A Day With Old Indonesian Men – Yogyakarta, Indonesia 1

Posted by Caleb | May 23, 2016

How we ended up in Yogyakarta, Indonesia I am not quite sure.  When Beth first pitched the idea to include it in our itinerary, we went through the whole list of spelling bee questions, can you repeat that? language of origin please? Jogajakarta…are there alternate pronunciations?  I picked up a little more information about it as we traveled through Amsterdam and Capetown, South Africa, as both have historical ties to the area in regards to the old East Indies spice trade, but showed up fully unaware of what the town offered.

We arrived on a puddle jumper from Bali and from there you can start the clock on time we spent in conversation with older Indonesian men.  We had booked our hotel on Starwood Points, the Mustika Sheraton Spa and Resort in Yogyakarta.  Though it is located outside the city, the hotel arranged for a free pick up to and from the airport (as well as free shuttles to downtown and the Prambanan temple).  Not just one but two older gentlemen were waiting for us, with a name sign and all, they took our bags and began with the simple conversation.  It was a short ride and a short but enjoyable dialogue about the city and a few other topics that Beth or I never quite picked up on.

The next day we again hopped the free hotel shuttle to the center city street of Malioboro (which was only the two of us as no one else appeared to be staying at this giant hotel).  Malioboro is the center of the business district and known for shopping and and eats.  Coming from Bali and Australia, there was a bit of street shock as the general orderliness of the area was….lacking.  We came by back later in the evening and it was much more lively.


Indonesian eats in the Malioboro neighborhood

After walking around for a bit we entered the Sultan’s Palace or locally known as the Kraton of Yogyakarta.  The 17th century palace is the actual home of the current Sultan or Governor of the Yogyakarta region, and offers entrance and a free English guide for 12,500 Rupiah (about 1 USD) per person.  Our guide was, unpolished, but she did a great job of general pointing and laughing at my jokes.  In the end, the $1 we paid to get into the palace experience was about what it was worth.

We left the palace early afternoon out the back gate, from there a random 40-year-old hopped along the Tegtmeier walking train to guide us to our next stop.  His name was Umar and he had a very keen interest in showing us a local puppet maker down the street.  Promising it was on the way to our next destination, we followed him down a narrow alley and into a backroom where some other gents were fiddling some little cloth creatures.  We were introduced to another older man, he remained unnamed as he skipped over pleasantries.  He gave a 30 second explanation of what was going on in his store/living room and then went into a elongated spiel about human fingers and where love is derived from.  I was into it, Beth less so, thus we jetted relatively abruptly and though I think there were the famous puppets for sale, we did not purchase.

Handmade puppets for sale are popular in Yogayakarta

Handmade puppets for sale are popular in Yogayakarta

From there we began wandering through the alleys of a small neighborhood surrounding the famous water castle.  The neighborhood itself looked like a picture out of one of those “Things White People Like” books.  It did not feel staged or touristy as we were the only ones there, just a area full of alleys, distressed furniture, bright colors next to each other and old Asian women sipping tea on their porch.  The only thing keeping this from looking exactly like Beth’s Pinterest feed was demonstration videos of crafty new recipes being made by a pair of anonymous hands.  We took some photos as posted below, though I think Beth was ready to heist a couple of the chairs and maybe even some of the old women.

As we were wondering around the neighborhood, another older gentlemen came around a corner and introduced himself as Tono.  He said he wanted to show us the underground Muslim Mosque that was next to his house.  Now that proposition would normally sound a bit dangerous, but Beth said she had heard of this mosque prior to our arrival and Tono, was both very jolly and much smaller than me.  We joined him for a short walk that ended up being quite an enjoyable impromptu tour of this free attraction.  He lit up a cig, pointed out a few things, demonstrated a few Muslim rituals and talked extensively about the past earthquakes.  He also led us over to the ancient ruins of an old Palace that the locals had built their dwellings around.  Although there were other people around, he seemed to be the only “guide”, and was actually one of the best English speakers we met in our 10 days in Indonesia.  In the end it was about an hour we spent with Tono, and the vibe I got is that we probably could have shook hands and left, but he definitely was working for tips.  I imagine if you wonder around there long enough, Tono finds you.


My main man Tono

Next stop was Taman Sari or the Water Castle that we had been looking for from the beginning.  The cost of entrance was 30,000 IDR or about $2 USD p/p.  This was essentially the old Sultan’s funhouse, filled with pools and different rooms.  It was a 20 minute visit for us that couldn’t have been stretched out too much more.


The Water Castle

On the way out, we had both realized we were pitting out our shirts so we stopped for a fresh coconut at a local stand.  We sat down at the stand to talk to another old Indonesian man, once again jolly and interested in my hairy white skin.  This conversation went in several different directions but ol’ Betty was housing the coconut waters, thus we stayed for quite awhile.  As we were getting ready to leave the man offered to help us catch a taxi, also pointing out that we should check out a “student art exhibition” that was near our desired destination.  We had talked to another man earlier that mentioned these exhibitions and that guy ended up being a hack so I would advise watching out for this “student art” as a scam.  However, this one was directly next to where we were headed and we needed someone to translate to a taxi anyway.  Thus we hopped on a bike petty cab, once again to spend some time with an older Indonesian man.

Pedi cab crusin'

This was our tuk tuk bike driver, huffing and puffing right down my neck, contrary to what this photo shows…he did live to see the destination

The student art exhibition turned out to be more of a sales pitch but it did have the famous Indonesian Batik cloth and a interesting private demo from the owner on how it was made.  We finally caved and bought our first souvenir of this trip, the fact that it packed down into an envelope was his best selling point.


Another man in my grill, showing me Batik dye strategies

Our final stop was the backpacker area of Prawirotoman.  It was full of a mix of artsy streets and clean looking restaurants.  If you are looking for someplace to eat, that isn’t going to give you the bubble guts, all these restaurants appeared to sanitary and orderly with great service.  We tried out the highly rated Warung Heru and were not disappointed.

The next day we were entertained by another older Indonesian man as we hired a private driver to swing us around to the different famous temples.  The two most famous in the area being Borobudur and Prambanan.  You’ll see the details and costs below.

We found ourselves at the temples during a school holiday, thus there were several groups of high school students that happened to be visiting from the local countryside.  We were the only white people at the temples and were given the celebrity treatment.  We were asked to take pictures with young men, old men, fully covered Muslim women and I was even asked to hold a baby for a picture.

The temples themselves are well worth the trip.  Prambanan is the world’s biggest puzzle, a pile of carved stone that wrecked to the ground by earthquakes, that they are now trying to put back together into 240+ individual temples.

Borobudur is famous to go at sunrise and if that is what you are after, you can find a ton of different ways to get in, including a the local hotel next to the temple.  It is a 9th century Buddhist temple that is massive by any standard.  It is set in a jungle like location which gives it a more remote feel.  Definitely worth the visit.



Here are some prices if you are interested in visiting.

Prambanan (IDR110,500 for foreigners)

Borobudur (IDR 169,000),

The Kraton (Rp 12,500)

  • There’s a Rp 1000 fee for cameras
  • The guides are free with the ticket but donation is expected
  • Admission hours is from 8am to 2pm from Saturday to Thursday and only up to 1pm on Fridays

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