Running Out of Room

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Delta Home Stay Yogyakarta
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Monday, May 21, 2012

Gambir Railway Station, Jakarta, 8am...

It's kind of nostalgic for us to be once again waiting for a train. This time it's the daily express from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, about eight hours east, on the south-central coast of Java. Compared to the Trans-Siberian, this train journey is a tiny piece of cake. The station is very crowded, we were lucky to get tickets in fact, as it is a holiday this week. At first glance it could a railway station anywhere in the world, until a commuter train swooshes past with men hanging out the doors and perched on the roof - it's definitely Asia. The journey to Yogyakarta is uneventful, though we see some lovely landscapes of rice fields when not passing through heavily populated areas - after all the island of Java has a population in excess of 130,000,000 people.Yogyakarta is the centre of Java's classical artistic and cultural heritage. If you want to see the real deal when it comes to batik, drama, ballet, music and shadow puppetry then this is the place to come. There is also nearby Borobudur to see and it is a good place to break our journey eastward.

Anticipating the city to be full of tourists, we have booked accommodation ahead and once off the train, we take a rattly old taxi for what seems like miles to our digs - the Delta Homestay. We are surprised to see Yogyakarta is a city of low rise buildings, making it feel like a town despite it having a population of over 2,000,000. It seems to spread and sprawl for ever, but again, this is Java, and that's what you get on the world's most populous island.

The Delta Homestay is an attractive little place, located down a dusty side street, it has a central courtyard with swimming pool, surrounded by small room units and an open-sided dining area where breakfast is served. Our room is the only let down - it's tiny with narrow beds and we seem to have loads of gear these days, there is just no room to move. Other than that its a classy little place that even serves a daily afternoon tea with tasty java cake snack.

Getting around in Yogya, as it is called, is a bit different. There are thousands of bicycle rickshaws here, called Becaks, and if you are walking anywhere outside your hotel and aren't already in one, you soon will be as the drivers are constantly touting for customers. They are cheap and fun to ride in and not at all reserved for tourists, everyone uses them to get around the city. On our first full day we meet a driver, a tiny and charming little man named Augus, who offers to take us to the main sights for a ridiculously cheap price. We agree, but are reluctant to fit both our big western bums in his tiny becak seat, there doesn't seem to be enough room. He won't share the fare with another driver though, and assures us that he is strong enough to take us around. And he is.

We set off down a main road choked with other becaks, motorbikes and cars, bound for the Sultan's Palace, one of the main attractions. It's dreadfully hot, even at 10am and we are amazed at Augus's stamina as he pedals and steers us through the mayhem. At the palace we pay our entrance fee and walk into the complex. Compared to the Forbidden City in Beijing this is decidely underwhelming, but that's what makes it nice. It's a simple palace of courtyards and low rise Javanese buildings with a hint of European colonial style about them. There is a Javanese Shadow puppet theatre here and we sit and watch a show - about five minutes of it. Not much happens during this time, two puppets confront each other, one occassionally waves its hand at the other while the voice of the narrator drones on and on, in Indonesian off course, so we haven't a clue what he's saying, and except for the whispery rumble of drums and cymbals in the background, there is not much to keep us sitting here. So we don't. There are lots of antiques, photographs and memorablia belonging to the Sultan here and we spend an hour and a half wandering around before thirst, heat and Sultan overdose draws us outside the gates to find Augus. 

Guess where we go next? A puppet making factory. It's interesting and the guys here are sweet, plus they sweet-talk us into buying a small, but absolutely authentic puppet; we should have bought two, but our bags are so full already.From Puppets to Batiks: We walk through a batik gallery, glimpse an artist at work and move on, just can't afford to buy everything and plus, did I mention our lack of space? The Water Castle is next. This is another part of the Sultan's domain and contains several blue swimming pools where the great man once amused himself and kept his wives cool. On the way, after parking the becak, we wander through a maze of streets, guided by Augus. We stop for a Coke and are acosted by a group of college girls who want to interview us. As usual we happily oblige, we would rather chat with local people that gawp at puppets or palaces anyday.

After the Water Castle, we are taken through the street maze to an intriguing, underground mosque, and then, via a subterranean tunnel back to the becak. Highlight of the tour for me is the quartet of young Indo buskers in the tunnel. There's two acoustic guitarists, a guy on a little drum kit and a crazy double bass player. They are bashing out some kind of rockabilly number that really does rock in the echo chamber that is the tunnel. Now it's off to see the last attraction, the Bird Market. 

The people of Yogya are mad about birds, there are cages hanging everywhere through this part of the city. They have to buy their feathered friends somewhere and the Bird Market is undoubtedly the place. It's a tragic place here - so many pigeons, canaries, budgies, owls, birds of prey and parrots held prisoner in countless cages. Neither of us can countenance such mass confinement of birds, so we have a quick poke around then leave. 

Poor old Augus, it's not him who succumbs to carrying us around all day, it's his becak. A flat tyre turns into a puncture and the becak repair shop is shut so he is grounded until the next morning. We help him push for a while but he insists that we catch another becak back to our hotel. He is such a sweet guy, he worries about us paying the full fee as he has broken down and can't finish the trip.Off course we pay the fee and he is overwhelmed when we tip him as well.

The following day, we arise at 4.30am in preparation for our sunrise trip to the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur, about 40km north of Yogya. We've seen many sunrises in the past nine months, and this one, we hope will be special. The trouble is, Yogya is a difficult city to drive out of - traffic and urban sprawl goes on forever. The sun begins to rise while we are still some way from the temple, but at least we get a view of nearby Mount Merapi, Java's most active volcano.Once at the temple we are blown away by the number of souvenir stalls lined up near the coach and minivan parking lot. As we disembark from the van we are immediately swamped with sellers thrusting Buddhas, stupa keyrings and postcards at us - haven't even seen the bloody temple yet! 

We trot off in the hope of getting some decent photos and a feel for the place while the early morning mist is low and before the carpark fills up, but already there is a long line of people snaking up the path that leads to the steps that ascend the nine levels to the top of the temple. Most of the visitors here are school kids, lots of them. And they don't stop coming. The huge temple is soon covered in screaming, squealing, giggling, shouting, texting and photographing teens. Any moment of contemplative silence you may be hoping to indulge in is quickly shattered by Lady Gaga ringtones and camera flashes. We don't mind really, we soon discover that the kids don't walk around the temple, they just go the the top and hang out, so we find some peaceful bits at the back on the lower levels. But really, we've seen Angkor Wat and been to Bagan in Burma and although Borobudur is impressive, it isn't nearly as awesome as these other Buddhist shrines. Despite its being overgrown by jungle and buried under volcanic ash in the past, Borobudur has been well restored and is obviously an important place to both foreign and Indonesian tourists. It's worth seeing despite the potential for crowds; it's just that we have little room left in our heads to appreciate another temple

The real test of our patience comes when we finally leave the temple and head back to the minibus rendevous point, a cafe in amongst the souvenir stalls. We have to run a dreadful gauntlet of men chasing us with stone replicas of Borobudur, Borobudur T-shirts and postcards with sunrise over Borobudur featuring prominently. They are relentless and determined and we are soft and weak, but this time there is no way we are going to buy anything here, our best excuse - we just don't have the room. The sellers reply - post it home!

Yogyakarta has been a 'quick visit' kind of place for us - we've reached the point in our long journey where cities and all that goes with them are becoming to much for us, which isn't fair for the city, but we don't care anymore. Yogya has some good sights and sounds and if you were looking to purchase some quality, classical Javanese artwork this is the place to come. As for us, we are leaving in the morning in pursuit of the far, far east - Bali and all that lies beyond. What we need is the rejuvenation that comes with quality beach time and wide open spaces, in the city we feel we are running out of room in more ways than one. 
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