luck?

It can be a little chaotic and loud but is all good fun. If you know how to set up your camera for night shots, then you can be sure of getting some great pictures.

More useful and interesting information

There is so much more to see and experience in Yogyakarta and we cover the highlights as part of our REAL North Sumatra – Java Tour. For descriptions and images of more of our Yogyakarta program click the links below.

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Head and should Douglas Cole - founder
Douglas Cole

Doug is a former journalist and broadcaster who lived and travelled in Indonesia and Southeast Asia from 2002 to 2018. He returned to Indonesia in mid-2022 after being stranded in Australia by COVID border closures. He is completing a book under the working title ‘INDONESIA – Safely, Easily, and in Comfort.’

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