If you had told me before our visit to Central Java that the trip would be anything but boring for the monkies, I would be highly sceptical. But as things turned out, the trip was a huge eye-opening cultural experience for every single member in the family.
Central Java is incredibly beautiful, complete with a mystical landscape of active volcanoes, lush jungles, an abundance of enchanting ancient temples. promising an unique explorative learning adventure for both young and old alike.
We spent a total of 6 days and 5 nights in Central Java, traversing through the regions of Yogyakarta, Solo City and the cool highlands of Wonosobo before ending our journey at Semarang. We started off at Yogyakarta - a 2-hour & 20-minute flight from Singapore by SilkAir - which is Central Java's crown jewel and a city steeped in tradition and history. Make no mistake, this is THE place to visit in Central Java if you only have time for one destination.
But I highly recommend indulging a few more days to enjoy what the entire Central Java has to offer to families. And here are the reasons why:
Yogyakarta is the capital city of the Yogyakarta Special Region in Central Java, Indonesia and pronounced as Jogjakarta or Jogja for short. The city is one of the major tourist hubs in Indonesia, due to its uniqueness and all the tourist attractions and other activities rolled into one.
Kaliadem Village and Mt Merapi
Kaliadem is a village in the slope of Mt Merapi that was totally destroyed after the last great eruption of Merapi in late 2010. Ash plumes and acidic sulphur dioxide gases enveloped the village causing more than 300 deaths. We visited the remnants of the village and saw the testaments of devastation first-hand.
Phones, cassettes, glass bottles and many other stuff that melted in the intense heat from the ash cloud, even the skeletons of animals who perished - being surrounded by all these is nothing like reading reports in newspapers or watching it on TV. It was a most sobering experience for the monkies and me.
One can only get to the surroundings of Mt Merapi - which is an extremely active volcano by the way - by renting a jeep (comes with a driver) and I think the experience of bopping up and down along the uneven ground along the way was an experience in itself for the monkies!
One of the highlights was coming face to face with a huge stone dubbed the 'Alien Rock'. Apparently, this huge rock actually flew off from the volcano during one of its eruptions and landed at this spot! Definitely one of most curious sight all of us have seen.
Situated in the centre of the city, this is much like our Science Centre with history and astrology corners, science exhibits, and culture zones.
There is a decent number of hands-on exhibits for kids to have fun with, although some of them are in a dire need for maintenance. Visit only if you have extra time to spare in Yogyakarta. Still, the monkies pretty much enjoyed themselves - albeit a hair-raising one!
This is the royal palace where the Sultans of Yogyakarta and their family stay. Here, there are plenty of unique architecture and heirlooms to pore over, making it a great place to visit and learn more about Javanese culture.
My recommendation is to go along with a local guide at the entrance who is able to speak English. The guide will share various myths, rituals, stories about the place, making the walk among the sprawling grounds a fascinating and entertaining one.
Jalan Malioboro is Yogyakarta’s main street and is the best place to shop, especially in the evening when the night market and streets come to life!
There are plenty to buy; from Batik apparel to bags to rattan products and silver jewellery. Tired after all the shopping? Hop onto a horse carriage to complete that unique shopping experience!
Now this is the real showstopper in Yogyakarta. Okay, it is technically not in Yogyakarta but for sure, many will make the approximately 1-hour journey to the ninth-century temple of Borobudur.
The largest Buddhist sanctuary in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, it is decorated with more than 2,672 detailed stone relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. To maximise one's experience, I strongly recommend going with the fabled Borobudur Sunrise Tour. It meant that we had to wake up at 3.30am to make it in time for the sunrise atop of the temple but let me assure you that it is totally worth it.
I found myself dying with anticipation as we walked through the surrounding grounds of Borobudur in the dark armed only with a flashlight. I remember having goosebumps when I began my ascent on the steep stone steps. And as dawn broke and the rising sun lit up the temple grounds all around us, Borobudur's grandeur was revealed and it was nothing short of stunning... even for the monkies.
The impressive monument consists of 9 terrace levels in all, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.
The 2,672 detailed stone relief panels tells the story of Buddha and his life.
If you do not wish to pay extra for the sunrise tour, then I recommend getting to the temple just when it opens at 8am when there are lesser visitors and it is less hot. The best way to experience Borobudur Temple when it is at its most quiet, to marvel at the beauty and its surroundings.
For sure, the other famous temple that one needs to visit while in Yogyakarta is Prambanan temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia.
Built in the 8th century, Prambanan Temple is said to be the most beautiful Hindu temple in the world. I would add stunning, majestic and spectacular too. Frankly, it is mind-boggling how people those days managed to build such towering structures WITHOUT cement.
Located just 18km east of Yogyakarta, the main temple grounds consist of 3 main tall, pointed temples that are dedicated to the Hindu gods Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. They are flanked by three smaller temples (built for the Hindu gods' Vahana or 'vehicles').
The surrounding area contains ruins, which was the result of an earthquake in 2006. Here's a tip - for best photo results, head to the opposite side of the main entrance. The views from there are better, with lesser crowds to jostle for good photo spots too!
Oh, and be sure to walk past the deer enclosure on your way back to the main exit. We purchased some kangkong and the monkies were instantly very popular among the deer.
Lying 60km east of Yogyakarta, Solo City is considered to be the twin sister of Yogyakarta but with a greater preservation of its Javanese culture. The town is also considered to the city of Batik, with loads of beautiful batik clothing to buy!
Standing in the northern part of the royal city of Solo in Central Java is the Mangkunegaran Palace, a beautiful palace built in 1757 that combines traditional Javanese and classical European styles and boasts an awe-inspiring main audience hall.
We viewed private collections from the previous kings, including jewellery, photos, weapons, accessories, as well as various palace grounds such as the garden, dining and meeting rooms.
Established in 1890, it is the second oldest museum in Indonesia (the oldest being the National Museum of Indonesia in Jakarta).
Housed in a colonial building, the museum has many artefacts including the music box gift from Napoleon Bonaparte to Paku Buwono up to the collection of Javanese ancient manuscript. Admittedly, the historical significance of the artefacts were lost on the monkies so I will suggest only heading to this museum if you have much older children.
You can buy anything made with batik in Solo. And there is no better place to shop for batik than at Kampung Batik Laweyan, or Batik Village. The village has historically been the center of batik in Solo since the days of 1546!
Walk through the quaint and beautiful (and Instagram-worthy) alleys of the village. Many of the shops also offer visitors to try their hand at batik-making, and obviously this was something that the monkies could not refuse.
Located in the heart of Central Java, the small town of Wonosobo is set amidst a picturesque mountain landscape with an average temperature of 22-24°C. With such a cool temperate climate, it is no wonder that Wonosobo became one of the monkies' (and mine too, actually) favourite cities on our trip!
With the cool mountain air providing a refreshing break from the usual heat, coupled with the impressive backdrop, I felt being transported to another different world. And no wonder, since Wonosobo's name is derived from Sanskrit 'Vanasabha' - which means "gathering place in the forest".
The most famous tourist attraction in Wonosobo is the Dieng Plateau, an upland volcanic plain famed for its scenery and ancient Hindu temples.
Start off the Dieng Plateau exploration with a visit to the exquisite Telaga Warna, or Colour Lake, where the turquoise and cobalt hues is a result of the bubbling sulphur deposits around its shores. Really a sight to behold... although the monkies had to put up with the smell of rotten eggs, thanks to the sulphur!
Right beside the Colour Lake is Tegala Pengilon, or Mirror Lake. I really can get used to this kind of spectacular lofty volcanic plateau views!
And this is why Dieng's name means 'Abode of the Gods', was formed from Sanskrit words Di (Abode) and Hyang (Gods). Truly apt.
Sikidang probably does not fit into a description of a volcanic crater. Rather, it is more like an open scar on the landscape, covered with rocks and ash in varying shades of gray, green and yellow. And yes, it is still considered to be an active volcano but yet safe due to the low amount of sulphur.
Scattered around the area are vents of varying sizes spewing steam and hydrogen sulfide, The landscape is littered with vents spewing steam and hydrogen sulphide gas, which gives the place its rotten egg odour. Nothing like a geography lesson seen up close for the monkies!
The focal point of Sikidang Crater is the large crater where water mixes with the ashes to form mud, which bubbles with the escaping gases together with billowing clouds of steam. Not putting my hand in for sure.
The temples at Dieng Plateau may be smaller in scale as compared to Borobudur and Prambanan but they win in terms of really old age. In fact, they are remnants from the glorious period of the Hindu empire in Java dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries!
Each of the small temples is named after figures in the epic tale of the Mahabarata such as Bima, Gatutkaca, Arjuna and Srikandi. It is believed that these temples used to serve as residences of Hindu priests who would spread Hindu teachings.
The Candi Arjuna temple complex is the most photographed and visited of the surviving temples on the Dieng Plateau. Built from slabs of grey stone, it is one the “box-like” Javanese candis which are associated with the first phase of temple-building in Central Java.
And as Ale will tell you, this is a must-visit place if you visit Wonosobo!
The final leg of our Central Java trip took us to Semarang, the capital city of Central Java and also the fifth largest city in Indonesia.
Ambarawa Train Museum
For kids who love all things trains, this is for them.
There are plenty of old locomotives that date back to 1891, when they were brought to Indonesia by the Dutch,
For the monkies, the best part of it all had got to be having the chance to climb all over them!
The place is much like our Tanjong Pagar Railway Station - but with 21 steam locomotives for kids to explore! They even gamely posed as sleepy passengers at an old railway station at my request. Heh.
Rawa Pening Lake
This location was actually not in our itnerary but we made a pit stop here enroute to Ambarawa Train Museum and ended up going on a scenic boat ride.
Rawa Pening is a lake in the Ambarawa Basin, and is used mainly for fishing as evident by the numerous fishing 'kelongs' scattered throughout the lake.
Taking the boat ride down Rawa Pening at sunset will probably make for a serene experience, while the area surrounding it comes alive then with a restaurant set on water and some kiddie rides.
Sam Poo Kong Temple
This Chinese temple was built to honour Admiral Cheng Ho for his contributions to the community, who led scores of Chinese fleets to Java. The building covers an area of 1,020 square meters and is influenced by both Chinese and Javanese 14th century architectural styles.
Unlike most temples, the building does not belong to any specific religion, but rather functions as a place of worship for people of various ethnicities and religious groups including Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims.
Kota Lama (Old City)
This small area of a town retains a proportion of colonial buildings but the only one probably worth visiting is the old church of Gereja Blenduk at the heart of the old city.
This old Protestant church was built in 1753 and is still used by church-goers today. The church boats as a huge cupola, a spectacular baroque-style organ and an unusual wooden pulpit.
Touted as the most haunted place in Semarang, Lawang Sewu was a former Dutch railway office which was later converted into the Japanese military headquarters during WWII.
The name Lawang Sewu means a thousand doors, and comes from the architecture of the building which comes with a whole lot of doors... just one short of 1,000 actually.
Walking along the (spooky) corridors in Lawang Sewu is an experience in itself - thanks to the tales of prisoners being tortured and killed in the basements during the Japanese Occupation in WWII.
Thankfully, we didn't encounter any paranormal activity... though there was the occasional drafts of cold air! *shiver*
That said, the Dutch architecture of the building is extremely beautiful and I recommend a visit should you go to Semarang.
Masjid Agung Jawa Tengah
Hands down, the Masjid Agung, or Great Mosque of Central Java is one of the most beautiful mosques I have ever seen.
Boasting an architecture that is a blend of Javanese, Arabic and Greek influences, the mosque even has six large hydraulically operated umbrellas that open up during prayers to keep its worshippers cool. Oh, and did I mention it has a 23-room hotel too?
6 days, 5 nights and many attractions later, our trip had opened our eyes to the fascinating sights, rich history, and educational adventures that Central Java has to offer. This definitely ranks as one of more enriching experiences we have had as a family!
And a special thanks to the Indonesia Ministry of Tourism and Nusantara Tour for such an awesome itinerary!
In case you are interested, here is our full Central Java itinerary:
Day 1: Arrival Jog - Taman Pintar – Lava Merapi Tour - Malioboro
· Arrival on MI152 SIN-JOG
· Taman Pintar
· Lava Merapi Tour At Kaliadem Village by Jeep
· Night tour of Malioboro Street
· Overnight at Jambuluwuk Hotel Jogja
Day 2: Borobudur Sunrise – Keraton Jogja – Prambanan Temple
· Sunrise tour of Borobudur Temple
· Visit to the Keraton (Palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta)
· Taste local delight, Gudeg, for lunch
· Cultural tour of Prambanan Temple
· Bus to Solo and overnight at Solo Paragon
Day 3: Keraton Solo – Museum Radya Pustaka – Batik Danar Hadi – Wonosobo
· Visit to Keraton Solo – Mangkunegaran Palace
· Museum Radyapustaka
· Museum Batik Danarhadi & practice how to make batik
· Drive to Wonosobo and overnight at Kresna Wonosobo
Day 4: Dieng Tour – Semarang
· Dieng Tour visit : Sikidang Crater, Color Lake, Cermen Lake, Arjuna Temple, Kaliasa Museum
· Drive to Semarang and overnight at MG Suites
Day 5: Semarang City Tour
· Semarang local tour Visit: Sam Poo Kong, Lawang Sewu, Kota Lama, Masjid Agung jawa Tengah, Pandanaran Street.
· Ambarawa Train Museum
· Overnight at MG Suites
Day 6; Transfer Out
· Check out hotel
· Depart for Singapore on MI103 SRG - SIN
SilkAir flies to Yogyakarta four times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays while flights to Semarang depart thrice weekly on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For more information, visit www.silkair.com.