Many Javanese came to Singapore at the beginning of the 19th century. They are now considered as part of the Malay community. It is hard to pinpoint one city where these migrants came from — after all, Java has more than 100 cities. Here are some of the important major cities in Java.
Javanese Cultural Treasures to Look Out For
Yogya is associated with batik, and, of course, there is no better place to learn batik crafting other than Yogya. Many batik shops and centres offer batik workshops for tourists. Don’t you want to show off your self-made batik sarong to your friends?
Silver and pottery courses
Besides batik, Yogyakarta is well-known for its silver workshop. You can find the biggest centre for silver crafts and hammered handcrafts in Indonesia. You can bring back the silver jewellery you made home after the course.
Wayang Kulit Theatre
The traditional puppet show originated from Java although it has been adopted by other countries in the region. Accompanied by Gamelan music, the puppetmaster (known as dalang) narrates the story while skillfully moves the puppet behind a white cotton screen. The most popular epics are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
The Ramayana is a Sanskrit epic, telling about Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana. Besides wayang kulit, theatre productions in Yogyakarta perform Ramayana regularly. Although it is often called Ramayana Ballet, don’t expect ballerina coming out in their tutus. The dancers are dressed in colourful traditional costumes and headgears.
Best Cities to Explore in Java
For city gals pals trying to squeeze some cultural and historical juices
The capital city of Indonesia was known as Batavia during the Dutch era. Beyond the constant packs of vehicles on the street, Jakarta is home to plenty of colonial monuments and a melting pot of cultures. It makes a good balance of modern shopping centres and historic tourist attractions.
Kota Tua, Jakarta
For touristy adventures in the modernised colonial town
A growing metropolitan city, Bandung is surrounded by tea plantations and volcanoes. Tourists flock here to shop till they drop at their numerous factory outlets. Otherwise, the cool tropical weather is a good break from the hot and dry Jakarta. Although Bandung is getting urbanised, every nook and cranny is filled with nostalgic buildings and monuments.
For a more laid-back kampung with a clash of cultures
The port city in northern Java may not be as bustling and popular as Jakarta or Bandung, but Semarang is far from boring. The birthplace of Ayam Penyet also holds a rich history of the Chinese settlers, the Dutch colonials and the Japanese brief yet cruel administration before the Indonesian independence. The mellow ambience of Semarang goes well with the mix of Chinese, Dutch and Javanese architecture.
For a bustling town with a good mix of nature, architecture and landmarks
The first impression of the business town may not be welcoming for tourists. But once you explore every nook and cranny of Surabaya, you will find a strangely beautiful blend of colonial buildings, a massive Chinatown complex, majestic volcanoes and memorial landmarks. The crowded city lets you trace your roots to the temples, mosques and heritage buildings while giving you some space to marvel at the urban landscape.
For a slowly urbanising heritage town
If you are not impressed by the massive colonial-era mansions along the main boulevard of Malang, soak yourselves in the beautiful nature of Malang. The artsy-fartsy travellers should visit Jodipan Village – touted as the most beautiful slum in the world. Otherwise, break some sweat by hiking the well-known Mt. Bromo or Mt. Semeru. Malang indeed has a strong balik kampung vibe as the locals still retain their cultures and traditions while slowly embracing Western influence.
For a sleepy town in the carefree old days
The cradle of civilisation of Java, Yogyakarta (also known as Jogja) is blessed with well-preserved heritage and culture. Jogja is the soul of Javanese culture and is also one of the breeding places of Chinese Peranakan in the region. A huge number of Javanese in Yogyakarta (and surrounding areas) migrated to Singapore to work for the British, and that’s how the Javanese community in Singapore was born.
Cultural and Historical Attractions in Yogyakarta and Nearby
Yogyakarta often serves as a base to neighbouring cities and attractions and is largely undiscovered. These are 10 attractions you must visit when you are balik kampung, giving different slices of Yogyakarta’s past.
7) Prambanan Temple
Prambanan Temple is the largest Hindu temple Borobudur in Indonesia. Although there has been an on-going debate as to which province exactly does the temple belong to, Prambanan is only a half-an-hour drive from downtown Yogyakarta. Head there during sunrise to enjoy the view of the temples’ silhouette! This is also the best place to watch Ramayana after sunset.
Credit: Theodore William
Address: Jl. Jogja-Solo Km. 16 Prambanan, Prambanan, Sleman Regency
Operating hours: Daily, 6 am – 5 pm
How to get there: 15-minute car ride from Adi Sucipto Airport.
8) Goa Jomblang
Jomblang Cave has recently gained traction from foreign tourists thanks to the many Insta-worthy shots of the cave. You will be lowered down into the cave mouth, 50 metres below the sinkhole where you initially stop. Pray for a bright weather so that you can enjoy the spectacular sight of the sun rays breaking into the cave.
Address: Padukuhan Jetis Wetan, Desa Pacarejo, Kecamatan Semanu, Kabupaten Gunungkidul
Operating hours: Daily, 8 am – 2 pm
How to get there: Best done through operator as you need to rent the equipment. It’s around 1.5 hours away from Yogyakarta.
9) Mount Merapi
Adventurous souls should try climbing Mount Merapi, an active volcano on the border of Yogyakarta and Central Java. Be careful though as the volcano regularly erupts every two to three years. Check the local news before heading up.
10) Kalibiru National Park Viewpoint
Another Instagrammable spot in Yogyakarta against the lush green mountains and clear blue sky. Do note that you cannot access the national park. It is meant for you to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and the beautiful scenery around.
Address: Kalibiru, Hargowilis, Kulon Progo
Operating hours: Daily, 9 am – 5 pm
How to get there: Take a train and alight at Wates Station and change to taxi motor (ojeg) to Kalibiru.
11) Beringharjo Market
Credit: Theodore William
Immerse yourself with the locals at Beringharjo Market where the locals trade anything — spices, textile, fruits, food, medicine, and many more! It is the biggest traditional market in Yogyakarta, and most items are pocket-friendly. The winding alleys and the cramped stalls may be confusing yet charming.
Address: Jalan Margo Mulyo No.16, Ngupasan, Gondomanan
Operating hours: Daily, 8:30 am – 9 pm
How to get there: Take Trans Jogja bus route 1A and alight at the market.
12) Taman Sari
Credit: Theodore William
The water castle was a royal garden of Keraton Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta Palace). The European and Javanese style was prominent from the moment you enter the gate. Besides the royal family’s bathing and resting place, the mosque is a must-visit for its unique circular shape, unlike other mosques that have rectangle floorplans.
Address: Jalan Taman, Patehan, Kraton
Operating hours: Daily, 8:00 am – 5 pm
How to get there: 5-minute walk from Beringharjo Market.
13) Ullen Sentalu Museum
Get to know the history of Keraton Yogyakarta and Surakarta as well as the royal family heritage. The batik collections, traditional paintings and gamelan sets will impress you. Your entrance ticket comes with an English-speaking guide who will give you an in-depth explanation on the royal family of Yogyakarta.
Address: Jalan Boyong KM 25, Kaliurang Barat, Hargobinangun, Sleman, Kabupaten Sleman
Operating hours: Tuesday – Friday, 8:30 am – 4 pm | Saturday – Sunday, 8:30 am – 5 pm | Closed on Monday
How to get there: Take TransJogja bus route 2B or 3B and alight at Shelter Ring Road Utara-Kentungan. Take angkot (public car) route Yogyakarta-Pakem and alight at Pasar Pakem. Change angkot to the route Pakem-Kaliurang and alight at Taman Kanak-Kanak Kaliurang. It’s 300 metres to the west.
14) Alun-Alun Selatan Keraton (Alun-Alun Kidul)
The colourful neon pedal cars, also known as odong-odong, light up Alun-Alun Kidul at night. The blazing music might be unpleasant to your ears at first, but as your legs pedal the cars around the square, you will start getting soaked into the night. When your legs are aching after the ride, head to the warungs to buy some street snacks.
How to get there: Take TransJogja and alight at Jln. Mayjend Sutoyo (Plengkung Gading) bus stop.
Credit: Theodore William
Malioboro Street is buzzing all day every day, but even more so at night. The blend of Chinese, Dutch and contemporary architecture gives this area its own charm. Malioboro is a hit among foodies with its wide selection of local delicacies, but most tourists come here to shop for souvenirs. From batik sarongs and leather bags to rattan handicrafts to jewellery, Malioboro is a one-stop paradise for shoppers. Don’t be afraid to haggle the price — you can get away with half, or even quarter, of the original price!
How to get there: Take TransJogja and alight at Malioboro 1 (Inna Garuda) bus stop.
15) Fort Vredeburg Museum
Credit: Theodore William
The colonial fortress was converted into Independence Struggle Museum more than two decades ago. In the Dutch language, Fort Vredebrug means Peace Fort, signifying the peaceful relationship between the Keraton of the Sultan and the fort. The impressive dioramas in the museum tell the history of Indonesia’s struggles in gaining independence.
Address: Jl. Margo Mulyo No.6, Ngupasan, Gondomanan
Operating hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 7:30 am – 4 pm | Closed on Monday
How to get there: Take TransJogja bus and alight at Beringharjo Market.
Must-try food in Yogyakarta
Bakpia Pathok – Chinese pies with green beans filling | Credit: Theodore William
There are plenty of variations for this bowl of noodle: using only yellow noodle, a mix of beehoon and yellow noodle, soup, dry, lots of eggs, dark brown anything is possible!
Best in Bakmi Jawa Pak Pele.
Beef meat cubes, tendon and fats stir-fried in bird’s eye chilli.
Best in Oseng-oseng Mercon Bu Narti.
Lightly salted mutton satays minus peanut gravy.
Best in Sate Klathak Pak Bari Pasar Wonokromo.
Best time to visit
April – October is the best season to visit because of the dry weather.
Fly directly to Adisutjipto International Airport, Sleman, Yogyakarta
Where to Stay
The Phoenix Hotel, Jetis, Yogyakarta
The Phoenix Hotel was once a private residence of an incredibly rich merchant, and thus, the lavish and elegant building. The hotel has a mix of Javanese and European design, from the facade to the art pieces around the compound.
Indies Heritage Hotel, Prawirotaman, Yogyakarta
Located in a historic area in Yogyakarta, Indies Heritage Hotel will transport you through time with its the colonial-style rooms. The famous attractions in Yogyakarta are only a few minutes away from the hotel.