Traditional and artful during daylight, who would have thought that Yogyakarta’s most vibrant colors actually emerges after dusk.
It’s a well known urban legend that you will never pass the opening between the two trees while blindfolded. You will always get “misdirected”. Pretty spooky and exciting.”
For many people, Yogyakarta –or Jogja for short- fills a romantic spot within them. Be it college days, family reunions, roadtrips, or as always is, cultural eye opener. But how about their nightlife? I don’t think we’ve talked about that as much. Because, aren’t most of Jogja’s nocturnals are college students searching for wifi connections with coffee and instant noodles? Travelers don’t actually stay up later than 10 PM in Jogja. Or do they? With my native Jogjanese cousin Andila by my side, I’m going to explore the colors of Yogyakarta’s brightest nights.
The Keraton, is definitely the core of Jogja and a very interesting siteto observe, but the tour inside the palace is closed at 2 PM. That doesn’t mean the attractions stops there, though. Just south from the Keraton, there’s the famous Alun-alun Kidul (southern square) with the mystically twin banyan trees. It’s a well known urban legend that you will never pass the opening between the two trees while blindfolded. You will always get “misdirected”. Pretty spooky and exciting. This square also has Jogja’s most unique night attraction: neon bikes. Well, I don’t actually know what they’re called, but basically it’s a bunch of modified bicycles accessorized with a lot of LED lights to enhance their appearance at night. Hence: neon bikes. It’s pretty fun, and worthy of taking picures.
On the other side of the Keraton there’s the more modest northern square. But walk a little further north, and you’ll find yourself standing at the Titik Nol Kilometer intersection, or the Zero Kilometer Point. This intersection marks the starting point for measuring distance to other areas, and the epicenter of Jogja’s development as a city since the colonial days. At night all the architectural charms are really highlighted. You can find many historical sites like the national post office building, two national banks, the Serangan Sebelas Maret monument, and the Batik monument. But for you history lovers, there’s the former governor and president office and residence Gedung Agung to the west, and of course the robust Vredeburg Fort to the East.
You can’t go to Jogja without passing by the boulevard style Malioboro, and obviously you can’t pass Malioboro without stopping and take a walk. Especially on your first trip, Malioboro is simply irresistible. You can find souvenirs for your family and friends back home in one of the shops. And what better way to go sightsee around the block than on a delman (horse cart) or becak (pedicab). Last but not least, take a picture at the Malioboro traditionally designed street sign. Like I said, Malioboro is irresistible.
Like most places, Jogja’s biggest culinary treasures emerges after the sun sets. The first being Sate Klathak. It’s basically young goat skewers, but what differs them from the more common Maduranese style goat skewers are they used long steel spikes, instead of the usual bamboo or wooden. This makes more heat are conducted into the meat so they get cooked faster. It’s also served with thin curry broth instead of a soy based sauce. This place shows that they are really good at goats. Other than the sensational skewers, they have tongseng (goat stew with a sweeter taste), gulai (curry with thinner than usual broth), and of course nasi goreng kambing –which was simply divine.
If you’re looking for a local signature dish, many people will tell you to try the gudeg, Jogja’s very own nasi campur (rice with various side dish, most regions in Indonesia have one). So Andila took me to a house in a very narrow alley where it says it’s open at 10 PM –but people are lining up already. The place is called Gudeg Pawon –pawon means kitchen-, and the name literally means we are lining up to grab our gudeg in the chef’s kitchen, served one at a time by the chef herself. Was it worth the 30 minute wait? Indeed it was. Probably the best gudeg I’ve had in my life.
But to really embrace Jogja’s culinary culture, you should try angkringan. It roughly translates as street food, but probably more rustic than your usual Western food carts or food trucks. Angkringan usually consists of a tent with seating (whether on chairs or on the floor), and they serve various night snacks from fritters, to skewers. The concept is to sit and take your desirable snacks to accompany your drink, and when you’re ready to leave, you pay as much as you took. Jogja has so many angkringan spots, from the more low profile like along Malioboro and the train station, but there’s also the well established like Pendopo Ndalem, located within the Keraton complex. And while you’re at it, try the Kopi Joss, they usually served them too at the angkringan. It’s black cofee, but to add more circus –and probably taste- they heat it by dropping a burning charcoal into your glass of coffee. Seriously, it’s so cool.
Jogja will always be identical with their mix of modern and traditional culture, the latter being a very integral part and grace of the city. Many people come to Jogja to see how they proudly preserve these traditions in many forms, including art performances. Where to go for night entertainment, though? The one that would pop on your mind immediately is Ramayana ballet at the Prambanan Temple, about 30km outside Jogja. It’s not actually ballet, more like a Javanese traditional wayang orang (stage play). What makes it worth the trip is the glorious temple as the backdrop of your view. It’s beautiful and thrilling on a colossal level. Andila says you should come during full moon to experience an even more stellar scene.
For the more modern, you can go to Tembi Rumah Budaya, an art center complex built to give roof and guidance for the struggling and developing young artists of Jogja, as well as a place for them to showcase and perform. Music, dance, film, play, exhibition, even fashion and culinary. Tembi doesn’t restrict their door to a certain form of art, everything is welcomed and appreciated. Their mini amphitheater is quite lovely too, overlooking the rice fields of Bantul’s outer skirt.
And eventually, it always brings us back to the Keraton area. Sasono Hinggil at the southern square helds shadow puppet shows on certain nights, where the show usually starts as late as 10 PM and runs for hours the whole night. It’s definitely for the strong will and taste in traditional art, but generally it certainly is fascinating.
There are about seven flights from four different airlines that could fly you from Denpasar straight to Yogyakarta. The earliest is at 7 AM, and the latest being 7.30 PM.
When to Go
If your time for vacation parallels on the usual time of the year –either summer or year end-, get ready for a very packed Jogja. But if you can find another time, Andila suggests September to October or February to April. It’s less dense, so you can enjoy the city better. He also adviced to avoid Hari Raya holidays (depending on the Islamic calendar).
Where to Stay
Jalan Patangpuluhan No.23, Wirobrajan, Yogyakarta
T: +62 274 375948
Jalan Prawirotaman 2 No.613, Brontokusuman, Yogyakarta
T: +62 274 413888
Greenhost Boutique Hotel
Jalan Prawirotaman 2 No.629, Brontokusuman, Yogyakarta
T: +62 274 389777
Where to Eat
Sate Klathak Pak Pong
Jalan Imogiri Timur Km.10, Yogyakarta
Jalan Janturan No.36, Warungboto, Yogyakarta
Jalan Sompilan Ngasem No.12, Yogyakarta