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Lisa Owen

When you think of Indonesia, you think of Bali right? But there’s more to Indonesia than Bali – more than 6,000 inhabited islands in fact. And just next door you have the far less touristy island of Java. My first stop in Java was Yogyakarta – or Jogja for short. Yogyakarta (pronounced Jog-ja-karta) is a unassuming town at first glance but there are hidden gems inside its borders and UNESCO World Heritage sites surrounding it.


Yogyakarta has a rich history and one of the must sees in the city is the Water Castle (Tamansari). The Water Castle is a unique walled complex that was the former royal gardens of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. The garden was built in the 18th century and in its heyday consisted of more than 50 buildings containing swimming pools, a mosque, and gardens. It was used by the royal family as a place for relaxation and bathing. The complex was used until the early 1800s. Gradually it was neglected and damaged by earthquakes and squatters started to takeover the site. In the 1970s, efforts were made to restore parts of the complex and the bathing complex is now restored and open to visitors. The bathing complex features three pools, a viewing tower and courtyards.

water castle

Surrounding the bathing complex is the settlement Kampung Taman, with people living on within the walls of the former royal gardens. Around the settlement you’ll find neglected ruins of the Water Castle and its defences, some of which offers good views of the area. A 15 minute walk from the Water Castle is the Sultan’s Palace. The palace was built in 1755. Today the palace is largely a museum to showcase Javanese culture. There’s often dancing and artwork displays on offer. Another must see in Yogyakarta is the street art. You’ll find a lot near the Central Market, around Marlioboro Boulevard, and around the Water Castle area.

sultans palace

About 30km north east of Yogyakarta is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borodubur – one of the world’s largest Buddhist temples. One of the best ways to get there is by motorbike – and there’s plenty of tour agencies around Yogyakarta that will be able to organise a bike and driver to take you out there if you can’t hire your own bike. The journey out to Borobudur will take about an hour, and takes you past green rice fields and into the misty mountains.

street art

Borobudur dates back to the 8th century. It’s a sole temple with a pyramid base and six tiered levels featuring more than 500 Buddha statues. The temple was believed abandoned for hundreds of years and taken over by the jungle. It was only rediscovered in 1814, unearthed from the jungle and restored with the help of UNESCO in the 1970s. The temple is now a morning pilgrimage for both Indonesians and tourists. Most visitors to Yogyakarta will head out on the sunrise tour to Borobudur and either watch the sunrise from the temple or from the viewpoint at Menorah Hill. It’s an early start though and you’ll need to leave Yogyakarta around 4am.

menorah hill

Near the viewpoint is the unique Chicken Church – exactly as it sounds, a church in the shape of a chicken. It  was built in 1990 by a local man who said he had a vision from God telling him to build a place for prayer on top of a hill. So he did and the Chicken Church was the result. It was left abandoned half constructed for several years, but construction is now underway to complete the church. To the east of Yogyakarta is the equally special Prambanan – a Hindu temple complex dating back to the 9th century and featuring more than 200 temples. Prambanan is most popular for sunset.

Things You Should Know:

  • Be aware of scams in Yogyakarta. If walking to the Sultan’s Palace you’ll likely be targeted by locals telling you incorrect information about the opening times of the palace or Water Castle and encouraging you to go to a batik or art gallery. This is a scam and you should be wary of anyone approaching you even if it seems they are being helpful. I was approached four times in the space of 15 minutes and told misleading information. I was told that the Water Castle or Sultan’s Palace was closed today, or didn’t open until 1pm, or was closed for lunch at 11.30am. All of which was untrue. Another scam is they will tell you that there is a carnival or similar in Marlioboro Street (one of Yogyakarta’s main streets) at a later time. The scam is that same person will be there at the time they mentioned and if you do turn up you will be approached and again they will try to take you to a gallery.
  • Don’t drink the tap water in Indonesia. Bottled water is readily available. Try to buy water that has a plastic seal on the lid.
  • Scooters are the best way to get around Yogyakarta. If you haven’t got a licence to ride one, then you can hire one with a driver.
  • Yogyakarta is popular for Indonesians to visit particularly between November and February and in the wet season you’ll often be one of only a handful of foreigners at tourist sites. But that means you’ll likely be asked to get your photo taken with locals. There’s usually no harm in this but if you accept one you’ll likely be asked by everyone else. This is particularly true at Borobudur or Prambanan temples. A lot of school students from other parts of Java visit these temples and don’t see many foreigners so they are excited to meet tourists.
  • It’s approximately $18 to enter Borobudur. Prambanan is only slightly cheaper to enter for about $15. If you plan to go to both, you can buy a combination ticket and this works out a little cheaper. Both these temples are open from 6am to 5pm daily. You will also be charged a few dollars to go up to the Menorah Hill viewpoint and for the Chicken Church. Only cash is accepted.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 60 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @thelittleadventurer. Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.