Latest Stories


Soaking up royalty, culture and history in Yogyakarta


Several months ago, my friend Ned and I began plotting a holiday somewhere in Asia. Sharing a love for travel, both of us have independently explored Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Then we realized that seeing the Buddhist temples of Borobudur was part of our individual bucket lists and that we both have not seen much of what Indonesia had to offer.

Ned diligently booked our flights to Indonesia. Then we met up again and planned our itinerary: Do we want to see Komodo dragons, watch the sunrise over active volcanoes, visit the temples, or chill in seaside towns? With 17,508 islands stretching nearly 5,000 km, we had to narrow down our choices to three nights in Bali, two nights in Yogyakarta and one night in Bandung.  Santika Indonesia Hotels & Resorts, one of the biggest chains in Indonesia, assisted with our accommodations in Bali, Ubud and Yogyakarta, and our adventure began.

Despite the blissful villas in Bali and Ubud and the bargains in Bandung, Yogyakarta definitely stood out as the highlight of our trip.

Yogyakarta is a convenient base to visit the greatest Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur. But I did not expect it to be a royal experience. Staying at the Royal Amburrokmo Hotel, I instantly felt like royalty. Within the hotel premises is the Royal Palace residence built between 1857to 1859. It was once a meeting venue for King Hamengkubuwano VII and eventually his family home. It is now the city’s top luxury hotel owned by the Sultan and managed by Santika.

Minutes after our arrival and a welcome marked with a silk scarf draped around our necks, we learned that we were guests of honor at the Royal High Tea in the afternoon. Steeped in tradition, the hotel recreates an authentic high tea every Friday, with the hotel staff trained by royal servants to recreate the traditional tea ceremony.

The ceremony begins with a Patehan procession featuring people in traditional garb and servants squat-walking to serve tea and Tempe Mendoan (soybean cake). A Jemparingan, the traditional archery by palace soldiers follows, with the archers in a cross-sitting position and in traditional Yogyakarta clothes aiming at the target 30 meters away.

If it is your dream to feel like royalty, then book a Royal High Dinner and experience a meal fit for a sultan. Being the guest of honor, I arrived with the royal servants all lined up in a row in welcome. The Bekel or head of the royal servants asked me to sit at the head of the table where I was served by servants arriving in a procession, each one holding a dish. Following royal protocol, guests could not partake of the food until the Sultan started the feast. In the past, this meant that the sultan must first take a bite of his food before the wives and then the kids could eat.

But as guest of honor, I was served first, and the other guests had to wait for my first bite. As we ate, I felt more and more inept to be royalty or even a distinguished guest. The servants stood still, patiently holding each dish while I ate. I worry about them carrying heavy clay pots of rice and waiting for me to ask for seconds.

I felt self-conscious, noting how the servants’ actions were led by their leader, the Bekel. After a few bites, I felt sorry for their now weary arms from carrying the platters of food for some time.  But the banquet was a brilliant culinary tour of the different regional dishes of Indonesia. The menu included an appetizer of Gado-Gado, Asinan Bogor, Baliness Tuna, Sate Madura; Oxtail Soup,  Rendang Sapi (a coconut beef stew from Padang), Orak-Arik Sayur (Java style veggies and egg), an extra spicy Udang Balado (prawn with hot chili sauce), Opor Ayam (coconut chicken milk stew) and Tongseng Kambing (Yogyakarta lamb stew).

The next day bright and early, we left for Borobudur about 45 minutes away from Yogyakarta.  It is the most majestic Buddhist monument, but ironically, a Muslim lady named Atin toured us. While the facts and figures she shared about this volcanic ash structure dating back to the 8th Century were interesting, the oppressive heat made it difficult to focus as there were no trees or shade to keep us cool.  The place was filled with symbolism, such as the 504 stupas, a number divisible by 8, the perfect number for Buddhists.  There were 10 levels, representing the 10 levels a pilgrim must go through to reach enlightenment.  One cannot help but be in awe at how this place was constructed in 75 years without any machinery thousands of years ago.

But the challenge for the tourist in Borobudur today is capturing sights and atmosphere in photographs without a plethora of tourists or students creeping up your viewfinder as they position themselves for good shots as well.

A visit to Kraton, or the sultan’s palace is highly recommended by Yogyakarta residents. The sultan’s home, the museums and the homes of the royal servants are all within a walled city within the city.

What I found really thrilling was the Taman Sari (Water Castle), a secret hideaway built by a Portuguese architect for the first sultan in 1765 with bathing pools for his wives, his children and himself. All of a sudden you feel like you have left Indonesia and are suddenly transported to Europe.

Yet you are still in Yogyakarta and while here, you should make time to visit Prambanan which was built about the same time as Borobudur. This grand Hindu temple complex has over 50 temple sites. Arrive in time for sunset and stay to watch a Ramayana ballet staged on select evenings right at the Prambanan complex. Close to the complex, there are more abandoned Hindu temples now used by photographers for engagement photos.

Our friends from Royal Ambarrukmo brought us to Ratu Boko, close to the Prambanan, with an altitude of 195.97 meters above sea level. Built between the 8th and 9th Century, this temple complex boasts of Buddhist and Hindu archeological remains. A crumbling Buddhist stupa, Dhyani Buddha statues,and stupika have been found here. Around 856 AD, this became the residence of Hindu ruler Rakai Walaing Pu Kumbhayoni. Found here were archeological remains, among them those of the statues of Durga, Ganesha, miniature temples and inscriptions on a gold plate.

Arriving in time for sunset, we managed to snap a few photos before darkness fell upon the grayish stone ruins. I could see why this was perfect for prenuptial photos. The architectural skeleton of these historic temples and royal residence at sunset nicely frame the silhouette of couples in love. The premises close at 6 p.m., but the security guards kindly allowed us to linger and explore.  They showed us a cave for a woman and a cave for man, but we were at a loss as to their significance.

As night fell upon the ruins and darkness surrounded us, we walked around gingerly, careful not to trip, fall, or perhaps disturb resting spirits. With his camera’s battery now dead, Ned pulled out his two phones and desperately tried to capture our twilight adventure in the ruins. I did not even bother pulling out my camera, having learned from past travels that no photo could capture a moment like this.

I looked up and there it was—a full moon, the only illumination in the darkness perfectly framed at the center of the ruins. It was glorious. Ned attempted to snap away. I told him, “Savor the moment. Take a photo in your heart.” Without missing a beat, he retorted, “But if it’s not posted on Facebook, it’s not real.” We burst out laughing.

That is the very mystique of Yogyakarta. Blessed with many historical, religious and cultural treasures, yet it quietly exudes a fascinating aura of mystery, awe and power bestowed only to those who care to listen. •

For more delicious moments in food and travel, like Maida’s Facebook page/maidastouch and her blog, www.themaidastouch.blogspot.com to follow her adventures.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Destinations , Maida Pineda , Sunday Inquirer Magazine , Tourism , Travel , Yogyakarta

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  2. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  3. This is not just a farm
  4. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  5. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  6. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  7. 12 other things you can do at Pico de Loro Cove
  8. Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  9. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  10. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week?
  1. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  2. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  3. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  4. France makes work beyond 6 p.m. illegal
  5. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  6. South Koreans crave Asia’s smelliest fish
  7. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  8. Ever heard of HydroBob?
  9. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  10. Boots Anson-Roa to wed in Eddie Baddeo
  1. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  2. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  3. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  4. Manila in shock over model Helena Belmonte’s death
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer
  10. Ex-Givenchy model fights for ‘Yolanda’ survivors


  • DOH asks co-passengers of OFW carrier to test for MERS-CoV
  • 5.5-magnitude quake hits Sultan Kudarat
  • Passengers denied chance to escape sinking South Korea ferry
  • Firetruck rams California eatery; 15 injured
  • Heavy traffic reported on NLEx, SLEx
  • Sports

  • PH youth boxers off to stumbling start in AIBA World tilt
  • Durant has 42, Thunder beat Pistons 112-111
  • Walker leads Bobcats over Bulls in OT, 91-86
  • Man City slips further out of title contention
  • Federer would skip tennis to be with wife, newborn
  • Lifestyle

  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Moist, extra-tender blueberry muffins
  • Entertainment

  • Will Arnett files for divorce from Amy Poehler
  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Why Lucky has not bought an engagement ring for Angel
  • Derek more private with new girlfriend
  • Business

  • Asia stocks fail to match Wall Street gains
  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • PH presses bid to keep rice import controls
  • PSEi continues to gain
  • Number of retrenched workers rose by 42% in ’13
  • Technology

  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Tech company: Change passwords or suffer ‘Heartbleed’
  • Filling the digital talent gap
  • SSS to shut down website for Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • First Fil-Am elected to Sierra Madre, Calif. city council
  • UC Irvine cultural night to dramatize clash of values in immigrant family
  • Filipino sweets and info served at UC Berkeley Spring Fest