Discovering Yogyakarta: Why it's Indonesia's most intriguing city
It's easy to take our neighbouring country, Indonesia, for granted — because we're bounded by such close parameters. The truth is, there are many facades waiting to be uncovered. For starters, Indonesia stands as one of the largest countries in the world, boasting 17,500 spectacular islands and a population sprawled across 300 ethnicities and 700 languages. Some of the places commonly known: the capital city and port of modernisation, Jakarta; Raja Ampat, the diver's dream destination; Bintan and Batam, the quick resort getaway for city folks — where rambunctious nights with your party crew can be easily orchestrated. And then there is Yogyakarta, an overlooked hub on the island of Java. Venture in, and you'll discover its true idenity as the apex of arts, culture and profound history of Indonesia, as well as a destination brimming with endless potential. They don't tout it "Neverending Asia" for no good reason — here lies the top splendours of the enigmatic city.
Behold, the world's largest Buddhist temple to date. Whether you're a believer or not, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is frequented by thousands daily. Borobudur is an astounding centrepiece of architecture dating back to the 9th century — encompassing nine stacked platforms and a central dome, with traditional Javanese Buddhist carvings detailing the sins of men, ancestral worship and the state of attaining nirvana. Best time to visit? The wee hours in the morning, in order to to catch the sunrise from the top of the perforated stupas — the land symbolised to be nirvana. In exchange, you might have to give up some shut-eye, and tread 118 steps upin the dark with the help of a small torch, but that in itself is already be an experience to take home.
Marriott Hotels made a wise choice last year, and that was to build their first Indonesia Marriott address here in Yogyakarta. In line with the expected flood of tourists with the opening of Yogyakarta's new airport (to be ready in 2019), the hotel is poised as the perfect abode. In true Marriott fashion, the building is skewed to make every traveller a fan of the Marriott enterprise, yet respectful of the city it's housed in. Think refined neutral tones accented with Javanese detailing, from the hotel lobby to the bedrooms.
It can be hard turning a hotel's all-day diner into an impressive feature — but the Yogyakarta Kitchen was crafted to supersede expectations and not to compromise on detail. From the extensive yet winning breakfast buffet (don't leave without ordering a breakfast portion of their medium-cooked steak and eggs and their French toast, which was just the right amount of fluffy and moist), to the delicious a la carte menu, dishing out local favourites like Nasi gudeg telur (rice, braised jackfruit and egg), everything here was sublime.
All the other familiar facilities of a respectable Marriott remains the same, including the exclusive M-club where one can have private meetings over a couple of drinks, as well as the decadent Quan Spa — the ultimate stopover for a relaxing traditional Javanese massage. After all, you can't say you've been to Indonesia without experiencing the invigorating "deep-thumbs" effects of the treatment.
Taman Sari Water Castle
Once a former royal garden of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta, Taman Sari Water Castle is now an enchanting preservation palace. Strolling through aged roofs and vacant saunas, where the royals used to reside, sparks a certain sense of wander and a trip back to a time before smartphones. It's places like these that shed light on the importance of conservation and history.
Thrill-seekers, while you're in town, hike up Mount Merapi — the most active volcano in Indonesia located on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta. Here lies another golden opportunity to watch the sunrise from the peak: come break of dawn and you'll be duly rewarded with the scenic vista coupled with morning rays peeking through, before manifesting across the horizon.
Yogyakarta is rich in culture and ancient history for a clear reason — many religious influences are being held and protected by the city. Beliefs and mythical legends certainly don't disintegrate in this place; instead, they live on daily through iconic monuments. Another majestic temple compound, which marks to be a national symbol and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is Prambaran, a collection of massive Hindu temples. Built in the 9th century, the construction sees sharp sculpted towers scaled up to resemble the appearance of mini pagodas. If you're not a fan of jostling with the crowds within the compound, dine at Rama Shinta Restaurant,where you can feast your eyes on an open view of all 250 temples from afar.