From Bandung to Central Java
[Click here to read the previous Road Diary update]
Yesterday I boarded a flight from Bandung to Yogakarta in Central Java with my fellow travel bloggers. From there, we boarded a bus en route to Magelang where we would stay the night at the Atria Magelang Hotel. It was a long day and all we wanted to do was get some dinner and settle into our accommodations, however the hotel staff had other plans. As soon as we got off the bus we saw some bustling activity in the lobby, a large group of maybe two dozen dancers in traditional attire were there to greet and welcome us to the hotel. The lively music, ornate costumes and energetic dance put a pep in all of our steps despite the long day.
After the amazing introduction, we made our way to the hotel restaurant where we were greeted by yet more entertainment. A live band playing traditional Indonesian instruments began performing while we filled our plates from an outstanding array of food on display. With belly’s full, it was time to call it a night as we had a very early and special morning ahead…a sunrise hike to the top of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist Temple in the world.
We had to wake around 3am in order to get to Borobudur with plenty of time to catch the sunrise—arriving at Monohara (a nearby hotel and tour office) around 4:30am. After getting tickets and instructions from our guide, we hit the path around 5:30. The near-dark stroll through dewy grass and tropical surroundings added to the anticipation of seeing the monolithic structure once the sun cast its light. When we reached the top tier of the temple we could see the color of the sun enriching the dark sky. Glimpsing Borobudur for the first time was a peaceful and emotional experience. Click the following link to watch my video on Borbudur.
After spending only a fraction of the time desired at Borobudur, we walked down and had breakfast at the Monohara hotel. Soon after we were on the go again, this time we headed to a small local village known as Desa Pentingsari to get a first-hand look at rice fields being plowed and tended, crafts being created and more. This village caters to group tours, providing visitors with a glimpse at Indonesian village life. The area seemed very idyllic, in some ways almost too perfect, as if it had been manufactured just for tourists. Whether that is true or not does not take away from the fact that it was a pretty cool experience seeing farmers plow rice fields with an animal I’ve never seen before (a cross between a yak and a cow I suppose), local crafts being created, traditional games and entertainment being performed.
Given the early hour we had to rise for Borobudur, we headed to Yogakarta and checked into our hotel for the next couple of nights, The Phoenix—given this hotel shares the same name as my hometown, I immediately felt at home. The Phoenix is a wonderful boutique Sofitel property right in the heart of Yogakarta. After checking in, some grabbed a drink in the restaurant, while others hung out by the pool. Me, I headed for the spa for a massage. While in Southeast Asia I always try and take advantage of the affordable spa treatments available, while at around $35 this heavenly 60 minute treatment was a bit on the expensive side (for S.E. Asia, an off-site facility would have been less than half that rate).
The next morning was spent quite leisurely, I woke early, grabbed some coffee and enjoyed it while sitting on my own private terrace overlooking the restaurant courtyard. The elegant setting seemed like something out of a movie set. The hotel dates back to 1918 and maintains the classical style of bygone era with a fusion of Asian and European decor.
That afternoon we headed to a really interesting place for lunch called Kali Opak Restaurant. It’s the sort of place that if it were not recommended, you might not go there, or even happen upon it. The entrance of the restaurant is a bit nondescript and perhaps even uninviting, but once I walked through the threshold, I discovered a dining sanctuary. The outdoor restaurant gently terraces down a hillside reveling a small meandering river. The setting is broken up into various sections to accommodate private groups and makes diners feel as though they are eating within the confines of a jungle, which in a sense we were. The traditional Indonesian food was served buffet style and was quite good.
After lunch, and completely oblivious to my surroundings, our group walked just down the street a short distance to the entrance of Prambanan Temple, a UNESCO site that dates back to the 10th Century. This is the largest temple compound dedicated to Shiva in Indonesia. Rising above the center of the last of these concentric squares are three temples decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana, dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) and three temples dedicated to the animals who serve them. The architecture was drastically different than Borobudur, and while not quite as grand as Borobudur, it was equally fascinating to explore.
Another nearby sight that we explored was Candi Boko, which hold great mystery and its history remains unclear and unsolved. Named after the legendary King Boko, mentioned in Loro Jonggrang folklore, the 16 hectares site is located on a plateau, about 3 kilometers from the Prambanan Temple. The area consists/ed (some are in ruin) of temples, square stone structures, an audience hall, miniature temples, and a large bathing place. The complex provides a memorable cultural experience and many photographers try and capture the great beauty at sunset, unfortunately for us the weather did not cooperate.
For dinner that evening we headed to Gadri Resto for a local meal with food inspired by Prince Joyokusumo’s, whose home this once was. The restaurant/house is also a small museum. After dinner some of us started walking around and we found ourselves in the kitchen of the house where two lovely ladies were eager to show us around. They were extremely nice and replied to all our questions, which really made us feel welcome. I was particularly impressed by the gamelan collection, inside the house and in the restaurant itself. The facility is quite beautiful and it was a pretty authentic Indonesian dinning experience.
Tomorrow is a very, very long journey to one of the most remote parts of Indonesia, Raja Ampat. If this place is anything like the photos I’ve seen, it will all have been worth it. Click here to read the next Road Diary report from Raja Ampat.