Central Java, Indonesia
We flew from Vietnam –> Java, Indonesia to crash the end of our good friends Mark and Becca’s honeymoon. We originally had no plans to visit this part of SE Asia during our trip planning, and our experience and time spent in this fascinating part of Indonesia surpassed all expectations. Java is the most populous island in Indonesia (and the entire world), home to over 141 million people. It’s historically, culturally and economically the most important of Indonesia’s ~13,000 islands. We spent our time in the Yogyakarta region, which is considered the cultural and artistic heart of Java.
Before meeting up with the Leows, we stayed in an ecolodge located in a small village called Tembi south of the city of Yogyakarta. Our little wooden bungalow opened up to these scenic rice fields that produced delicious brown rice that we ate at the ecolodge restaurant. It was a quiet and peaceful place.
Yogyakarta is a fascinating city not well known to the western world – it’s renowned as the center of education and classical Javanese art and culture. It is also the only part of Indonesia that is governed by a pre-colonial monarchy, the Sultan of Yogyakarta. We spent a few hours on our first day wandering around, discovering interesting artwork and sites throughout the maze of narrow streets and alleys.
The local people were incredibly friendly and eager to show us around. This tiny, adorable little man walked us around for over two hours where we saw local art galleries, underground tunnels and colorful alleys.
We immediately noticed a specific type of artwork that was visible everywhere – Batik. Batik is a technique of wax-resist dying applied to cloth. Javanese batik specifically has a long history with diverse patterns influenced by a variety of cultures, and is the most developed in terms of pattern, technique, and the quality of workmanship in Java. It’s a meticulous and time-consuming process to produce these unique pieces of art and it was cool to see so many artists showcasing their work on the streets and make-shift galleries inside their homes.
We actually made our first art purchase which you can see below. This piece features the nearby Mt. Merapi volcano and took one week for the artist to create with natural indigo and jackfruit dyes. Because it’s dyed into the cloth, we can fold it up easily into our suitcase 🙂 After we met up with the Leows, the four of us coined the term “batiking” which is basically exploring hidden art shops and looking for the best batik art. Between the four of us, we walked away with a nice collection of authentic batik art pieces to adorn the walls of our future homes.
It was such a treat to see Mark and Becca as they are not only familiar faces, but two of our closest friends from San Francisco. We met them at Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple complex just outside of Yogyakarta. Although the majority of modern day Indonesians are Muslim, it has been a historical melting pot for various religions including long periods of Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Prambanan is the ancient remains of a time when both Hindu and Buddhism religions were fighting for influence and control. It was a beautiful place to explore with old friends.
Central Java is not a common stop for western travelers, so fair blonde women appear exotic and rare to the locals. Jenny has been stopped a few times throughout our travels to pose for pictures but things hit a new height in Java. Especially because the blonde factor was multiplied with fellow blonde haired Becca, we must have been stopped by over 20 groups of Indonesians asking for photos with these western celebrities!
On our last two nights, we checked out of our ecolodge to wrap up our Javanese adventure in Borobudur. The landscape and surroundings were vibrantly lush and green.
Borobudur is a massive Buddhist temple built in the 9th century that follows Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends ancestor worship and the concept of attaining Nirvana which is represented by the upward journey from the base of the temple to the top. It is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and is absolutely stunning. We woke up bright and early to climb the temple and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise.
At the top of the temple, you have a panoramic view of the surrounding area of lush jungle, Mt. Merapi and a majestic layer of morning fog. It was a remarkable site.
The whole experience felt sacred as there were many monks meditating and praying around the temple as the sun rose and bathed the temple in light.
And…we got to do this two of our favorite people in the world 🙂
The active Mt. Merapi volcano in the distance
Borobudur temple from the ground
We spent the rest of our time in Borobudur with Mark and Becca – playing cards, eating delicious Indonesian food, and enjoying being together after many months apart.
After Java, we had a quick two nights in Singapore before heading to the islands of Thailand. Our friends Byron and Elle live in Singapore and graciously hosted us, and although it was POURING rain for most of the time we were there, we enjoyed having an excuse to chill at home, play with their dogs Baxter and Jackie Moon, and listen to records. They also gave us quite the foodie experience with all of their restaurant and cuisine choices.
Byron is Kevin’s friends (Sebastian) older brother, and is the founder and CEO of Coconuts Media, an online media company covering stories from all over southeast Asia. Sebastian also works for the company, and was the star of one of their recent documentaries called “Highland”, a piece on the marijuana awakening in Thailand. Note – this was picked up by Netflix and is available for your viewing pleasure!
The days are starting to go by even faster. Next stop – Thai island paradise!