Expat Living in Yogyakarta
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Yogyakarta is a Special Province, reporting directly to Jakarta rather than to the Central Java government. It stretches roughly from the base of Mt. Merapi to the Indonesian Ocean. North of the city are mountains and nature, while south of town are stormy seas shrouded in legend.
The city, affectionately called “Jogja”, is best known for its cultural attractions. Thanks to nearby ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples and monuments, Jogja is the second largest tourist destination in Indonesia. A smallish university town, Jogja is a delightful mixture of past, present and the future.
About 3.121 million (2010 census) people are residents of Yogyakarta Special Province (DIY), with the majority living in small hamlets and villages on the outskirts of the city.
Teeming with students, Jogja enjoys a relatively slow-paced lifestyle that residents and tourists find endearing. It’s cooler than Jakarta because instead of high rise buildings and cement - mountains, beaches caves and rivers are all around the city. Also known as Indonesia’s primary education center, Jogja is home to a multitude of academies, colleges and universities, including Indonesia’s oldest and largest, Gadjah Mada University and ISI, the arts university.
Education, tourism, foreign aid programs, the arts and exports (i.e. textiles, batik, furniture, natural fiber handbags, hand-rolled cigars) are the primary industries in Jogja. In nearby Kota Gede silver crafted jewelry is created throughout the village.
The nearest American Consulate is Surabaya. Tel. (62-31) 295-6400.
Honorary Consulate of France in Yogyakarta
Honorary Italian Consulate
While it doesn't provide consular services, the French/Indonesian Cultural Center is a program of the French government.
Jogja’s small expatriate community is largely comprised of artists, students, teachers, aid workers and exporters (i.e. furniture, handicrafts and natural fiber handbags). The largest group of foreigners is Dutch, but this can change with the different development projects as they begin.
Opportunities for weekend and family activities abound. (See “Yogyakarta & Central Java Sites” below.) How expats choose to spend their evenings or where they hang out depends largely on their ages and lifestyles. Outside the hotels: for the young and young-at-heart there are many coffee shops serving somewhat average cups of “Java” and desserts, a growing number of “lounges” where alcoholic beverages are served, and one music club, Java Café, that’s popular with Westerners. In the hotels (international chains include Sheraton, Hyatt, Quality and Mercure, among others) are the usual bars and restaurants. Hotels frequently offer special foods, such as barbecue or Mexican food.
Large houses with western amenities are available in newly-built perumahan (housing complexes) which rent for big-city prices and have little or no garden space. If you’re looking for something smaller or with a yard, be prepared to search long and hard and then have a renovation budget on hand to upgrade kitchen and bathrooms.
Electricity is reliable (220 volts AC), but Jogja is experiencing the same infrastructure overload felt throughout Indonesia and there are occasional power outages. Although still using a six-digit telephone number system, phone service and Internet connections are good, far better than in Bali for example. Some houses are on the city water system; others have wells. A few have both.
Some expats are using Asia Medika Klinik. Dr. Paulus, who speaks English and has several years’ experience treating foreigners in Bali, can arrange medical evacuation to Singapore if the need arises. Asia Medika Klinik, Jl. Abubakar Ali No. 3, Jogja 53224. Emergency Tel. (0274) 748-2100; 748-3100.
There are several other hospitals in Jogja but only three are recommended for expats. For hospital stays: Rumah Sakit Panti Rapih, a private hospital run by Catholics, is clean, has pleasant surroundings, nice nursing service and competent doctors. Offers acupuncture in its integrated medicine department. For emergency service: Rumah Sakit Bethesda, a private hospital run by a Protestant foundation, has the best emergency services. Also offers acupuncture and jamu (herbal medicines) as part of its integrated medicine regime. Prior to Happy Land, the most advanced, modern equipment could be found at Rumah Sakit Sarjito, a public hospital at University of Gadjah Mada. The drawback is that it’s known for poor nursing service, as the nurses are primarily students in training.
Many expats still prefer to go to Jakarta, Singapore or their home countries for elective care.
Schools (Jogja and Central Java)
YOGYAKARTA INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Jl. Cendrawasih No. 1
Mountainview International Christian School in Salatiga (two hours northeast of Jogja) has ±140 students, pre-kindergarten through senior high school. Semarang International School in Semarang, ±70 students, pre-school through junior high. Preschools are also available.
Interfaith services are held every Sunday in the Jogja Plaza Hotel, Jl. Gejayan, at 5 p.m. For more information on the Yogyakarta International Congregation call (0274) 562 705 and ask for Srs. Siska or Srs. Maryrose, lecturers at Sanata Dharma University. Services are in English. Catholic mass is held in Panti Rapih Hospital Chapel every Sunday at 5 p.m. Services are in English.
Interfaith services are held every Sunday in the Jogja Plaza Hotel, Jl. Gejayan, at 5 p.m. For more information on the Yogyakarta International Congregation call Dito at (0888) 2711771 or email email@example.com
Jogja currently has two shopping malls (Jl. Malioboro Mall and Galeria) with a growing number of internationally branded shops and many local ones. Two more malls are currently under construction, scheduled for completion in 2006. Matahari is the main department store and Hero the primary supermarket. The hypermarket Makro has recently opened on the north Ringroad. Shops carrying English language books include Gramedia and Periplus. Periplus in Malioboro Mall has a pleasant café attached.
The clothing found in Jogja shops is primarily sized for small Indonesians. There are a number of penjahit (tailors) who can make clothing to fit any size, but at the onset larger-framed foreigners should bring an ample supply of clothes from home.
With several golf courses nearby and a growing interest in trekking and camping among Indonesians, there are many specialty shops carrying goods aimed at these markets. Footlocker is one of several athletic shoe shops in Jogja, but again, the selection of sizes is geared toward smaller Indonesian feet.
A city of students looking for cheap meals, Jogja is filled with lesehan-style eating spots that pop up on the sidewalks just before dusk. Seating is on floor mats, and they serve everything from noodles to steaks. Street musicians often provide impromptu entertainment in exchange for coins. The specialty of Jogja is Gudeg, which is made from young jackfruit and served with egg or chicken.
International and Indonesian cuisine are served in upscale restaurants, particularly in the hotels. Two popular restaurants outside hotels are Gadjah Wong and Gabah. The trend in new restaurants that are opening is definitely towards the world kitchen. You can find Italian restaurants, serving pizzas and pastas. Also, Asia fusion restaurants which mix Javanese dishes and western taste. Go to Jl. Prawirotaman to find more than 10 restaurants to choose from. International fast food outlets include McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut.
Recreation and Leisure
Home to Indonesia’s largest university dedicated to the arts, there is always a selection of art exhibitions and dance performances available in Jogja. Several art spaces offer interesting programs for the public. Hours are usually 9 am-12 noon and 5-9 p.m. Exhibitions and discussions are generally free, but there may be a small charge for films. As exhibitions and opening times are continually changing, call for current schedules.
Tennis, swimming and fitness centers are found in large hotels, most payable on a per use basis. Sightseeing is also popular, as are language schools and batik courses. Nearby are river rafting, lava-watching, volcano climbing, trekking, caving and bird watching opportunities. Beaches to the south are not suitable for swimming because of strong undertows but are good for strolling and freshly-caught fish meals cooked to order. The Yogyakarta American Jeep Club holds off-road rallies and there is paragliding near Borobudur. A movie theater complex is under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of 2005. And Jogja’s first bowling alley opened in 2005.
Jogja has two Hash House Harrier groups. Notices of the times and locations of their runs and contacts for the groups are listed in Jogja’s local newspaper, Kedaulatan Rakyat. One group even provides transportation, picking up on Jl. Mangkubumi and delivering to the site, if necessary. Alternatively, simply go to the site of the next run at the stated time and you can register on the spot.
Golf courses suiting a wide variety of skills and time limitations range from the 9-hole beginner course at Hyatt Regency Jogja to the 18-hole Merapi Golf Course, one of the best in the area, used for international tournaments. Others are Adisucipto Golf Club, 18 holes near the Jogja airport; and Tidar Golf Course in Magelang (near Borobudur), 18 holes.
Far more affordable than in western countries, spa and beauty treatments are on practically every expat’s leisure time activity list. Nearly all Jogja and Central Java spas incorporate traditional Javanese massage (with some offering European techniques too) and Javanese lulur, a body scrub once enjoyed only by royalty. Favored are the Hyatt Regency Jogja Spa and the Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa at the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta. Several of Java’s spas are owned or operated by companies specializing in jamu (traditional herbal beauty concoctions) and feature their products. One of the best known is Martha Tilaar, on Jl. Cendrawasih. Outside of Jogja, Hotel Puri Asri in Magelang also has a spa as does Mesa Stila Spa Retreat & Coffee Plantation near Magelang.
Yogyakarta and Central Java Tourist Attractions
Yogyakarta (Jogja) and Surakarta (Solo) are the centers of classical Javanese culture, kept alive by the patronage of the royal families of the two cities. Gamelan orchestras, sultans’ palaces, graceful dancers, buffalo-hide puppets and batik decorated with spiritual motifs all play important roles in the lives of even the most modern Javanese.
The highlands of Central Java are rich with historical and archeological sites, and more ruins are uncovered each year, usually by farmers plowing their fields. The magnificence of Borobudur monument in Magelang is an unequaled example of Buddhist architecture.
In western Central Java, the cool mists of Dieng Plateau surround silent temple ruins, smoking volcano craters and steaming geothermal energy. In 1891, at Sangiran (near Solo), archaeologists discovered remains of one of mankind’s early ancestors, Java Man. There’s a small museum there housing bones and fossils.
Not largely promoted, but growing in popularity is the “other side” of tourism in the Yogyakarta / Central Java region: early-morning lava watching at Mount Merapi, volcano climbing, caving, river rafting, and bicycling through small villages. The south coast, shrouded in legends of the mystical sea goddess Nyi Roro Kidul, houses beaches where freshly-caught fish are cooked on-site to diners’ specifications. And off the north coast, in the Karimunjawa Islands, PADI certification and scuba diving are relatively undiscovered.
For the less adventurous, Yogyakarta and Central Java Provinces offer a wide range of starred hotels and resorts, spas, golf courses and fine dining. There are many fine language schools in Jogja, attracting students of Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Jawa (Java) from around the world.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Yogyakarta is supporting the recovery of more than 3,000 earthquake-affected micro- and small enterprises (MSE) in Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces. As part of the IOM-JRF Livelihoods Recovery Project, funded by the multi donor Java Reconstruction Fund, IOM hosts regular free tours for members of the public to visit the village workshops and showrooms of these recovering craft makers (in agel, batik, lurik and silver sectors) and organic farmers. To watch a video about the free tours, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oitt-yUD5A. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +62 274 619-055.
Yogyakarta (Jogja) & the Keraton
With its art studios, dance and drama festivals, batik artists, silver works and universities, Jogja is the cultural and educational center of Java. It retains Special Area status in the Republic of Indonesia and devotes much time and energy to the perpetuation of its proud heritage. The sultanate has a long history of resistance to foreign domination and even served as the capital of the struggling Indonesian republic for four years during the fight for independence from the Dutch after World War II. In recognition of this position, it was rewarded with Special Province (DYI) status by the Indonesian government.
The keraton, the palace compound of the sultans of Yogyakarta built by Sultan Hamengkubuwono I in 1755, is open to the public. Accompanied by a multi-lingual guide, stroll through large courtyards surrounded by traditional architecture to see collections of gilded chairs, gamelan instruments, royal china and silver sets, and wayang puppets.
Located just west of the keraton is Taman Sari (Water Palace), the pleasure palace of former sultans. Taman Sari is an intriguing collection of pools, underground passageways, and ruined mosques and meditation rooms now surrounded by an encroaching kampung (village).
The area south of Taman Sari is the center of Jogja’s batik industry. Studios and shops featuring paintings, batik and antiques are plentiful. Silver works are found throughout nearby Kota Gede, 15 minutes from bustling Jalan Malioboro, the prime souvenir area.
Jogja is more than 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Jakarta and is accessible via frequently scheduled plane, train and bus service.
In 2001 the Sultan requested that the city be thenceforth informally known as “Jogja” to make it easier for tourists to pronounce and remember the city’s name. Savvy locals and travelers complied, using “Yogyakarta” only for formal occasions (as is the case with Surakarta / Solo) and when speaking of Yogyakarta Province.
Built in the eighth century by the Shailendra Dynasty, Borobudur is arguably Indonesia’s most important ancient monument. Built of gray andesite stone, it has undergone many years of restoration since it was uncovered over a century ago. The massive temple rises in seven terraces above the surrounding plain. It is topped by the Great Stupa which stands 40 meters (131 feet) above the ground. Viewed from the air, Borobudur is laid out in the shape of a mandala, a Buddhist symbol for meditation and prayer. The monument is considered the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist bas-reliefs in the world, each scene an individual masterpiece. It is located 42 km (26 miles) west of Jogja on the road to Magelang.
Nearby Mendut Temple is an integral part of the Borobudur complex. Scholars believe pilgrims passed through this smaller temple complex before ascending the great Borobudur monument. It is located three km (one mile) from Borobudur. There is a Buddhist monastery across the road from Mendut Temple and the area is lively with activity in the days leading up to the Buddhist Waisak Day.
One of the most graceful and elegant monuments in Java, Prambanan is 17 km (10 miles) east of Jogja. Roro Jonggrang (as the local people call it) is a magnificent 9th century Hindu complex. Dedicated to Shiva, its main temple is flanked by others honoring Visnu and Brahma. Reliefs depict Ramayana stories.
On evenings of the full moon June through October, the famous Ramayana Ballet, an adaptation of the Hindu epic, is performed al fresco with Prambanan as the backdrop. A huge gamelan orchestra accompanies the 500 dancers participating in the spectacle.
Candi Ratu Boko
Still little known is Candi Ratu Boko (Queen Boko’s temple), also known as Keraton Ratu Boko (Queen Boko’s palace), east of Jogja. Built between the 8th and 9th centuries, the architecture is mixed Hindu and Buddhist styles.
The temple complex is divided into three separate groups. The first is the impressive gateway which visitors encounter walking up from the parking area. The second cluster consists of a narrow, bridge-like walkway, stone foundation and floors, pavilions, ancient pools and keputren (women’s quarters). Last is the third cluster consisting of meditation caves, the roofs of which have collapsed, and a square pool. The purpose of these clusters is unclear but theories range from palaces, to religious centers, to forts. Although there’s actually not much left of the structures to see, the beautiful views from the top of the hill make Candi Ratu Boko well worth a visit.
Pre-dawn trekking tours begin at the temple’s camping grounds and proceed up Mount Tugel for spectacular sunrises overlooking the ancient palaces and temples of Jogja. Contact a local travel agent for further details.
Dieng Plateau (northwest of Borobudur, near Wonosobo) makes a marvelous outing if for no other reason than the beautiful drive. Tourists rarely make the day long trip from Jogja to the plateau and back, so chances are you will have it to yourself. A passage through deep valleys in the shadows of magnificent volcanoes studded with coffee, tea and tobacco leads to the rugged magnificence of the plateau, the surrounding earth steaming with geothermal activity.
Dieng Plateau is the site of some of the earliest known Hindu temples on Java, believed to have been built in the ninth century. Two other stops away from the temples are Goa Semar, a cave where the spirit of Semar, a character in the Hindu Mahabarata legend, is said to reside and Telaga Warna, the eerie Colored Lakes. A word of caution: Occasionally gases caused by seismic activity are present on Dieng Plateau. Use common sense and follow the lead of the local residents. If they begin evacuating the area, all visitors should too.
For those wishing to experience Javanese life on more personal level, several traditional villages have opened their doors and their lives to guests: Brayut, Sambi and Tanjung villages in Sleman regency, north of Jogja, and Parangrejo village in Bantul, south of Jogja, to name a few. Day trips or overnight stays can be arranged and include Javanese food, courses in handicraft making and Indonesian or Javanese language. Some offer trekking through nearby hills and agricultural plantations.
Known as a pioneer of nature and cultural appreciation, Christian Awuy was the first to climb and map Mt. Merapi (north of Jogja) for tourist treks. Today lava watching hikes are offered by many tour operators, but for purists, Christian’s are still the best. For further information call Merapi Lava Tours or Vogel’s Hostel in Kaliurang, Tel. (0274) 895-208, Fax 895-300.
While most Jogja tour operators focus on temples and culture tours, one specializes in bicycle safaris through villages and countryside and other off-the-beaten-path activities: Angsa Tours & Travel, Jl. Sedardwijan 14A, Balapan, Yogyakarta 55222. Tel. (0274) 520-940; Fax (0274) 520-913 Website: www.angsa-indonesia.com.
For climbing, trekking and hiking contact: Azimuth Adventure Travel, Jalan Pandega Marta VI/4, Catur Tunggal, Yogyakarta 55281. Tel. (0274) 560 663; Fax (0274) 560 663; Website: www.azimuth-travel.com.
South of Jogja there are several sections of beaches with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean. Winding roads pass through verdant farmlands, all within easy driving distance of the city. While only Krakal and Baron offer protected swimming (the undertow is strong and swimming off other beaches is prohibited), many are rich resources for fresh fish to take home or have cooked on-site. And some are relatively undiscovered. While you’re there, ask about the legend of Nyi Roro Kidul, the Goddess of the South Sea. If crowds are not your idea of a soothing holiday, avoid the beaches on weekends and school holidays.
Surakarta (Solo) Sites
Thanks to a recently completed road, Surakarta – or Solo – is now a one-hour drive from Jogja. The city is also a notable center for batik. The museum at Solo’s keraton is one of the best in Java. It houses several excellent collections of ancient bronzes, Chinese porcelain and pottery, and sacred keris (ceremonial daggers). There are also three old coaches once used by the royal family. One was presented to Pakubuwono II by the Dutch East India Company in 1740. Solo’s second palace is Mangkunegaran. Only its museum and pendopo (veranda) are open to visitors.
Just outside Solo is holy Mount Lawu, with its ancient Hindu temples and meditation centers. Fifteenth century Candi Ceto is 1470m above sea level. Also circa 15th century, Candi Sukuh resembles a Mayan temple. Reliefs illustrate life before birth and sex education.
Aptly known as Kota Batik (Batik City), Pekalongan, on the north coast of Central Java, is the source of some of the finest batik worn by Jakarta society. Its bright colors and distinctive patterns are indicative of a strong Chinese influence. Batik aficionados will delight in the many shops and factories in Pekalongan.
Some of the most famous wood carvers in Indonesia are in Jepara, on the northeast coast of Central Java. Ornate chairs and tables are still built in the style and method used hundreds of years ago, and much of the teak patio furniture for sale in Java and Bali is made here. Extremely detailed and finely worked decorative, three dimensional relief panels depicting scenes from mythology and legend are also popular items. You can see artisans at work throughout Jepara.
Located off the north coast of Central Java are the Karimunjawa Islands with several losmen and one dive center offering PADI certification. Diving and snorkeling are good from small offshore islands. You can reach Karimunjawa by ferry (6 hours) from Jepara, or get a group together and charter a small plane from either Jepara or Semarang.
An early version of this page was excerpted, with permission, from “Introducing Indonesia” published by American Women’s Association of Indonesia, Jakarta (1999). Updated in 2005 by Linda Hoffman and Pius Marmanta in 2008 and in 2012 by Sylvain Leroy of Yogya Business.
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