Updated: Jul 17, 2021
Indonesia has 17,508 islands making it the fourth-biggest population in the world. Java is situated between Sumatra and Bali, home to the capital city Jakarta, and with many Dutch colonial buildings and beautiful landscapes, there is a lot to see. East Java, locally known as Jawa Timur is great for climbing mountains and volcanoes, visiting beaches, and indulging in the diverse Javanese cuisine.
Getting to Java is extremely easy with different transport links available, from air, rail, road and even by boat. It is exceedingly popular with tourists especially in the high season (July-September), so it is recommended to book your accommodation and tours in advance, so you do not miss out.
The art and culture are especially important to the Javanese, so be sure to embrace every moment when travelling around different places. Taking the train is a great way to see Java, it is super cheap but just be sure to get a window seat for the best view! I enjoyed waking up early as it means beating the crowds. There are many different viewpoints easily accessible if you have a scooter. I highly recommend Mount Bromo at the sunrise point or Borobudur Temple.
Just remember that the majority of Java is Muslim so dress appropriately. Walking around in a bikini/swim shorts is not acceptable unless you are at the beach sunbathing. Respect the local culture and cover your shoulders and knees, even if it is with a sarong or scarf.
Locally pronounced ‘Jogjakarta’ or ‘Jogja’ for short, it is the only royal city in Indonesia still ruled by a monarchy. It is rich in art and culture especially wayang puppetry and the area is extremely popular with both local and international students.
The bustling street of Malioboro Street is full of roadside traders selling clothes, food and gifts making it the go-to place for shopping. If you do not want to walk around the city, you can travel by horse and cart or bicycle and cart (called a becak), enjoying the views and scenery, but be sure to stop at Fort Vredeburg for a picture. Here you will see a lot of influence from the Dutch colonial period, open green spaces, and street art. Walking along you will see horse-drawn carriages, it is like going back in time. The people are very friendly and welcoming, and you will even see them performing music on the side of the streets. The whole area has a very uplifting feel to it.
If you love architecture, you must visit Taman Sari. A water castle both magical and full of history. Be sure to listen to the stories the local tour guide gives about the royal family bathing in the water.
If you have watched Street food: Asia, you would have heard of Jajanan Pasar, the translation meaning market snacks. They are delicious snacks found in traditional markets decorated in many different colours. They come in all shapes and sizes and worth a try!
Solo is important for Javanese traditional cuisine, arts, and culture. If you are looking for batik fabrics, Klewer market is the best place to purchase these handmade cotton and silk cloths.
A must-try is the famous ‘Selat Solo’ dish. Stop by Viens located near Solo Balapan train station and be ready for food heaven. It is unbelievably cheap and tastes delicious. It consists of vegetables and braised beef tenderloin (vegetarian options are also available) in a Worcestershire sauce. I loved it so much, that I ate there almost every day!
If this does not tickle your tastebuds, then try nasi gudeg (jackfruit and spicy chicken served with rice) or nasi liwet (rice served in coconut milk, mixed with papaya and spices). Be sure when driving along the road in Ketelan to look out for boat-shaped street food stalls called ‘Madura’. Here you will find the tastiest sate ayam (chicken satay) served with sticky rice called lontong.
With Islam, the majority religion in Java, the Great Mosque of Kraton is an 18th-century mosque which has a beautiful Javanese interior and is famous in Solo.
Only a 60 to 90–minute drive from Yogyakarta is Borobudur Temple, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. The drive is beautiful, be sure to stop along the roadside to take photos of the tropical forest and mountains. Borobudur is a four-level temple with many buddhas and small stupas, they look like bells made of stone. I recommend going for sunrise if the weather is permitting, if not the daytime is great too! Just remember to pack your sunscreen as there are not many shaded areas.
When you enter it is recommended you take the shuttle bus for only 15,000IDR per person. This saves you a long walk but also is a great way to see the whole park (be sure to sit at the back for the best view!).
Upon entering you will be given a tour guide to go up the temple and surrounding area. Our tour guide had been working there since 2002 and was very friendly, had exceptional English and amazing knowledge of the temple’s history. The temple is magnificent, perfectly decorated by 8th-9th century stone carvings.
On your way back, stop off at the museum. Here it is full of buddha statues and the history and reconstruction of the temple.
Before the exit, there are many market stalls to get your souvenirs but be ready to haggle to get a good price. Do not just buy at the first vendor as they sell similar items, look around for the best quality and grab yourself a bargain.
The whole experience is worth the entrance fee and the money goes to the conservation and preservation project of the area and temple, which is shown by very well-maintained gardens. I highly recommend visiting as a solo traveller, couple or even as a family.
Written by Darby Bonner