Yogyakarta On Two Wheels: Part 1 (Motorcycle Tour)

Yogyakarta: Java's Cradle of Civilization

It is a widely accepted fact that Yogyakarta is the most popular tourist destination in Java. Because even if Jakarta is the industrial powerhouse, and capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta remains to be Java’s heart and soul. This city—often called Jogja—is a hub for traditional arts, culture and education.

With so much history cultivated in its soils, there's no shortage of cultural facilities to explore. It's as if when past kings and sultans surveyed the island to build their kingdoms, they all decided to keep it all in central Java, and as close to Yogyakarta as possible.

Yogyakarta City Java Indonesia
Yogyakarta City Center

Finding a Guide

There are plenty of travel agents in Yogyakarta, some legit and licensed, and some are just freelancing locals offering the same service for significantly lower prices. As with any popular tourist city such as Jogja, most locals are part-time tour guides. Thus, the question isn’t really where you can find a guide; it is how much you are willing to pay for one.

As for me, I found my guide Noor, online—just by searching on Google. There are many tour operators advertised online, however, most of them are independent car and motorcycle drivers that only offer private tours. I was using an Indonesia sim card then, hence contacting three guides was easy peasy. They basically offered the same rates and packages, so when I decided to choose, it simply boiled down to who spoke English the best.

Noor Jingga Yogyakarta tour guide
with my tour guide Noor

For 150,000 rupiah, Noor and I agreed on a Merapi Tour plus 'another' Yogyakarta attraction. Normally, it is a Merapi and Prambanan combo , but I've already been to Prambanan so I settled for something else. By the way, the price we agreed on was only for the guided tour and the half-day motorcycle ride. It didn’t include the entrance fee to the attractions.

Hopping on a motorcycle with a complete stranger is always gonna be risky—no ifs and buts. Nevertheless, it is a very common way to get around in Southeast Asia. I've successfully done it in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines. But even if it's the norm, it doesn't make it any less dangerous. You should exercise caution as much as you can and more importantly, do not do it if you don’t want to. It is not some sort of item that you have to cross off your bucketlist.

Yogyakarta Motorcycle Tour
there are also motorcycle rentals in Yogyakarta city if you want to tour by yourself

In any case, I have a few tips you can use if you plan to go on a motorcycle tour. First of all, do not meet your guide outside your hotel compound. Ask him to pick you up at the hotel lobby. That way you can let the receptionist know that you're going on a tour and who you’re going with. If you can, ask the receptionist to subtly cross check your guide—like checking for driver’s license and IDs. It will send a message to your guide that he is identified, and accountable should anything happen to you. This is a minor thing to do that can somehow put your mind at ease. Not that its foolproof, but you can worry a little less for the duration of your tour. Again, a hotel staff can really be a big factor in this so be mindful of how you act towards them.

Mt. Merapi Lava Tour

Noor arrived on time, and at 8:30 am we were off to Mt. Merapi. Yogyakarta is nestled in a mountainous region thereby making it one of the most seismically active landscapes of Java. Hence, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur every decade or so. The worst in recent times is the eruption of Mt. Merapi in October of 2010.

a foggy morning at Merapi

The highlight of the lava tour includes exploring the volcanic landforms, and a visit to the Merapi Museum. We opted to visit the museum first in anticipation of a bigger crowd later. It's wasn't necessary though since the building is relatively small; there are only two floors and one mini theater. An hour or so is enough to see and absorb everything.

Merapi Museum Yogyakarta
A 3d replica of Mt. Merapi that performs simulated eruption is the centerpiece of the museum. 

Most of the display is a collection of photos of the town before, during, and after the eruptions. In addition, there are also actual objects unearthed from the site of tragedy such as a motorcycle, silver wares, and furniture.

Merapi Museum Yogyakarta
lower right: a lighted archway mirroring the colors of molten lava

Merapi Museum Yogyakarta
a motorcycle burnt to a crisp

If the still displays are about the tragedy, the short video focused on the beauty of Merapi. It was a documentary showcasing Merapi’s fertile land and rich natural resources, and how it positively impact the lives of the villagers and make them come back even after the calamities.

All in all, the visit to the museum was informative. Thus, aside from the tourists, the museum caters well to students. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you visit the museum before exploring the village. It will help you come into grips with the magnitude of the events that occurred and see the landscape from a whole new perspective.

a busload of students on an education field trip arrived as I was leaving

Afterwards, we continued to ride to the site of the tragedy. It was very foggy when we went there.  A thick fog shrouds the horizon making it very difficult to make out the size and shape of the volcano. What is very clear though, is the destruction of houses, roads and livelihood around the area. Indeed, the 2010 eruption brought upon major changes in the landscape. The grayness of everything is simply devastating to see.

It is difficult to imagine that this was once a vast green meadow

Personally, I’ve been to many terrains like this in the Philippines. Still, it is always a disconcerting experience to stand amidst a barren moonscape. It makes you feel weak and fragile knowing that an immense force exists, and it is unstoppable.

But make no mistake; the lava tour is not to dampen your spirits. Before leaving, I suggest that you walk around the village, drink a local refreshment, chat with the locals, and simply observe around. You will see that life goes on for the people. They're back at it; hustling and moving forward.

try the Indonesian Cendol at one of the refreshment stands in the village

Candi Plaosan

After the Merapi tour, we went on to see one more of the many many temples in Yogyakarta—one that I absolutely had no idea beforehand. I actually didn't even know where we were headed because I just doubled the risk of this tour by letting Noor decide where were going. Fortunately, he decided well. He took me to a temple from northern Yogyakarta, in a village called Plaosan.

Candi Plaosan Yogyakarta
the ruins are assembled neatly around the temple

There are heaps of ancient temples in Java, but if you've already been to Borobudur and Prambanan, every other temple would just pale in comparison. The Candi Plaosan however is an exception; it is fascinating in a bizarre kind of way.

It was built by Sri Maharaja Rakai Pikatan--leader of the ancient Mataram kingdom. But although he is a Hindu royalty he built Candi Plaosan for his wife, the princess of the Sailendra kingdom. Hence, Candi Plaosan is an amalgamation of different faith merged by the love of two rivals. As a result, the temple is primarily Hindu built with a touch of Buddhism; the Hindu exterior and layout is complimented by Bodhisattva statues and stupas.

Candi Plaosan Yogyakarta
Candi Plaosan is a juxtaposition of Hinduism and Buddhism

The complex is located in the outskirts of town, in a village surrounded by rice paddies. I remember being the lone tourist there and quite understandably so. Obviously it is not a popular temple and not the best maintained either.  I wouldn't have gone there myself had Noor didn't brought me. Still, it is well worth the trip. I mean, where else can I go to a Hindu-Buddhist temple in an Islamic country with a Muslim tour guide telling me about its story. It's like finding a Jewish-Christian church in Thailand, with a Buddhist guide.

Candi Plaosan Yogyakarta
If you look closely up top you'll notice a head that resembles Megatron.
Could this temple also be a Transformer?

The temple is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and the entrance fee is only 3000rp for both domestic and foreign tourists. I don’t know how to reach it via public transportation and I’m not sure if join-in tours venture on this trail either. The only way probably is to go on a private tour, by car, or like me a motorcycle. On the plus side, it is near the Prambanan Temple so you can make a stopover when you go there.

Prambanan from Candi Plaosan
Candi Plaosan is so near to Prambanan that I could almost touch it... not really.

Candi Kalasan

Neighboring Candi Plaosan is another temple called Kalasan. It is much smaller but very distinctly Buddhist. It is believed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Yogyakarta and Central Java --even predating the iconic Borobudur temple in Magelang. Unfortunately, apart from being really old, there's not much else to see in the surrounding area, so we decided to head back to the city and call it a day.

the oldest Buddhist temple in Java

Lunch at Soto Madura Cak Alim

On the way back to the city we stopped for lunch at a local eatery packed with locals. There, I was able to get to know Noor better. We talked about a lot of stuff--mostly comparing customs and traditions from our home countries. I remember him knowing several Filipino singers and football players such as Christian Bautista and Phil Younghusband. He didn't know Manny Pacquiao though, which I thought was odd. I also learned that aside from being a tour guide for hire, he also dabbles on forex trading.

The restaurant specializes and only sold Soto Madura--a soup mainly composed of beef, tripe, egg, and vegetables in yellow broth. We both order one bowl, and a plate of rice, which was only 11,000 rupiah or less than $1. The soto was good, and combined with rice and a little bit of sambal, it was perfect. Maybe it was so good, that Noor and I agreed on another 2-wheeled tour for the following day, but this time on a bicycle.

Check this site: for other Yogyakarta Itineraries

More on Yogyakarta:

Hotel Review: Merbabu Hotel (Yogyakarta)
Candi Borobudur: Standing Tall Against All Odds
Prambanan: The Hindu Temple That Rivals Borobudur

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