It’s no secret that planning a wedding is stressful. Ask any of my friends and family how I handled the stress and they’d tell you that I wasn’t distraught that the wedding wouldn’t be perfect. Instead, I was stressed at the number of decisions I had to make. Who was I to pick between make-up artists, planners, and venues? Couldn’t we all just meet up at a bar? This decision fatigue spilled over into planning the honeymoon. Eric and I took our three top choices—Indonesia, Egypt and Portugal—and rock, paper, scissored ourselves to a decision. After that, we threw a bunch of our wish list experiences upon the honeymoon fund, booked a flight and called it good. Now we can save the decision making brain cells for the beer! Thank you so much to everyone who chipped in for our honeymoon. Eric and I had such an amazing time. With, I’m proud to confess, little to no planning. If you’re interested in seeing what we got up to please keep reading.
We started in Yogyakarta, the historic cultural center of the island of Java. No, that’s not quite true. We started our trip with four economy-class flights. Austin to LA (3 hours), LA to Taipei (15 hours), layover in Taipei (5 hours), Taipei to Bali (5 hours), layover in Bali (4 hours), Bali to Yogyakarta (2 hours). We arrived in Yogyakarta smelling great and ready to sleep. We checked in to Greenhost Hotel, which I highly recommend, and fell asleep.
After a night of sleeping with more than three inches of legroom, we began our adventure. I had decided to start our trip in Yogyakarta because I had wanted to see Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple and the central square on my “Temples of Southeast Asia” bingo card. What I wasn’t expecting was to love the chaotic city of Yogyakarta itself. Eric and I tried our hardest to follow my M.O. of walking everywhere but the complete lack of sidewalks turned a two-mile walk into a life or death hopscotch battle. Other than trouble crossing the street and a handful of transportation touts, everyone was too swept up in their vacation to hassle us during ours.
Thanks to its importance to Indonesian independence, Yogyakarta is the only Indonesian city ruled by a monarchy. Eric and I visited the Kraton, or place. While it was far from the most impressive royal home I’ve toured, the Kraton made up for this by being actively functioning. Seeing the elderly guards with their curved kris daggers tucked into their traditional batik belts was a live look into Javanese traditions. The Yogakartan’s are proud of their history, located in the heart of a beautiful plain starred with temples. This area’s main draw for foreign tourists visiting the region, the temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan were built by funding dynasties in the 9th century. The Buddhist maritime authority Shailendra built Borobudur while the Hindu agrarian Sanjaya dynasty built Prambanan only 50 kilometers away. Eric and I decided to tour Prambanan first and work our way up to Borobudur (Sorry Sanjaya-ites).
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. While Java today is majority Muslim, at the time the island bounced between Buddhism and Hinduism. The temple complex has three main zones, each devoted to a different divine form. Upon arriving at the temple we had two high school-aged girls approach us. They were tour guides in training and asked if they could give us a free tour. Despite my hesitance, we said yes and I am so glad we did as their charming, sometimes hysterical tour was my highlight of the site. That and the ancient depiction of Nandi, Shiva’s cow pal.
The following day we took the bus 40 kilometers outside of Yogyakarta to Borobudur. I was geeking out the entire public bus ride, excited to see this landmark of ancient history. Borobudur is the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia, yet I never found the crowds overwhelming. This might have been thanks to the massive size of the single stupa, 387 feet wide on each of its four sides. Eric and I ascended the structure according to the instructions on the signage to symbolize the path to enlightenment by circling each level before ascending. While slow going at times, circling the monument gave us time to examine the story-telling reliefs. The temple is topped with 432 statues of buddha, some enclosed in their original latticed bells and the others open to the warm air, all while being surrounded by lush green rice paddies and tropical scenery. Historians aren’t sure why this massive Buddhist monument was abandoned two hundred years after its completion but volcanic eruptions might be to blame. Throughout my travels, I have seen plenty of tourists underwhelmed with attractions because they don’t match up with the image they had in their head or what they saw on social media. Perhaps the site is too crowded or maybe you are disappointed to realize the monument is a reconstruction instead of a magical, indestructible original. Please don’t let that keep you from experiencing Borobudur. Central Java is absolutely worth traveling away from the beaches and back in time.
The Ups and Downs of Yogakarta
- The perfectly behaved school group with much greater patience than I watching a traditional Javanese music performance at the Kraton.
- The city scattered with street art both classical and quirky.
- Every brave stranger who helped us cross city streets.
- I can not believe I am writing this but the breakfast buffet at Greenhost was incredible.
The Not So Good
- Eric’s brutal bout of food poisoning from a deceptively delicious meal of Gudeg.
- Hearing vendors repeat “Batik, Batik, Batik” but not taking the time to pick some up.