Escape from Budapest to Java in Indonesia – Part 2: Cirebon, Linggarjati, Yogyakarta

  • 23 Apr 2024 11:11 AM
Escape from Budapest to Java in Indonesia – Part 2: Cirebon, Linggarjati, Yogyakarta
Yogya, as it’s known locally, is the cultural and artistic capital of Java. Rather than taking a one-hour flight there from Jakarta, a road trip - about eight hours straight - offers you the chance to pause along the way to see diverse sights and scenery before you arrive to witness the wonders in and around Yogyakarta, in the south-central part of the island.

A travel hack at this stage is to ask hotel staff for help finding an experienced driver, with their own car. Renting your own vehicle is possible of course but such trusted drivers double-up as tour guides, and can advise about sights worth seeing along the way to fit your preferences.

There are clear conveniences from this approach, as well as safety advantages, so hiring a driver rather than just a car is well worth the investment.

To break up the road-trip to Yogya a suggested stop is Cirebon, located right on the border between the provinces of West Java and Central Java, on the northern coastal plains.

What makes Cirebon so interesting is its “multi-national acculturation”: A Sundanese and Javanese mixture with Chinese, Indian, Arab, and European too.

The palace buildings and Islamic graves there are decorated with old Ming porcelain plates, its traditional Batik art has strong Chinese influences.

A modern and stylish budget friendly property here is Amaris Hotel Cirebon. A travel hack if you’re on a tight budget for your whole stay in Indonesia, you can find outstanding 2-star Amaris hotels all around. Each offers a ‘smart’ room, convenience, and comfort - no matter where your travels take you, well just about.

Hotel Santika Cirebon is considered a heritage hotel and offers travellers a traditional Javanese design combined with modern amenities. Located on a tranquil street yet still within easy access of the city center, this 3-star property provides a relaxed environment with a large outdoor pool - for a value-for-money price tag.

You could choose to have a comfortable three-star stay or just have a leisurely lunch, as local favourites like gorgeous Gado Gado, the most popular dish in Indonesia Nasi Goreng, and Empal Gentong are delicious here. Pictured below is the well known spicy Indonesian Beef Rendang.

While in town the Cirebon Kasepuhan Palace, which is not far away, is definitely worth visiting. The oldest sultan's palace in Cirebon, built in 1447, it’s still the residence of the Sultan of Kasepuhan and the royal palace of the Sultanate of Cirebon. The architecture and interior are a blend of Sundanese, Javanese, Islamic, Chinese, and Dutch styles.

Several sections of the palace are open to the public, just not the Sultan's private quarters, and it’s a thought-provoking historical attraction. For instance, inside is a pavilion with white-washed walls dotted with blue-and-white Delft tiles, a marble floor, and a ceiling hung with French chandeliers. The rather retro museum shows a range of Portuguese armour, period furniture, and ancient royal clothes on display. In a separate building an elaborate golden ‘Kereta Singabarong’, 17th-century gilded coach, can be seen along with a duplicate used on official occasions.

An hour or so is sufficient to see around the grounds of this living Sultan’s palace before moving on southwest to see Mount Ciremai - which rises to over 3000m - about an hour away by car near the northern coast of central Java. It takes about 12 hours to hike up and down the mountain, so you may well want to admire Ciremai's majesty without sweating your way to the summit.

The beautiful National Park there extends a considerable distance around the slopes of the mountain, and there are volcanic springs at Sangkanhurip, a hot spot among the people of Cirebon and Kuningan area as well as some tourists.

In this vicinity is the new Hotel Santika Premiere Linggarjati – Kuningan, strategically located just 10 km north of Kuningan city and a 35 minute drive from Cirebon City. Here you can stay a wide range of room options, such as the recommended ‘Premiere Lagoon and Villa’.

Or you can opt for a one or two bedroom villa to live a life of luxury while touring Java. As you'd imagine, all the best rooms here have amazing mountain views, so ask for one to enjoy such contrasting scenery to what you can see from the fabulous rooms at the Hotel Santika Premiere in Jakarta.

Well-appointed with all the up-market comforts you’d expect of a top-quality hotel, this four-star practically provides a world-class standard of service that’s seamlessly combined with a uniquely Indonesian touch. It's worth an overnight stay here to explore the area, including the historically significant Museum of the Linggarjati Negotiations.

As history buffs may know, the first Europeans to establish themselves in Indonesia were the Portuguese in 1512. From 1811 to 1815, Indonesia was administrated by the British, after the French, then the Dutch ruled from 1816 to 1941 - before the Japanese occupation until 1945. The independent Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed on 17 August 1945.

So, this former Dutch hotel near the slopes of Mount Ceremai records the important negotiations held during the struggle for Indonesian Independence, it attracts most visitors during weekends and the surrounding park is a great place for a picnic with the locals.. Overall it’s well maintained, and by taking a tour you get a real feel for the recent history of the Republic - pictured are participants in the 'Linggarjati Agreement'.

Back at the hotel, breakfast is an exceptional affair in the magnificent light-flooded dining room. An extensive international buffet includes many Indonesian favourites and features specialities from the local region.

It’s said that in general around 300 culinary influences are integrated into Indonesian cuisine: Sumantran, Javanese, Polynesian, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and European, with bits and pieces of all these and many more featuring in the multitude of national and regional dishes.

The F&B Director here does an excellent job of showcasing different dishes every day, along with the classics you’d expect. So after an early morning feast, it’s worth hitting the road early for the extensive half-a-day journey southeast from here to Jogja.

Why visit Yogyakarta?

Yogya, together with its twin city Surakarta (Solo), is said to be the cradle of civilization on Java. This city was the seat of power that produced the awe-inspiring temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in the 8th and 9th centuries.

With its stunning architecture, rich history and serene surroundings, Borobudur is widely regarded as a must-see attraction for anyone travelling to the island of Java.

This astounding Buddhist temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason, and it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. Known for its many stupas and intricate carvings which depict scenes from Buddhist scriptures, visitors can climb to the top of the temple and enjoy panoramic views of the complex and surrounding landscape - which includes volcanoes and rice fields.

Being the largest Buddhist temple in the world, ranking alongside Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archaeological sites of S.E. Asia, Borobudur is without doubt a very significant reason to visit Yogya.

Go to get a glimpse into Java's ancient Buddhist civilization, as you climb its steep stairs and wander through its labyrinthine corridors you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to an era of spiritual enlightenment and artistic mastery.

Another marvel awaits not far away at Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex dedicated to the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Compared to Angkor Wat, the only larger Hindu complex in the world, the temples here are much easier to navigate and are more visitor-friendly – there's even a strip of gift shops.

Prambanan features iconic towering spires, elaborate reliefs and shrines dedicated to various Hindu deities. It's known locally as Roro Jonggrang, coming from the legend of the ‘slender virgin’. 

As you explore its expansive grounds, you can only feel inspired by the expert craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Javanese artisans who built this magnificent temple complex so long ago.

Widely regarded as the most beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia - if not the world - the grandeur, complexity, and integrated architectural concept make this a truly incredible reason to visit Yogya.

As a unique cultural and architectural wonder, Prambanan was declared a World Heritage site in 1991 by UNESCO. As it’s located not too far from Borobudur you can even squeeze both into one day, even along with close-by Kalasan Temple - which is believed as the oldest Buddhist temple in Central Java and Yogyakarta.

For fun you could also go to quickly see 'The Chicken Church' perched on a forest hill just a short drive from Borobudur. In its own way this giant cockerel-like shaped church built in 1990 is an extraordinary landmark in the area - it's popular for easy going photos after a day full of spiritual wonders.

Now if 'temple tourism' isn’t really your thing, there are many other wonderful reasons to take a trip to Yogya, since it’s known as the 'Cultural Capital' of Java.

For instance, from strolling through the living museum of The Keraton, a grand complex meticulously planned to reflect the Javanese cosmos, or hang out at the famous 'Alun Alun', one of the most popular nightlife destinations in Yogya.

You can watch silversmiths produce amazing jewellery at Kota Gede, and it’s definitely worth shopping up at Malioboro Road – especially when the night market is on to buy some bargain Batik items and sample the local street-food.

Yogya has a signature Batik pattern that you can find there - as you may know Batik is the art of decorating fabric using wax and dyeing process. Its a national Indonesian treasure based on the Javanese word of “amba” and “titik”, meaning to write with dots.

When it comes to traditional culinary wonders here, Bakpia is a sweet snack that comes in many flavours, that’s named after a suburb of Yogyakarta which specialises in this tasty pastry. To wash that down you could try Jamu, a natural herbal drink based on ancient tradition - while it has health benefits it must be mentioned that it’s not to everyone’s taste. There are well-known Western fast-food eateries available too in this surprisingly compact yet culturally diverse city – which has a population of less than half a million.

Adventurous Wonders in Yogyakarta.

Recommendations for active recreation include exploring Mount Merapi National Park, taking a thrilling jeep ride (when the weather is right), and hiking Mount Nglanggeran - an ancient volcano located in a beautiful village not too far away.

Plus, you can visit the natural beauty spots close to Yogya, as this whole region is filled with beaches, caves, and lakes – they all seem to have their own enticing and often mystical story to discover.

For instance, Parangtritis is one of the famous beaches around here, as it’s described as ‘Mystical and Enchanting’. What makes this beach particularly special is that it is not only an enchanting holiday spot, it’s also a sacred place. Nearby there are the hot springs at Parangwedang, where for a small fee you can enjoy the health benefits and rejuvenation that comes from bathing in these special waters.

The exotic Elo River, the spectacular Sekar Langit Waterfall, and the impressive OHD Museum are other interesting places to visit in the area.

There are so many reasons to visit Yogyakarta, but where to stay?

A great choice for a comfortable and authentic stay is the centrally located Hotel Santika Premiere Jogja. This iconic four-star property is steeped in old world charm yet offers all the necessary conveniences that every traveller desires.

There’s a big outdoor pool, an excellent spa, and overall, it’s décor tastefully accentuates classic Javanese artistry and the city’s rich cultural heritage. The spacious rooms offer views of the pool, Jogja City, or Mount Merapi.

The Pandansari Restaurant here offers a mouthwatering selection of Indonesian and International cuisine. An ala carte menu of tasty local specialties and European favourites is available 24 hours a day. An extensive breakfast buffet is laid out beautifully each morning, which you can take outside or in the air-conditioned restaurant - either way it’s a delightful way to start your day before discovering the nearby landmarks and attractions in Jogja.  

For instance, the popular shopping area of Malioboro is an easy 15-minute walk away, and closer to the hotel you can see 'Tugu' the historical monument used as a symbol of the city of Yogya.

The final travel hack here is instead of the long drive back to Jakarta, take advantage of the impressive new Yogyakarta International Airport, either to jet back to the capital or for a direct flight to Bali - which only takes an hour from here versus two hours from Jakarta, and with Lion Air can cost a mere 15,000 forints.

As you bid farewell to this enchanting part of Java, or to Java itself, you’ll surely take away a wide range of joyful memories from travels filled with authentic adventure, dramatic discovery and true wonder.

Conclusions about the beating heart of Indonesia

In short, Java is a distinctly underestimated travel gem that’s definitely worth exploring.

With over 150 million people it’s a huge island providing a diverse range of experiences, from exotic culinary escapades to captivating adventures in nature, all complete with refined accommodation and astonishing historical treasures.

As the beating heart of Indonesia it’s home to vibrant cities and lush tropical landscapes. From the fascinating capital of Jakarta to lesser-known Indonesian beaches, and from contemporary entertainment and nightlife to the mighty temples near Jogja, the incredible island of Java provides a myriad of attractions for travellers of all types.

The Javanese themselves are by nature positively curious about foreigners, both tourists and expats. Friendly and authentic, tolerant, and resourceful, modest and good-humoured, you’ll find these key qualities fit the population of Java - and most Indonesians too.

So, whether you’re seeking cultural engagement, adventure or relaxation, spiritual inspiration or all the above, Java offers an astounding holiday in itself alongside a cost-effective gateway to the rest of Indonesia.

Follow this link to read the related guide to Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands

See part 1 of this epic adventure in Java here

Photos by the author + some pictures courtesy of the venues, Flickr and - unless shown otherwise.

Related links

Escape from Budapest to Java in Indonesia - Part 1: Jakarta, Eclectic Capital of Contrasts

Escape from Budapest to Bali - Part 1. Holiday Heaven: Sun, Sea & Spirituality

Escape from Budapest to Bali - Part 2. Seminyak, Lombok & The Gili Islands

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