Our last destination in Indonesia on our 2 1/2 week trip was our four night stay at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta on Java. This was going to be our first city experience on our Indonesian trip and I was really looking forward to it. We spent the first two weeks exploring jungle, wildlife and remote villages all over Indonesia. Many of our adventures were truly breathtaking. If you are interested in reading more about them, I have included a list of our experiences at the end of this article.
Prior to booking, I had heard that Yogyakarta was a vibrant city filled with many universities and students. In addition, it was a cultural and artistic centre with several art schools, galleries and shows. I was very curious to find out how this would translate in a conservative muslim country.
Happily, Yogyakarta did not disappoint. The city was clean and had great energy. Like many Asian cities, moped and motorcycle traffic was crazy. However, people were kind and went out of their way to be helpful. I particularly liked the fashion sense. Young women were out and about everywhere. Most wore skinny jeans and long sleeve tops (notwithstanding the heat!) and then, wore brightly covered headscarves.
We took a food tour while there (which I will discuss below) and our guide was female. She wore western clothes and her head was uncovered. This was our first female guide in all of our Indonesian travels. She had a relaxed easy going vibe that was common in most of the young women that we saw in Yogyakarta. She told us that the majority of young women in Yogyakarta cover their head because they want to and it is fashionable, not because they are forced to do so.
Overall, I really enjoyed Yogyakarta. It had a fascinating blend of religion, traditional culture, interesting history, and modernity that I would have loved to have stayed and explored for much longer.
Travel to the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta
Of course, getting there from Pangkalan Bun on Borneo was not easy. We opted to fly to Semarang, a quick 1 1/2 hour flight and then, be driven the 3 hours from Semarang to Yogyakarta. There is an airport near the city of Yogyakarta but no direct flight from Pangkalan Bun. Once I calculated the flight times, layovers and connections, I decided that I would prefer the 3 hour drive. Besides, I love road trips. I think that you really get a feel for an area when you drive through not only the beautiful scenic spots but also the functional/industrial areas.
The drive was interesting. We saw mountains and volcanos surrounded by lush jungle and rice paddy fields. However, we also saw many single story storefronts, industrial shops and restaurants along the road. They were much more sophisticated than anything that we saw on Flores, the islands around Komodo National Park or Borneo, but still very basic compared to North America. Nonetheless, it was clear that the local economy was busy and industry was growing.
The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta
I thought the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta was absolutely beautiful and in a fantastic location.
It is set in a 1918 Colonial building. The style and furnishings were all consistent with that timeframe and blended Asian and European decor effortlessly. The public areas also combined indoor and outdoor living with gorgeous fountains, plants and decor.
The location of The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta was amazing. We stepped outside the front door and walked around 15 minutes to find ourselves at the start of the Malioboro shopping district. All day and late into the night, locals set up stalls along the sidewalk selling their arts and crafts. We visited this area a couple of times. I loved the hustle and bustle of the street. Interestingly, we were only a handful of tourists in the area. The majority of people browsing and hanging out in this area were locals.
We also enjoyed shopping at Malioboro Mall another 10 minutes walk along Malioboro street. This mall is multi-level and air conditioned. On the main floor, several vendors sold clothing made out of batik, a traditional Javanese technique to colour and print cloth. The rest of the mall had very reasonably priced North American style shops. We spent a few hours shopping there and had a lot of fun.
Every morning, we enjoyed an enormous complimentary buffet breakfast offered outside in the centre of the hotel. The food catered to many different palates and traditional breakfast choices from around the world. I found the staff at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta to be wonderfully pleasant and excellent at what they did. Every night, they also set out a different type of buffet dinner which looked spectacular and was available for purchase.
However, I found the quality of the food was hit or miss. All of it looked beautiful and some of it, in particular the breads, pastries and desserts, were always delicious. But often, the food looked better than it tasted.
Food In Indonesia
Unfortunately, we ended up being disappointed with the food in Yogyakarta. We ate out a couple of times at restaurants recommended by the hotel, but also had many meals at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta. We did not expect much from the more isolated places we visited on our Indonesian trip prior to arriving in Yogyakarta. However, we did have high hopes that we would find a foodie culture in Yogyakarta. If it exists, we were very unlucky and never stumbled upon it during our time there.
Overall, Indonesian food is very healthy. Most traditional food includes lots of vegetables. Fish and chicken are also a part of a typical Indonesian diet but that depends on location (and cost, if you are a local). We had fish when we stayed near Komodo National Park and in Borneo where our accommodation was within steps of the sea or the river. Chicken was only offered a couple of times and mostly when we were more landlocked, like Kelimutu on Flores.
However, what was lacking was flavour and spices. In Indonesia, we never went hungry and always had a nutritious meal. But, we rarely had anything exciting or mouthwatering.
On our second day at the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta, we took a half day food tour. This was offered by Via Via Travel. I love taking food tours. Normally, you get to see different parts of a city that are not on a typical tourist route. You also are introduced to traditional foods or exciting trends that you might remain oblivious to if you simply wonder the streets alone.
Originally, this tour was by motorcycle. We were each supposed to climb on the back of a motorcycle driven by a local to each of the locations . However, on our drive from Semarang to Yogyakarta, my oldest daughter and I saw the aftermath of a motorcycle accident where the driver of the motorcycle lay on the ground beheaded. Yup, you read that right. After that, no one in our family was going anywhere near a motorcycle. Instead, Via Via organized a car and driver for us, in addition to our guide.
The Food tour was excellent. We went to five different locations and tried many traditional Indonesian foods. There were a couple of items that we really enjoyed eating but for the most part, we loved seeing the different parts of the city. Also, as I said before, our guide was young and female and it was really cool to talk to her about her life and the current trends in Yogyakarta.
Our first stop was to the Bakpia Bathok 25 Factory . There, they made bakpia, a traditional baked good. We toured the factory and watched dozens of workers make them under pretty precarious safety standards. Open flames were everywhere and enormous cauldrons of boiling liquid were carried by workers barefoot or in flip flops. Our tour took us into every part of this factory and also included hopping around these open flames and boiling cauldrons of liquids – a little nerve racking but fascinating!
Bakpia are filled with many different savoury and sweet fillings. The most popular one in Yogyakarta is a green bean paste. At the end of the tour, we got to try every flavour and we took on the challenge happily. We tried most of them and loved the chocolate and pineapple filled ones. Luckily, we got to take home a few complimentary boxes.
Next, we drove to an Indonesia restaurant tucked away in a local neighbourhood and tried a couple of traditional dishes. One was Lotek, an Indonesian salad with raw and lightly cooked vegetables, a hard boiled egg and peanut sauce. Our guide told us that this is a regular daily meal. I loved the peanut sauce.
From there, we went to a large stand filled with Indonesian candy, sweets, and baked goodies. We stood in front of this stand for about 30 minutes simply smiling, pointing and eating to our heart’s content. Some of the treats were yummy while others were a little odd for our North American palates. However, the kids had a blast here.
At our fourth stop, we tried a plate of different cooked/grilled meats. At this point, we were already quite full and couldn’t eat much. In addition, unless you are a ravenous carnivore, the food wasn’t the most appetizing looking.
This was by far the coolest destination on our tour. We ended up at the Sultan’s square just before dusk and it was already filling up with Indonesian families playing, eating and walking around. There was a carnival atmosphere to this place. Funky cars decorated with lights lined up around the square ready to take people on a ride. Vendors sold balloons and bubble makers.
In the centre of the square were two enormous ancient trees. Our guide paid for blindfolds for the kids, and then, we sat back and watched to see whether any of them could walk 75 yards or 70 metres in a relatively straight line in between the two trees. Two were successful and one was not. It was hilarious to watch.
There were many food stands all around the square and an area on the grass with little plastic foot stools meant to be tables. Here we sat on the ground and tried a ginger drink which was warm and sweet. We also got to choose several different “toppings” to add to it. Although our stomachs were about to burst, we all enjoyed this traditional beverage. It was a wonderful way to end a phenomenal food tour.
I loved our introduction to Yogyakarta. The drive there was fascinating. Our hotel was truly beautiful with a wonderful staff. The city had a terrific vibe and I loved the blend of traditional and modern life.
Although the food in Indonesia generally, and in Yogyakarta was a bit disappointing, I appreciated the effort the Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta made in supplying beautiful buffets with a few delicious options.
Finally, I would absolutely recommend the food tour offered by Via Via Travel. I loved trying the traditional Indonesian foods, touring Yogyakarta, and having an opportunity to connect with a young educated female.
If you are interested in reading more about our adventures during our three week trip to Indonesia, here is a list of all the articles that I have written:
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