Yogyakarta was one of those stops that had to be done. I spent 12 months here in 1996 studying at the University of Gadja Mada and embracing all that Yogyakarta has to offer – perhaps only as a 20 year old could. I was apprehensive to bring the family here because of the memories I had of Yogya and knowing that the short glimpse we would have over 4 days wouldn’t really scratch the surface. You see, Yogyakarta is a special place but if you arrive as a tourist you might see nothing but a big, dirty , overcrowded city, like most other big cities in Asia.
Murray admits his first impression of ‘Jalan Sosrowijayan ‘ – the street we were staying in, was a bit ‘what the hell?’ It was narrow, dirty and didn’t look like a there might be suitable accomodation even remotely nearby. The traffic arriving into the main drag was horrendous and as I excitedly pointed out our new home, he wisely withheld judgement. Luckily when we arrived at Bladok ( our hostel) we were greeted by friendly staff who somehow recognised me from all those years ago ( Murray was a bit suspicious of that but I assured him it was because our gang used to eat there a lot being the only joint in town that served baked potatoes).
It turned out to be an easier stop over than I imagined. We strolled down Maliiboro street, wandered through the Sultan’s palace and water garden , spent an amazing afternoon exploring Borobudur ( largest Buddhist temple in the world) and hung out at Malioboro Mall where we could eat McDonalds and hit the Kids Zone.
Yes, it was different in many ways. The becak drivers seemed to have upgraded to motorised vehicles and old buildings had been replaced with new, but the biggest difference was the vibe. Strangely, there were very few western tourists ( we could count the number we saw on one hand). The place was once an international backpackers haven but today seemed to be left off the traveller’s itinerary. Humbly though , the feeling, the energy of being in ‘authentic Indonesia ‘ was still there. It’s a place where you need a bit of Bahasa to get by, where people want to take your photograph ( or just take a selfie as you walk behind them), where your kids are treated like rock stars and fussed over especially when they say a few words in Bahasa, where people remember you. Could I ever live there again? No , sadly I don’t think so. It’s busy, it’s chaotic, it just seems like hard work at every angle.
I’m glad I got to return and show my family where I lived and studied for a whole year. Looking at it now, twenty years later, I am a bit in awe of that fearless 20 year old.
Where to next? Bukit Lawang, Sumatra …