Bali, the island of Gods needs no introduction. After all, it is the most visited island in South East. In fact, I had almost written Bali off my travel bucket list assuming that every corner here will be touristy, but I couldn’t help being excited when I received an invitation by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. So late one night in November 2016, I landed here after changing two airplanes from Raja Ampat – tired but ready to fall in love with Bali.
You know what’s the best part about Bali? It is gorgeous! My excitement started right from the airport where I saw an elaborate Hindu temple. It continued as soon as I reached my hotel – Golden Tulip in Seminyak and saw a roof top pool and yet another temple! Next morning, as we travelled around the island, I was happy to notice that the typical Balinese temple like architecture is everywhere, even at gas stations.
I visited Bali as a social media influencer, so of course Instagram was very high on my list. I did a little bit of research about a few spots to visit and want to share them with you. No doubt there are more than ten beautiful spots in Bali (obviously), but here are ten of our favorites.
Bali’s most beautiful spots –
01 | “Doors of Heaven” at Pura Lempuyang
Not just in Bali, but this is definitely one of the most beautiful temples of South East Asia. There are total seven temples in this complex, out of which the first one is the biggest and the most beautiful one. They all offer good views but the first one is the most photographed one, for obvious reasons. All the shots below are pretty similar, but the lighting is different, which causes a dramatic effect.
Penglipuran in North of Bali is a beautifully preserved village which appeared to be unaffected by modernization. For me, this was the most beautiful spot in Bali and I did not want to leave. I Later when I saw the pictures, I realized that it’s a perfect place for photos because of the backdrop of little houses that are lined up next to the main street. What makes it even better is that the street is sloped and provides a view till the end! Here’s my picture which was clicked by the talented Japanese photographer, Genta. If you ever wonder where to stay in Bali, i’d recommend you pick the North or Ubud area, just so that you’re close to this spot.
Don’t you just love the roads that are surrounded by perfectly arched trees resulting in a “tunnel” effect? Well, you can find a few of these streets in the village of Kubu Bangli regency. This forest area is very close to Penglipuran village, so you can do #2 and #3 together on the same day!
The below picture is by one of my favorite photographers, Larissa Dening:
You can’t leave out Ubud’s pretty rice paddies when you visit Bali. Some people rent bicycles to explore the paddy fields, while others just find a chic café with a view to enjoy Ubud’s beauty. I recommend Desa Tegalalang or Kampung Café for your dose of Ubud. In fact, to make the most of it, you can also book yourself a room at Kampung Resort.
Here’s a picture from Kampung Cafe by Jongbeom Lee:
Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is perhaps the most iconic landmark of Bali. It has been used for years as a cover image for Bali related things such as in flyers, travel articles, picture postcards, etc. This temple is located at the edge of Beratan Lake and you can often catch the reflection of it in the water.
Everything is perfect about this shot, specially the reflection.
Yes, you must have guessed it by now that everything that starts with “Pura” is a temple. This temple is famous for its bathing area and a dip in its waters is supposed to cleanse you spiritually. The words “Tirta Empul” stand for holy spring in Balinese language.
Here’s a shot of Tirta Empul Temple’s stunning door.
What’s better than a waterfall? Two waterfalls together. These waterfalls are in North Central part of Bali and getting there is definitely not easy. Many people say that these are the best waterfalls in Bali, but why don’t you see the pictures and decide for yourself?
Look how green everything around this waterfall is!
Yes, another temple on the list, but I promise it’s the last one. Visit this place a little before the sunset and find a nearby café that overlooks the temple for some stunning photos! Doesn’t the ocean backdrop look stunning?
This waterfall is in Bangli area and not so far from the Bamboo forest in point 3. Getting here is not as difficult as Banyumala Waterfalls. The trail that leads to the waterfall is small and is a delight in itself. Everywhere around is jungle and you will hear the sounds of birds. The waterfall itself is small but it is the green area around that makes it very special.
Ku-De-Ta is one of the most famous bars in Bali. The view of the ocean from here is breathtaking, especially around the sunset time. There is a swimming pool inside Ku-De-Ta, which looks very beautiful when the sky turns orange before it gets dark. Not just the bar, but even the beach right outside this place gave us many photo opportunities.
Here’s a picture of the bar and swimming pool inside Ku-De-Ta:
Raja Ampat Travel Guide has been written in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. A big thanks to them for inviting Drifter Planet for a press trip to their beautiful country.
Two months back I died and I went to heaven. Heaven looks like something like this…
Pasir Timbul, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Yes, it’s true that there are countless destinations around the world that are famous for beaches and marine biodiversity, but there is nothing like Raja Ampat. Why? Because Raja Ampat doesn’t get many visitors and it is easy to enjoy the beauty without the crowds. Moreover, it is a part of the famous “Coral Triangle” that every marine enthusiast and scuba diver knows of. The coral triangle is also called the “Amazon of the seas” because it covers only 1.6% of earth’s oceanic area but has more than 76% of all known coral species in the world.
I spent a few days in Raja Ampat and I got to see some of the most beautiful beaches, colorful marine life, remote villages, and spectacular sunsets and met many wonderful people. Wouldn’t you wanna know more about this slice of paradise?
If you’re lazy to read the entire post, then you can just watch this 2 minute video summary that I made of Raja Ampat. Hope you like it.
Raja Ampat Travel Guide
Where is Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is in Indonesia. If you look at the map, you will notice that Indonesia is highly spread out. Raja Ampat is the east most part of Indonesia and is a part of the island group of New Guinea. These set of 1500 islands that collectively form Raja Ampat are in Indonesia’s West Papua province.
How to Get to Raja Ampat
Here’s the thing, good things in life are never easy. That’s the case with Raja Ampat because getting there can require a bit of patience and determination. It took me more than a day to reach Raja Ampat from Yogyakarta with a night stay in Makassar.
To get to Raja Ampat, you need to reach Sorong. Flights to Sorong can be taken from Jakarta or Bali or Yogyakarta or even Singapore (Silk air). These flights will most likely stop in either Manado or Makassar. Once you reach Sorong, you will need to get to the main harbor of Sorong for your ferry to Waisai, which is on the island of Waigeo and is the capital of the Raja Ampat. You can take an express ferry or a slow boat, and both leave in the mornings at 9 am or 11 am, depending on the day. The express ferry takes around 2 hours and the slow boat takes around 5 hours. The white and orange Bahari Express ferries are the fast boats and Fajar Mulia is the name of the slow boat. To reach your final destination, you will need to have your hotel (or homestay) send a boat to Waisai to pick you up.
To recap, refer to the below table:
Flight to Sorong -> Taxi to Sorong Harbor -> Bahari Express ferry OR Fajar Mulia ferry to Waisai -> Boat Transfer to be arranged by your Hotel / Homestay
Where to Stay in Raja Ampat
Massive Chessboard on the beach at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
I stayed at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, which is on Mansuar Island. Raja Ampat Dive Lodge has a long stretch of private beach right. This white sand beach is right outside this resort’s cute wooden bungalows. If you like to snorkel, you can rent one here and snorkel around the bungalows. The water is crystal clear and I saw a lot of nemos and one lionfish here.
Entry Pier at Raja Ampat Die Lodge – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
While I was here, I woke up every morning with a smile because I could here birds singing. As soon as I would open my door, the sight of a spectacular beach would greet me. Perhaps it sounds really cliché, but I had to pinch myself to believe if it was real. It was amazing having my own space and my own private white sand beach right outside the door. Pretty often, I would see a cute little family of ducks out for a morning walk on the beach outside my cottage.
A duck family on my Private Beach at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
My bungalow at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge was very big and airy. It had a sitting area outside where I spent a few mornings. I was happy to see a hair dryer in the bathroom because I never carry one. The room also had a little backyard, which I used pretty often to dry my clothes.
Raja Ampat Dive Lodge has a dive shop inside, which is one of the most reputed one here. Not just dive tours, they can also organize island-hopping tours for you. The restaurant serves very good food, which isn’t as spicy as the rest of Indonesia. My best meal here was an amazing seafood barbecue with massive prawns. Yum!
BBQ Seafod, Prawn Crackers and cheesy potato soup at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge
Honestly, this resort is so pretty that I did not want to leave. They have limited number of cottages, so I highly recommend you book it well in advance before it gets sold out. While we were there, it was sold out and some of us had to share rooms. If you’re visiting Raja Ampat, please do yourself a favor and stay in Raja Ampat Dive Lodge. Click here to book.
Things to do in Raja Ampat
01 | Scuba Dive / Snorkel
Raja Ampat’s marine life – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
The first point is pretty much obvious. The marine life in Raja Ampat looked like it was right out of a documentary. I saw many different kinds of fish, in a lot of and colors and sizes. If you are not a diver, then please at least spend a few hours snorkeling to because here, it is the BEST in the world.
Right outside Raja Ampat Dive Lodge, I got to see clownfish, angelfish, parrotfish, and lionfish. Obviously I saw many more but I’m not so good with fish names. When we went to our first dive site, I was amazed at the density of marine life. Orange, purple, green, blue – I was surrounded by different colors as I snorkeled around.
Sadly, I couldn’t scuba dive here because it was necessary to have finished 20 dives but I had just done just two (Yes, it sucks)! Even then, the snorkeling experience was extraordinary because of the density.
Finding Nemo – Clownfish in Raja Ampat
As I mentioned before, Raja Ampat is a part of Coral Triangle, which has the most diverse marine life on the planet. It has obviously been mentioned as one of the top scuba diving locations in the world by a lot of travel guides. Oh and btw, we also spotted a walking shark (epaulette) in the mangroves near the pier of our hotel. (Don’t worry, they are harmless)
02 | Visit Pasir Timbul and Witness Nature’s Magic
Pair Timbal, Raja Ampat – the most beautiful beach I’ve seen
If someone asked me to describe paradise, I’d narrate a picture of Pasir Timbul. Any words that I say won’t do any justice to the beauty but I’ll try my best. It is the most beautiful beach that I have ever seen in my life. Too bad, my GoPro lens was foggy and I wasn’t able to get the best shots.
Pasir Timbul is an area in the ocean where the sand emerges out for a few hours a day to form small sand patches. This happens when the tide is low and gradually disappears as the tide moves high. Our boat anchored at a distance of around 500 meters from here because the ocean bed is shallow here.
As the boat stopped, the view made me jump with joy. I’m not exaggerating, so here’s a picture that you can see and judge for yourself.
First View – Pasir Timbul from the boat
After this point, we had to walk (or swim) in order to reach the beaches. And yes, there was more than one beach because the sand had emerged to form mini islands. There were sandbars that connected these islands and it was fun to walk on them. I will stop describing now because you should read my travel guide for Pasir Timbul if you want to know more. 😉
03 | Climb up to the famous Pianemo Viewpoint of Raja Ampat
Pianemo Viewpoint – Raja Ampat Travel Guide by Drifter Planet
Pianemo Viewpoint is the most famous viewpoint of Raja Ampat and is usually the cover image of most of the travel guides and magazines about this destination. I’m sure you would have seen a picture of this at some point somewhere. Yes, it is as beautiful as those pictures.
Reaching here took us around 30 minutes on a boat from the hotel. My hangover disappeared as we anchored our boat outside the entry point where the steps began, because it was so goddamn beautiful! Everywhere around us the water was clear greenish-blue.
The steps were many but I was in a hurry to get there so I literally ran up. When I reached up, it was empty and I got some amazing pictures without anyone in them. This kind of reminded me of the amazing viewpoints in Palawaan that I a little less than a year back. Click here if you want to decide which one you like more?
After the viewpoint, we walked back down and jumped into the water for a swim. To be honest, the water was not clear here so we couldn’t see any marine life.
04 | Meet the beautiful locals of Arborek Village Island
Beautiful children of Arborek village – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
Honestly, I knew nothing of Arborek Village and neither was I expecting too much. But I was so happy when I reached here because it was an experience to remember.
There were easily 100 village people waiting for us as our boat reached Arborek Village. Which was surprising because that’s literally half the population of the island. Several smiling children stood outside and were dressed in their traditional attire. We were informed that they had prepared a welcome performance for us.
As we stepped on the pier, those children came forward and started singing and dancing for us. It was the sweetest and the most beautiful welcome that I have ever received in my life and I had to hide a tiny tear at the end of their performance.
We were told not to click any pictures or to make any videos during their performance. For whatever reasons it may be, it was a good thing because everyone saw them through their eyes, instead of the camera screens.
After the welcome, the kids held out hands and led us inside their village. Everyone else followed us, and walked behind us singing. Many of us danced while walking so it felt like we were a part of a parade.
As we walked, we saw a continuous strip of beach on our right. On our left were a few colorful huts and I wish that one was mine. Considering the welcome that we received, I would have still liked this place if it wasn’t pretty but just like everything in Raja Ampat, this was magical. The beach here was actually very beautiful because it was wide, long and shady. As you can see the the picture, the sand was sugary white and the water was very blue. Due to the abundance of trees on the beach, it was possible to find many shady spots.
We must have walked for just 500 meters when the beach became wider. We decided to sit here to enjoy the beach for most of our time in Arborek.
Singing with the locals on the beach at Arborek Village – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
The island is very small so it is easy see pretty much everything by walking. We saw a church, a school and a few homestays. After exploring and swimming around, we saw under a tree and listened to the villages sing songs while playing their handmade instruments. After while, it was time to enjoy a delicious lunch that the locals had cooked for us. Obviously there was a lot of fish.
05 | Visit the School Kids at Taman Bacaan Pelangi
Adorable school kids at School Kids at Taman Bacaan Pelangi
Taman Bacaan Pelangi or Rainbow Reading Gardens is a non-profit group that builds libraries for children in remote villages of Indonesia. We visited this place as soon as arrived in Raja Ampat and met 100s of school children.
These children were very excited to meet us and just like the ones in Arborek, they welcomed us by performing. Right after that, we sat with them and read some of their books with them and answered their army of questions.
I knew Bollywood was big in other countries, but I never realized the magnitude till the time I reached Indonesia. I was presently surprised when I saw how the children at Taman Bacaan Pelangi School sang songs from Hindi movies.
I met Nila, the girl whose passion led her to start Taman Bacaan Pelangi. Not just Raja Ampat, but her organization has made 38 more children libraries in remote parts of Indonesia. Aren’t these kids cute? You can help Nila build more such libraries and provide resources for many other children in Indonesia by donating.
06 | Visit Sawinggrai Village (or Sawing Ray Village)
Sawinggrai Village – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
Sawing Ray or Sawinggrai Village is a tiny fisherman village in Raja Ampat. It is a typical authentic Papuan village with slow life. There is a lot to see above and below water here. I visited this village twice when I was in Raja Ampat and was surprised to see how the color of the water looks different on both sides of the jetty as the sun moves. Exactly for this, this village’s main pier is an excellent spot for both, sunrise and sunset.
Sawinggrai Village – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
In Sawinggrai Village, there are many colorful huts above the water and small walking paths. Below the water I saw some amazing corals and many colorful fish. I carried some bread with me to feed the fishes near the pier and I was amazed at the density. I don’t know the name if this black and white stripped fish but I saw it all over Palawan too! Do you know the name?
The best time to come here is late evening to catch the sunset or early morning to see the sunrise or for birdwatching. Yes, birdwatching, which brings me to my next point.
07 | Go for Bird watching to see the Birds of Paradise
If you’re a fan of Planet Earth series like I am, chances are you have seen the dance of Birds of Paradise. Red bird of Paradise and Cendrawasih (a kind of Bird of Paradise) can be sometimes spotted in Sawinggrai Village. So how do you find these pretty creatures? Pretty much every hotel or homestay can arrange to take you on an early morning tour to the spots inside the forest where these birds perform their famous mating dance.
My Indonesian Travel Buddies at Kabui Bay – Raja Ampat Travel Guide
While Pianemo Viewpoint is the more famous one, Kabui Bay viewpoint is also quite pretty. You can visit here along with Pasir Timbul, one after another on the same day. Unlike Pianemo Viewpoint, you don’t have to climb really high for the view. There is a little standing platform on one of the limestone rocks that can easily fit 20 people.
Personally, I prefer the view from Pianemo Viewpoint over Kabui Bay because we got a bird eye view. I highly recommend you check the weather forecast beforehand because it doesn’t look very nice when it rains.
When to visit Raja Ampat
Since it is a tropical destination, Raja Ampat can be visited throughout the year. However, the best time to visit Raja Ampat is from the months of October to April. If you’re visiting just to scuba dive, then you need to know that many dive shops don’t operate from July and September due to heavy rains.
Travel Tips for Raja Ampat
I want to share a few travel tips for Raja Ampat based on my experience there. I’m not mentioning the obvious ones like carrying a sunscreen or a waterproof bag, etc., because I assume you know that already.
01 | Travel Expenses and Budgeting
I will be honest – Raja Ampat is not a cheap destination, but is a luxury destination. Not only is the cost of getting there is high but so is the internal boat transport. I wouldn’t have been able to afford visiting a destination like this on my own if the Indonesian government didn’t sponsor me.
Although staying in Raja Ampat can be cheap if you book village homestays, it is the cost of getting there is what makes Raja Ampat an expensive travel destination. I went two months back (November 2016) and it took us two flights, two boats and one bus to reach here. Obviously if you total up all the costs, it’s not cheap.
If you can afford the cost of getting there, that’s amazing because you can find a homestay to make the rest of your holiday affordable. You can reduce your costs further if your homestay is centrally located so that you don’t have to spend a lot on internal boat transfers. Pick one in Arborek Village or Sawinggrai Village so that you’re closer to the places which I have written about.
Normally I don’t like planning things before my trips but Raja Ampat is one such destination where planning is essential if you want to save money. Make sure you speak to your hotel / homestay about boat transfers while booking.
If you are a newbie diver (like me) and want to travel to Raja Ampat just to scuba dive, I’d recommend you speak to a few dive shops first. Most of the dives sites in Raja Ampat are for advanced divers with at least 20 dives in their logbook. It is because the currents are very strong and can take to the edge of the reef. But don’t be disappointed if you can’t scuba dive there because the snorkeling experience there is something you will remember for life.
03 | Prepare to be in a Remote Area
Raja Ampat is not like Bali or Palawan where you will find shops that sell basic needs. Most of the areas in Raja Ampat are so remote that you won’t find anything apart from your hotel. Pack strategically and carry everything that you may need for the time you’re there. The closest city like area is in Sorong, which will be a few hours boat ride away from your place of staying.
04 | ATMs
I’m sure you would have realized by now that Raja Ampat is really remote and yes, there are no ATMs here. A few hotels do accept cards but you need to plan and carry more than enough cash because the card machines may not always be working.
05 | Mosquito Repellent
Like most of the tropical island destinations, the mosquitos in Raja Ampat are vicious. Carry an herbal insect repellent with citronella or coconut so that you don’t cause any damage to the marine life when you swim. Using a coconut oil really helps but you need to reapply it often.
I have never mentioned time zone in any of my travel tips for anywhere, however I think it’s important that you should know. Indonesia has three time zones because it is spread out over many different longitudes. The time zones of Jakarta, Bali and Raja Ampat are all different. Due to low network connectivity, your phone clock may not auto update, so please check with the locals and adjust your clock. It was hilarious how many of us were confused with the time while we were in Raja Ampat because to reach here we had to change three different time zones. If you don’t want to miss your early morning bird watching session or sunrise photography, do keep this point in mind.
Travel Costs for Raja Ampat
To help you get an idea, I have divided the travel costs for Raja Ampat in different sections. You can use this as a ballpark figure to plan your travel expenses. I will try to update these costs on a regular basis but I suggest you do a little bit of your own research as well after reading this article.
Flights: Return flights from Jakarta / Bali to Sorong: USD 200 – 250
Permit Fee for international visitors: USD 75 (or IDR 1,000,000)
Ferry from Sorong to Waisai: USD 10 (or IDR 130,000) for one way.
Room: Hotel: USD 150 – 200 per night (usually includes diving) ; Homestay: USD 50 per night
Boat Tours: USD 55 – 105 per person (depending on the route)
Cost of a beer at Raja Ampat Dive Lodge: USD 5 (or 60,000 IDR)
So are you ready to see some of the most beautiful beaches, corals and marine life that’s on our planet? Plan a trip to Raja Ampat today.
Have you visited Raja Ampat already?
Considering there are 1500 islands in the archipelago of Raja Ampat, I have probably seen just a fraction of this wonderland. If you have been there already then please share your tips and recommendations with me in comments.
You may also like reading about the below destinations:
In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the sea, there lies a little island that is hidden to many. For a few hours a day, when the tide is low, this little island emerges out of the ocean. This is Pasir Timbul in Raja Ampat, which literally translates into “emerging sands” beach.
Pair Timbal, Raja Ampat – the most beautiful beach I’ve seen
I spent around one hour in Pasir Timbul and trust me when I say this – I went a little crazy here when I saw the beauty. It felt like the “travel Gods” rewarded me with this beach to help me with my search of the most beautiful beach in the world.
Where is Pasir Timbul
Pasir Timbul, Raja Ampat, Indonesia – my photo by Noah Stammbach (zeebachi)
Pasir Timbul is in Raja Ampat and is a 20-minute boat ride from Arborek village, or 30 minutes from Wisai. Raja Ampat is in West Papua Island in Indonesia.
How to reach Pasir Timbul
The easiest way to reach here is by booking a boat from Arborek village or Wisai, capital of Raja Ampat. You can ask your resort / guesthouse to book it for you. Due to the water levels, the boats can’t reach the sand patches. The point where the boat stops, you need to swim or walk to the sand patches.
First View – Pasir Timbul from the boat. This is where we jumped into the water to head to the beach
Note: The little islands of Pasir Timbul are only visible for a few hours. Make sure you double check with your tour operator to find out if they are aware of the specific times to visit. You can book a tour now by sending an email here – firstname.lastname@example.org
Pasir Timbul, Raja Ampat – the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen
Pasir Timbul, Raja Ampat – the most beautiful beach
You can call it an island or a beach, but these are literally sand patches that emerge out of the ocean when the tide is low.
My friends Val, Hanni and Fikri on a sandbar on Pasir Timbul
The sand here is sugary white and soft. The water is crystal clear and very blue. It is so clear that it is possible to see the bottom of the sea. You don’t even need to carry a snorkel here because the visibility is amazing. But I do recommend you carry one to see the underwater beauty. These sand banks don’t have any animals or vegetation that is visible.
Just look at that water! – Pasir Timbal, Raja Ampat, Indonesia
The time when I visited, there were 3 sand patches, two of which were connected via a sandbar. The biggest sand patch was kidney shaped and the smaller one was triangular. These islands (or sand patches) were perhaps only about 100-150 square meters big. The waves were visible on all the three sides. The shapes of these islands change regularly because they get covered by water and emerge out a little different than before.
At this time I went a little crazy with joy – Pasir Timbal, Raja Ampat
01 | Carry a Waterproof Camera – In all likelihood, you will end up going through waist deep water to reach the sand patches. You should definitely not carry gadgets that aren’t waterproof. Get a GoPro or a waterproof case for your camera because you’re going to make a lot of photos here.
Me with my GoPro when the tide was high on Pasir Timbal beach – photo by Najii
02 | Extra Sun Protection – There is no vegetation on Pasir Timbul beach and hence no shade. Extra sun protection by wearing a lot of sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat and a pair of sunglasss will keep you comfortable.
03 | Clothes and Swimsuit – Don’t wear a lot of clothes because they will weigh you down and make you tired in case you need to swim back to the boat. Wear a comfortable swimsuit.
04 | Drinking Water – There are no cafes on this beach, so carry water and light snacks on your boat.
05 | Waterproof Bag – For those that don’t have waterproof cameras or GoPro cameras, buying a simple waterproof bag can solve all your problems.
Yes, Raja ampat’s Pasir Timbul is the most beautiful beach that I have ever seen. What about you?
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The best thing about traveling is learning while getting a chance to experience new things. If you ask me today to name a destination where I learned the most and did things that I had never done before, I’d say Yogyakarta without a second thought. So friends, let me introduce Yogyakarta to you.
It is spelled as Yogyakarta but usually pronounced as Jogjakarta, however, most locals prefer to call it “Jogja”. There are many who confuse it with Jakarta.. to be honest, even I did when I heard the name for the first time. (Well done Sonal). A little peek at Google maps made me realize that Yogyakarta was an hour away from Jakarta by flight.
Having done no previous research, I arrived in Yogyakarta with a very little in mind other than the famous Borobudur temple, and boy, was I surprised! As our Garuda Indonesia airplane descended in Yogyakarta, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the South Indian and Indonesian landscape. I could see a bird’s eye view of massive farms (I suppose paddy), colorful villages, and many little paths crisscrossing to form a maze.
Anyway, the few days I spent in Yogyakarta were fully packed from morning to night. Here is a list of 13 things I did here, which I had never done before. Number 13 is my favorite! This will give you an idea about things to do in Yogyakarta:
Yogyakarta – 13 Things I did here which I had NEVER done before or 13 Unique things to do in Yogyakarta
01 | Trying a hand at paddy farming at Desa Pentingsari
Love nature? Desa Pentingsari village is the place for you! Pentingsari village is in the North of Yogyakarta and was my first stop in Yogyakarta. We arrived here on a bus from Yogyakarta just a little before 11 am. After a light snack wrapped in banana leaves next to a little pond, we were ready to visit the farms.
A few minutes of walk through this green village, we stopped next to a farmer who was riding a bullock cart. For no apparent reason, within the next few minutes, I found myself trying to ride this cart.
Paddy farming at Desa Pentingsari
It was funny because I had to balance myself on a little rod “seat” as the bull (or is this an Ox?) moved around with an exaggerated rear motion. As my feet dug in the wet mud, I started enjoying the ride and while enjoying my natural foot spa. My enjoyment was short lived as the bull moved its rail around and I realized my face was too close to its rear.
What if this thing decides to fart?
Oops! At that instant, I decided to end my ride. Yes, I did get myself dirty but loved it.
From here, we went back to the same homestay, where a traditional Javanese lunch was waiting for us. Yumm!
Do you want to do this too? Contact Pentingsari Tourism Village at email@example.com
02 | Meeting the famous puppets of Jogja (and learning puppetmaking)
Puppetry has been a significant art form in Indonesia since the early times. More than just art, this was a way of spreading awareness about good and bad. Several parts of the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are usually portrayed in a theatrical art form called Wayang.
However, one of the most interesting forms of puppetry that I have seen is in a contemporary art form. It is the famous paper puppets of Jogja – the Papermoon Puppet Theatre.
The puppets at Papermoon Puppet Theater had a “life-like” look on their carefully carved faces. Some of them looked very adorable while others looked a little scary.. as if they were watching me.
Ria, the founder of Papermoon told us that the performances are very emotional and are without dialogues. As soon as I heard that, I wondered, how on earth do they portray different emotions when the puppets have the same looks on their faces? As if guessing our thoughts, Ria showed at least 5 emotions using the puppet that she was holding by just using gestures. Watch this video!
After this, it was time to get creative again and learn how to make puppets. We started by making a newspaper ball for the head and attached it to a stick. Next, we covered the ball with white plaster. The step after this was the most difficult one because we had to carve the face.
At this stage, I realized my puppet had an oddly shaped head. I looked towards my left where Silke’s puppet looked very life like in just a matter of a few seconds and suddenly my competitive streak got a hold of me. My puppet was looking like an old man but I wanted to make a young girl. No matter what I tried, my puppet refused to look like a girl – as if, it knew what it wanted to be.
Just when I was about to give up, I tried making hair on my puppet’s bald head and voila – it was a girl! (a very scary looking girl though).
My happiness what short lived because my puppet started shedding hair while I was traveling in Indonesia and within just a few days, it was back to being an old man.
Lesson learned – if your puppet wants to be an old man, let him be an old man. You can hide its gender by makeup and fancy hair but sooner or later, the truth will emerge.
Anyway, I was highly moved by watching whatever little performance I saw at Papermoon Puppet because of the way they portrayed the emotions. I am fascinated by the thought that their performances are not for children because they are of serious nature. Usually, they are very busy performing all over the world so I was lucky to have met them and seen them in action. I will do everything I can to watch one of their full shows with my husband. I highly recommend you check them out too here.
03 | Trying to spot a Volcano! Exploring Mount Merapi and around and experiencing a CRAZY Jeep Ride
Ever spotted a volcano? For me, it was the first time! Remember the 2010 news about volcano eruptions in Indonesia? That was Mount Merapi and it is on the border between Yogyakarta and Central Java. It was close to Desa Pentingsari so it was our next stop after paddy farming. Obviously, we did not go to the volcano but we explored the area around it on jeeps. I shared my jeep with Murni, Indonesia’s top blogger at Indohoy and Bressonia, an amazing photographer from Indonesia. They became my very good friends after the ride.
Mount Merapi Jeep Ride with Murni and Bressiona
Everything around was very green, not how I had imagined it to be. Our jeep driver told us that a few years back, there was no forest here and it was all black. He also told us that as many as 353 people had died here back in 2010 when it had erupted. The government had sent alerts and had asked the villagers to leave this area but many decided not to do so. Many houses burnt and one such house was later transformed into a museum. That place is called Museum Sisa Hartaku and this was my gloomiest moment in Indonesia.
Museum Sisa Hartaku near Mount Merapi
It started raining heavily as we stopped outside Museum Sisa Hartaku. It was as if the weather Gods wanted to match the mood of the inside gloom which we were about to encounter. A charred motorbike and a cow’s skeleton greeted us as we entered. Inside, what was once a cozy living room was now the biggest museum area with burnt remains of furniture.
Museum Sisa Hartaku near Mount Merapi
I felt shivers down my spine as I looked at a clock on the wall, which was stuck forever in time. It had stopped when the eruption had reached the house. On the other side of the house, there was a little room, which was once perhaps the kitchen. There was a table that displayed the family’s everyday things such as toothbrush, broken soda bottles, plates, spoons, etc.
Within a few minutes, I got my answer. Thankfully, the family that owned this house once had left the village before the eruptions began. Mr. Kimin and Mrs. Wati, the owners had later decided to turn their house into a museum.
Mount Merapi Bunker Point and Viewpoint
As soon as the rain stopped, it was time to get back on the jeeps and explore the area around. We crossed what looked like a river but our driver informed us that it was created due to hot lava. We stopped by a viewpoint next to a bunker. A few people who tried to save themselves during the 2006 eruptions used this bunker but they were unsuccessful. Sad.
Mount Merapi Viewpoint
We couldn’t see Mount Merapi very well from here because of the clouds. It started raining again and we took shelter in the nearby tea shops. Again, Indonesia reminded me of India and I felt I was sitting somewhere in the Himalayas sipping chai in a little dhaba. The view from the cliff-side tea shop was spectacular.
A crazy jeep ride near Mount Merapi
Perhaps it was because we couldn’t see the famous volcano very well because of the clouds but all of a sudden, our jeep drivers decided that we needed a little rush of adrenaline. They sped the jeeps through the roads that resembled streams due to excessive rain to give us a ride to remember. I won’t say much, but here is a video by a fellow blogger Michael Turtle (Time Travel Turtle) who was there with us and captured it perfectly.
Book your jeep ride and a tour of Mt Merapi with Kaliurang Adventure by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
04 | Waking up at 2:30 to catch the Sunrise at Borobudur Temple – world’s largest Buddhist monument
Never in my life, I thought that I would wake up at 2:30 am just to watch an epic sunrise. The earliest that I did was 4:30 am in Cappadocia but I did the unthinkable on my second day in Yogyakarta.
Do I regret it? Read on to find out! Oh but let me tell a little about this famous temple first.
Sunrise at Borobudur Temple, Yogyakarta
Borobudur temple is the single largest Buddhist structure and temple on earth and the construction took 75 years. Wow! What blew my mind was that this temple was abandoned and hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and thick forest. It was rediscovered when Java (this area) was under British administration in the early 1800s.
Sounds like an Indiana Jones movie, no? Needless to say, this 9th-century temple is a UNESCO World heritage site. Strangely enough, this temple remained intact during the 2006 earthquake in this area.
Anyway, we left our hotel at 3 am because Borobudur temple is in Magelang, Central Java – about 2 hours away from our hotel, which was in the heart of Yogyakarta.
Borobudur Temple Before the sunrise
We arrived here a little after 4:30 and were given torches because it was still very dark. I ran up the steps and within minutes I had crossed many steps and three levels to reach the top. I wanted the perfect sunrise shot here.
Just like the day before, the clouds did not permit us to watch the sunset. However, I can’t forget the view from the top. As I looked down, I saw many steps. Were they really 100? I never ended up counting. I looked up and I saw the topmost stupa. There were mountains around the temple and everything looked very green. From where I stood, everywhere around were more stupas. Borobudur temple is actually built like a single large stupa with many little stupas inside it. (Stupas within Stupa – just like Inception)
As if it doesn’t get crazier, this temple looks like a mandala from up above. Watch this crazy drone picture by my friend Will Cho.
Aerial view of Borobudur Temple, Yogyakarta by Will Cho
Another thing I can’t forget is watching how a lot of photographers lined up here for the perfect sunrise shot. Tripods, expensive SLRs and what not – but I stood along with them with my humble GoPro hero 4 black and my Samsung galaxy S5. Every one of us had to wait for a while for our perfect shot because soon there were too many people that came in.
Here is my favorite shot. I don’t know this girl but she was in front of me at the right moment.
Borobudur Temple, Yogyakarta
After spending most of our morning admiring Borobudur temple’s symmetry, panels, stairs, stupas and many Buddha statues, we finally decided to leave the temple complex.
On our way out, we decided to stop at Manohara hotel for a breakfast buffet. This hotel is in Borobudur temple garden area and was obviously full of international visitors. Unlike most of our earlier meals, this restaurant had local as well as international food.
Do you want to catch the sunrise at Borobudur? The gate opens to the general public at 6 am but you can buy a package from Manohara Hotel, which will let you enter at 4:30 am. The package costs around USD 30 and includes breakfast.
05 | Riding an Andong
Wondering what is an Andong? It is a kind of a horse pulled carts in Yogyakarta We decided to ride these carts from Borobudur temple to our next destination – Desa Bahasa . Andong carts looked like they could hold 4 people but I’m happy that we decided to ride them in pairs of two.
Andong Ride in Yogyakarta
Being an overly enthusiastic animal lover, I decided to pet the horse on its head like I would with a dog. The horse jerked its head in anger and made it very clear that it did not like it. Oops! Lesson learned – not every animal is like a dog. I picked a different cart and decided to completely ignore the new horse.
Our ride from Borobudur temple to Desa Bahasa was through the main village area. The scenery changed from historical buildings to green farms in just a matter of minutes. Rice paddies, colorful houses, and farmers with their bullock carts – this truly reminded me of South of India. Is this the area that I saw from my flight? I will never know.
About 15 minutes later, our picturesque ride ended and it was time to explore the village.
06 | Pottery Making at Klipoh village near Borobudur Temple
A few months back if someone would have told me that I’d enjoy making pottery, I would have laughed at that person’s face. Perhaps it was because I was sleep deprived or had my face a little too close to a bull’s stinky rear the day before, I felt strangely mesmerized at the sight of rotating pottery wheels. Maybe it is the rotating motion that had the hypnotizing effect but within seconds I was sitting next to a wheel. I was going to make my first masterpiece with the help of a local woman.
I wet my hands as per the woman’s instruction and held on to a ball of clay. As she rotated the wheel, I placed the clay on the wheel in the middle.
Learning Pottery in Klipoh village Yogyakarta – by Najii
“Do you want to make an ashtray?” she asked. Assuming an ashtray would be the simplest thing to make, I said no and decided to make a fancy vase. I enjoyed the hum of the wheel as I concentrated on my soon to be a masterpiece. I was lost in my dreams about Instagramming a pretty picture of the final product (life of a travel blogger) when the realization struck me – my piece was not going to be pretty!
In the end, I ended up wasted a lot of clay as I tried to make a fancy vase. I eventually decided to give up and settle for an ashtray.
Note: Klipoh village is near Karanganyar Village and is around 3 KMs from Borobudur temple.
07 | Learning Bahasa Indonesia at Desa Bahasa
Our next stop for the day was a language school surrounded by beautiful farms – Desa Bahasa. This little school runs many language programs and offers home stay in the village. Check the “where to stay” section towards the end of this post for more information about the home stay.
As some of you know I am learning German and regularly cry when I try to understand German grammar. In fact, it took me a month to say a few things that I could say in just a day after just an hour of learning Bahasa Indonesia. Why? 1) – The grammar is very simple and 2) the method of teaching at Desa Bahasa was a lot of fun. I will never forget how to say “I am hungry” or “I am sleepy” in Bahasa Indonesia for the rest of my life.
Learning Bahasa Indonesia at Desa Bahasa, Yogyakarta
After our quick class, I decided to explore the area around Desa Bahasa and walk to the lunch area. We saw more farms, colorful houses, cows and a few chickens crossing the street. If given a chance, I’d love to go back to this village and live here for a month. For now, I decided to find a quiet spot in the garden for a little nap.
After a long day at Desa Bahasa, we decided to head to Royal Ambarrukmo for a massage. To be honest, watching archers was not a part of our plan but we were lucky enough to be at the right place at right time. Royal Ambarrukmo used to serve as the Yogyakarta Royal palace many years back but is now a hotel.
Outside the hotel building, we saw a row of men and women with bows and arrows. Each archer had a different bow that was appeared to be hand painted.
Riyanni informed me that it was Jemparingan, traditional Javanese archery. For me, it was beautiful to watch how their eyes, mind, and bodies were turned towards the target as they aimed in concentration. One by one, their arrows flew at their aim that was a little dot on the wall much ahead of where they were. I have never seen anything like this in my life!
09 | Watching Royal Dance Performance
As if right out of a storybook, four beautifully dressed women performed a traditional Javanese dance for us at the Royal Ambarrukmo hotel. It was a dance like no other because it didn’t seem like a celebration but appeared to be of a meditative nature. The seemingly serene dancers moved in slow and graceful motions.
Tari kraton – Javanese dance in Yogyakarta
They all wore elaborate headdresses that were made out of bright pink and gold. They wore roses around their hair buns. The rest of their outfits were black and gold. They swayed delicately on the music of bamboo music instrument. I couldn’t understand the words but it sounded like a prayer or a request.
Tari kraton – Javanese dance in Yogyakarta – Drifter Planet
We were later informed that it was the traditional dance from the time this hotel served as the royal palace. This dance was for the palace rulers and hence was a “Royal Dance”. I was later informed that back in the days, this “sacred” dance was a way of spreading moral enlightenment and Javanese cultural values.
10 | Experiencing a “Royal” body Massage at the Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel’s Nurkhadayatan Spa
Yes, the sunrise at Borobudur was fun but nothing can compare to a full body massage experience at Nurkhadayatan Spa, which is at the Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel.
Every massage room featured a bathtub made which was made from the stones of the Merapi volcano. As per the spa staff, the stones of Mount Merapi are considered to be sacred and are high in minerals. A hot bath inside one of these stone tubs is said to have healing power.
I don’t have much to write about the massage because it was truly blissful and I fell asleep during it.
11| Jamu Tasting in Jogja
Jamu is a kind of traditional Indonesian medicinal juice. The ingredients are always natural – such as honey, milk, flowers, tree barks, etc. We stopped by a roadside stall to try a few of them.
Jamu Tasting in Jogja
Most of these were bitter but there was one that was delicious. On asking, I got to know that the sweet one was for improving skin. There were Jamu juice medicines for many things such as upset stomach, enhancing stamina and even tightening of a woman’s vagina! Haha
To be honest, when I was informed of a Jamu tasting session in our itinerary, I imagined it to be a local alcoholic beverage. (Yes, I have been spoilt by too many wine-tasting sessions, hehe).
12 | Learning how to make Batik in Kotagede
As if the similarities between Indonesia and India were not close enough, the next activity in our itinerary was learning how to make Batik. I later found out that the art of making Batik is the most developed in Java, Indonesian.
My batic frame in Kotagede, Yogyakarta
The first step was drawing a pattern on a white cloth and putting it in a circular frame. The next was carefully dropping hot wax with the help of a pen-like tube to form an outline of the pattern. This appeared to be easy but was not so because we had to maintain a steady hand. This is the most important step because the wax obviously resists the color from penetrating when the dye is put, resulting in selective coloring. The wax can be later removed by soaking the cloth in boiling water.
While pottery making may not be my strongest point, I felt I did much better when it came to making batik. Here is my batik handkerchief. Do you like it?
If I get over my laziness, maybe someday I will make a few batik clothes and sell them at psytrance music festivals. Would you like to buy?
13 | Getting surrounded by schoolgirls while exploring Kotagede (Or Kota Gede) and getting featured in the local newspaper
Sights in Kotagede, Yogyakarta
Did I mention Yogyakarta is an overdose of art culture and history? Well, you can glimpse all of these factors in just a few hours when you visit Yogyakarta’s historic neighborhood, Kotagede (or Kota Gede).
In Javanese, Kota Gede means big city and trust me you need to take out a lot more than just a couple of hours to explore this area. I’m happy that I was carrying extra GoPro batteries here because I ended up taking 100s of photos. I couldn’t help it because every corner here is worth a photo.
We started by exploring a local market that had spices, baskets, meat, tea, coffee, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Interestingly, most of these shops had women owners. Most of them didn’t speak English but understood the universal sign language. As we got out of the food market area, we saw several silver shops around us and later I found out that Kotagede is known globally for its silver crafting. The local market many other interesting shops too such as pottery, batik, flowers, etc.
Beautiful people of Kotagede, Yogyakarta
Next, we decided to get lost in Kota Gede’s many lanes and realized how the old town is just like a maze. Little alleys led to interesting old looking houses and this is where the photographer in me went a little crazy. Many houses were brightly colored and featured elaborate gardens.
My Japanese friend Naoko on the streets of Kotagede, Yogyakarta
If you are into “door porn”, you will absolutely love Kotagede because every house had a beautiful door. Most of the doors had ornate panels on top and looked like they had a story to tell from a forgotten era.
Under normal circumstances, I would have loved to blend in to get lost in the old town. But the fact that my Yogyakarta visit was a press trip with 30 Instagram obsessed social media influencers, things were a tad different. Wherever we went, people knew we were visitors (obviously). The best was seeing smiles and excitement on school children’s faces as they photo bombed us and posed with us. Aren’t they adorable?
Getting surrounded by schoolgirls in Kotagede, Yogyakarta
This didn’t happen just once but happened at many places of Kotagede where I was surrounded by some really adorable school girls who wanted a picture.
Can you spot me? – the streets of Kotagede, Yogyakarta
We crossed a few places of worship as well such as an old temple with a massive gong and a 16th-century mosque. It was then we saw a few artists that were sitting by the road and drawing what was in front of them. After asking around, I got to know that Yogyakarta is Indonesia’s art capital and a lot of artists live here. (yes it gets better and better).
Urban Sketcher, Yandi Prayudhi on the streets of Kotagede
Next day, I got to know I was quoted and featured on the front page of a leading Indonesian newspaper – Jogja Tribun. This picture was taken while I was exploring Kotagede.
That one time I got featured on the first page of Indonesia’s leading newspaper – Tribune Jogja
How did this happen? Agus Wahyu, who accompanied us to Kotagede is a journalist with Tribun which I didn’t know. He saw how I went a little crazy with excitement while exploring the street and asked me a few questions. Next day, he quoted me in his article, most of which is in Bahsa Indonesia and I can’t understand!
It is a very beautiful hotel with a massive swimming pool inside the building. Everything is very green, peaceful and serene inside. I love their handmade soap, which is made with rice and coconut milk. It smelled so good that I almost ate it. A room for two is usually as low as USD 35, which is an excellent price for the luxury this hotel offers. The location is perfect because many restaurants are walking distance from here. Click here to book
Remember the language school in point 7? Well, they offer homestay in the village at affordable prices. At USD 6-10 per night, it is definitely an affordable option that is only 3 KMs away from Borobudur temple. Click here for info.
This is a five-star hotel, which once served as the royal palace for Yogyakarta. This hotel has an amazing spa, beautiful gardens and a mini museum in it. This is the same place where I saw archers practicing Jemparingan and a local Javanese dance performance. Click here to book.
Have you visited Yogyakarta and have a few tips to share? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to see your recommendations for things to do in Yogyakarta.
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Sonal Kwatra Paladini
This is one of my rare “travel diary” kind of posts which is a result of my introspection and where I express my deepest thoughts.
Can visiting a place for just a few days change me for life?
I thought to myself as I reflected back on the time I spent in Yogyakarta.
I arrived here as a backpacker with a typical “herd mentality”. Over the last few years, without realizing I was usually following the typical backpacker trail. Yes, from time to time, I did make an effort to interact with the locals and to learn about their culture. However, the majority of my time was spent with the other backpackers who I had met while traveling and spending many hours partying. But hey, I thought I was different.
Now here I am, thinking of my fondest memories of my travel in Indonesia, and what’s the first thing that comes to my mind? Spending many hours with the locals, learning more about their culture, learning their language and creating new things every day with my own hands in Yogyakarta after watching how the locals did it.
Now don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with being a backpacker. It is a lot of fun being one and I will be a backpacker for a long time. Not everyone has the same travel style and it is absolutely okay as long you’re happy without harming anyone or anything else in the process. This post is not about that – it is just an expression of my thoughts after hours of introspection.
I can’t forget the time I said “no” for a party in Indonesia because, by that time, I was absolutely in love with Indonesian culture and wanted to wake up early to see more. I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t got my taste of experiencing local culture in Yogyakarta. My mind has found a new snack and it is always hungry for more. I am hopelessly in love, and this time it is with Indonesian culture.
If you ask me to describe Yogyakarta in short, I would just utter three words – Art, culture, & heritage. Mind you, it is not one of those pretentious places where you spend a bomb to experience the local way of life by being a part of a carefully orchestrated charade. It is a place where things get real, whether it is making pottery with the villagers or carving faces on clay puppets.
Before visiting Yogyakarta, a lot of people mentioned that it is a very touristy destination in Indonesia. But upon visiting, I wondered where the tourists were. I didn’t see any while I was exploring some very interesting areas in Yogyakarta. I got my answer when I visited the famous Borobudur temple. Yes, many people visit Yogyakarta to see this largest Buddhist temple that has a fascinating history. But only a few stay on for a longer time to explore the villages and the old town areas.
What is it about Yogyakarta that had this effect on me? Perhaps the fact I was making things with my hands made a difference. Or maybe it was because I was away from my smartphone while making those things that I finally allowed my brain to think and introspect.
Today I promise myself to take out time away from my gadgets as often as I can. I will use this time to create something with my own hands. I will give more time to Art.
Art is magic and it makes us forget a lot of things while making us realize who we are.
Did Yogyakarta transform me into a cultural traveler?
I don’t know the answer to that yet, but I hope to find out soon. What do you think? Have you ever felt this way about a destination? How has travel changed you?
PS: watch out, an epic Yogyakarta post is coming up next where I will shed more light on the things I did.
PPS: to get a glimpse, you can stalk me a little on Instagram 😉
Hi, I'm Sonal - a travel blogger from India. I have the heart of a hippie and the soul of a gypsy!
I met Sandro (from Germany) in a music festival in Thailand and we eventually got married. Join our journey as we travel around the world in search of adventure with our beloved GoPro.
We are hippies at heart, in love with each other and the world! We love spreading happiness with our travel stories, photos and videos.