Visiting the tourist sites in Java is great, but it is the shopping that gets this writer all a-twitter.
We went to Jogjakarta to see the Borobudur and Prambanan temple ruins. But then our hotel is situated in the middle of Malioboro Street, the main shopping area. So, can you blame our group of three ladies and one patient man going on a marathon shopping spree every night?
I have never seen so much batik in one place before. Both men and ladies’ ready-to-wear clothes were displayed at pavement stalls as well as in more up-market shops.
Batik scatter cushions and slippers lay beside batik bags of all sizes. T-shirts at only Rp12,500 (RM4.25) each had interesting batik motifs. Locals wearing batik added to the atmosphere.
On Sunday morning, we made a beeline for the Beringharjo traditional market, about 300m from Hotel Mutiara where we were staying. The ground floor was chock full of small stalls selling batik wear, fabric and intricately embroidered and beaded sarongs and blouses.
We were tempted to purchase even more stuff, while wondering how we were going to squeeze them into our already bulging suitcases.
From one street stall outside the market, we bought six batik shirts, to the great delight of the owner who spoke surprisingly good English. When we asked him about going to the Sriwedari Park in a horse carriage, he volunteered to find us one. At only Rp50,000 (RM17) for four people, the hour ride was a good bargain.
Andong city tour
I was sitting in front beside the driver of the andong and had the best view of the town as we rode in the carriage.
The clacketty-clack of the horse’s hooves transported me back in time when horse- drawn carriages were a common form of transport. In Jogja, the two-wheeled dokar and the four-wheeled andong were traditional horse carriages used about a century ago.
We didn’t get to see the park or alight at a pretty church as these places were not on the horse carriage route, but we did stop at the old quarters of Jogja, the Taman Krton and also the Bakpia Pathuk traditional biscuit factory.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed this most interesting city tour.
On another day, we visited a different kind of market. When our chauffeur, Supri, suggested visiting the Ngasem Bird Market in Jogja, I baulked at the idea. I am against wildlife trading in any form. But he said that it is a popular tourist attraction and so we went out of curiosity.
It turned out to be a fascinating visit yet we couldn’t help but feel sad for those caged birds. We consoled ourselves with the fact that these birds would be well-fed by people who bought them.
The crowded bird market had, on display, many species of birds, even owls and eagles. What I found interesting were the many types of bird food. A big basket of what looked like cooked rice covered in ants, turned out to be ant’s eggs collected to feed the birds.
Hollow bamboo stems lined with banana leaves hid fat, juicy slugs. In another cage, hundreds of crickets crawled €” tasty morsels for a few lucky birds.
As we went deeper into the market, we found other creatures and even reptiles on sale. There were huge chameleons and geckos, kittens and puppies, white mice on endless wheel runs, cute bunnies with perky ears, a talkative hill myna and a pair of colourful lorikeets, amidst hundreds of other birds. There were guinea pigs and monkeys and a whole section of aquarium fish.
Such wildlife markets exist all over Asia. Dealing in exotic pets is a thriving trade and there is nothing much we can do to stop the trapping of wild animals and the raiding of birds’ nests to feed the demand.
Let’s see whether educating the younger generation can break this vicious cycle of demand and supply.
We soon realised that shopping and haggling were hard work! We decided to look for a roadside stall to sate our hunger.
If you don’t fancy sitting cross-legged on mats and eating at low tables like the locals, then look for adult-sized furniture. After four days of hunting for traditional Javanese food, we had become quite familiar with the choices by now. And so we feasted on gudek, tongseng and sate kambing in one shop and bakso, gado-gado and es campur in another.
Gudek Jogja is a spicy-sweetish green jack fruit (nangka) stew usually eaten with rice and chicken, serunding, boiled egg, fried tofu, tempe cooked in thick coconut milk, a very hot sambal krecek and some greens. This dish is as common as nasi lemak in our country, and can be found just about anywhere.
A refreshing accompaniment is es buah or es campur which resembles the Malaysian ais kacang but with pieces of fruit like avocado, honeydew melon and young coconut flesh added.
Another local favourite is tongseng kambing, a mutton dish cooked in a spicy clear soup with cubes of goat meat and innards like liver, stomach and intestines. I noticed that in most shops, there were also tins or packets of crisps on every table . . . and so we had fried eel, fried chicken intestines, fried skin of chicken claws and many other types of crackers as appetiser or dessert!
Bakso is even more common than gudek. It is essentially a soupy noodle dish with beef balls and bean sprouts sold at Rp50,000 (RM1.70) a bowl. We were to find out later that with an additional Rp500 (17 sen), we could have got much more noodles than the tiny portion we were served.
We watched in amazement as a local girl ate at the next table. Before even tasting the dish, she poured almost half a bottle of chilli sauce over her noodles and sprinkled them liberally with thick soya sauce. So from her, we got an instant lesson on how to eat bakso.
Fruits and desserts
The most common fruit in Java must be salak (snake fruit), so-called because the skin of the fruit resembles the scales of a snake. I would recommend this fruit to anyone suffering from constipation too!
The white, crunchy, slightly sour fruit consists of two halves and is best eaten fresh. After a few days, the fruit will discolour and turn bad. Sold at Rp7000€“Rp10,000 (RM2.40-RM3.40) a kilo, the variety in Jogja is the sweetest I have eaten.
Coconut water with young coconut flesh is refreshing after a tiring day of walking and shopping. What is interesting is the presence of street troubadours, young men strumming guitars or ukuleles, serenading you while you eat. Most are satisfied with a token show of appreciation of Rp500-Rp1,000 (17sen or 34sen)
We also enjoyed tasting the great number of local cakes and delicacies like the traditional bakpia pathuk (green pea cookies). The crepes and spring rolls were delicious as were the puddings, cute sponge cakes and coconut candy. At every meal-time, we tasted something new so that eating out in Jogja became an adventure.
An unrushed holiday
A free and easy holiday in Java was great. We planned our own itinerary and stayed put in one hotel for five days. We could take our own sweet time to enjoy the splendid breakfast spread every morning and choose the many tourist attractions. An attentive and likeable chauffeur provided by the hotel also added to our pleasant holiday.
Borobudur (Buddhist temple ruins), the Ramayana Ballet (Javanese cultural musical at the Hindu Temple ruins) and Mt Mera (active volcano about 40km from Jogjakarta), were fantastic but for the ladies, it was the endless shopping opportunities and eating out that added spice to the vacation.
There are daily flights from Kuala Lumpurto Solo City and Jogjakarta in the southcoast of Central Java. Air Asia GoHoliday offers attractive “hotel and flight”packages, which can be booked on-line.Solo City is 1.5 hours drive from Jog jakartaand Jogjakarta is 45 minutes fromBorobudur and Prambanan.
CAR RENTAL Ranges from Rp300,000 toRp500,000 (RM102 to RM170), for a 10-hour day, inclusive of driver and petrol. Thecar can accommodate the driver and sevenpassengers.