Yogyakarta, Indonesia has been high on my bucket list for ages so I was stoked to finally get to this cultural hub and explore it’s street art lined alleys, eat all the vegan food, and see ancient religious structures that are larger than life. As per usual, I tried to make sure my trip was as responsible as possible by collaborating with an eco-hotel, going on community-based tours with Backstreet Academy, and hiring local drivers for out-of-town adventures. There’s so much to see and do in Yogyakarta, lovingly called Jogja by locals. I’d recommend spending at least five days here and following this Yogyakarta, Indonesia responsible travel guide.
As always, make sure you have travel insurance—this is not a lesson you want to learn the hard way. For long-term travelers check out SafetyWing and for shorter trips check out the options at World Nomads. I flew into Yogyakarta as I was on another Indonesian island with no other way to reach Java (I could have taken like 10 ferries over a 2-week time period). I always check Skyscanner for the best flight deals. If you’re already in Java check out Baolau or 12Go.Asia for the fairest prices on buses and trains which can be booked with a foreign credit card.
YOGYAKARTA RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY
For responsible travelers, the best place to stay in Yogyakarta is the beautiful verdant Greenhost Boutique Hotel. This urban eco-conscious property is constructed from recycled and sustainable materials such as bedside table lamps made out of repurposed old buckets and elevators decorated with repurposed wood. There’s so much that makes Greenhost a sustainable oasis in Yogyakarta. For starters, the entire property is non-smoking which is a relief for someone like me with asthma.
Linens are only changed upon request and typically only after three nights. In the guest rooms, you’ll find complimentary slippers made of rice bags and handmade rice soap created by a local female cooperative—you’re welcome to take them home! I wore the slippers like shoes, I loved them so much.
They also support local community projects by commissioning goods for the souvenirs for the Genetika Concept Store. I bought a gorgeous scarf, natural eco-friendly deodorant in a glass jar, and some essential oils I’d been looking for. Many of the items in the shop are one-of-a-kind and make for great gifts.
The farm-to-table Art Kitchen Resto is excellent with many vegan options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast buffet is loaded with vegan-friendly options that are clearly marked. Many of the vegetables and herbs served are cultivated on Greenhost’s roof where the largest urban garden in Yogya can be found. Additional ingredients are locally-sourced and used to prepare traditional Indonesian meals with modern updates. You can even go to the rooftop to harvest your own organic vegetables and herbs such as celery, basil, mint, chili, tomatoes, and more. All extra produce is given to the community.
The vegan menu includes carrots coconut soup, corn fritters, tempe steaks, strawberry basil lemonade, avocado chocolate mousse, and more—each meal I ate here was absolutely fantastic! Around the restaurant, local art is displayed which spills over into the community Green Art Space where emerging artists may showcase their work without worrying about paying gallery fees.
After browsing the beautiful artwork take a dip in the gorgeous indoor pool surrounded by greenery. Then, head to the award-winning organic Tea Spa by SAARAH. Before your massage you’ll be greeted with fresh tea as you lounge and prepare to unwind for a healing spa treatment.
Location: Prawirotaman II #629 Brontokusuman
YOGYAKARTA RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHAT TO SEE AND DO
VISIT THE SACRED BOROBUDUR TEMPLE
Backstreet Academy has a tour to Borobudur Temple but I opted to hire a private motorbike driver from Via Via’s responsible tourism office because I wanted to add on the Chicken Church and hate being rushed during tours. I went at sunrise though and was super tired at my 3 AM pick up time and kept falling asleep on the back of the bike and was worried I was going to fall off! I wanted to have free time to meditate and simply just enjoy being at the world’s largest Buddhist temple. I’ve followed the teachings of Lord Buddha all of my life and going to Borobudur felt like a pilgrimage.
The UNESCO Heritage Site was every bit as magical as I hope it would be. The site was built during the 9th century back when there were Buddhists on Java which is now Islamic. Borobudur has 504 Buddha statues inside stupas and niches throughout the structure which was built without any cement or modern tools. Until 1815 the site was covered in volcanic ash, it was finally restored in the 1970s.
From the air, Borobudur looks like a flowering lotus—a sacred Buddhist symbol for rebirth and clarity. It also looks like a mandala as it’s somewhat square with four entry points and a circular center. This was intended to represent the layers of Buddhist theory with three zones representing consciousness and Nirvana (unconsciousness). Buddhist theory also divides the universe into three sections—from bottom to top: Kamadhatu (humans who can control desire), Rupadhatu (humans who can control desire but are bound by form), and Arupadatu (nirvana, represented with three terraces).
Borobudur is the most visited attraction in all of Indonesia but surprisingly it wasn’t too overcrowded for sunrise. It cost a bit extra to enter the temple early through a pass with Manohara Resort but it’s well worth coming early to take in the purity of it all. You do need to bring your passport, they’ll check it at the resort and you can pay the $30 entrance fee with an international credit card.
I wasn’t blessed with a colorful sunrise or a clear enough day to see the volcanos looming in the background but it was still spectacular without the additional beauty of Mother Nature. If you’re looking to get those Insta-worthy shots you should do some research about the weather patterns to determine what time of year is best for colorful sunrises or clear skies.
Even without the sun painting the dawn it was mystical to watch the haze slowly lift over the surrounding Kedu Valley in central Java as the light began to shine down upon us. If the architecture reminds you of a bit of India, it should! The Gupta style of architecture used at Borobudur Temple is influenced by India.
As you walk around the stupa, be sure to look inside some of the bell-like structures, some still have Buddha statues inside. A few have broken and the Buddha statues have been left exposed. They all are sitting in different mudras, or the position of hands. Many Indonesians call Borobudur one of the Seven Wonders of the World but it’s never officially been given the title—although I agree that it should have the honor!
I hope it goes without saying that you should not partake in the elephant riding here. Instead, visit sanctuaries such as Elephant Valley Project or National Parks such as Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. I didn’t make it to Yogyakarta’s other UNESCO Heritage Site, the Hindu Prambanan. However, it looks lovely and you can visit responsibly with Backstreet Academy.
Location: Jl. Badrawati, Kw. Candi Borobudur
GEREJA AYAM AKA THE CHICKEN CHURCH
I did, however, get to see Gereja Ayam as it’s quite close to Borobudur Temple during my trip with the private driver I booked at Via Via’s responsible tourism office. In fact, watching the sunrise from the bird’s crown would be pretty epic has it has clear views of the gigantic Buddhist temple and 5 surrounding mountains. The bird-shaped church is a bit of a mystery, the first being that it’s called chicken church when really the designer modeled it after a pigeon. While there are no active worship sessions in place now as the building is still under construction when it does finally open its doors all will be welcome as it’s meant to be a place of worship for all religions. The bird is perched high upon a hill—there’s a bit of a trek to reach from the parking area.
Location: Karangrejo Gombong, Kurahan
CHECK OUT STREET ART WITH A MURAL ARTIST
Unless you’re new here, you know I love street art. It’s one of my major travel motivators. Yogyakarta is home to the Indonesia Art Institute so you can find loads of fascinating murals all over town. For a super unique experience book the street art tour with Backstreet Academy. You won’t be going around the city center of Yogyakarta so go stalk out those murals on your own. Instead, you’ll be heading to the countryside to take a look at the Geneng Street Art Project.
The art project was started by internationally-celebrated Indonesian street artist, Anagard. The artist, who keeps their true identity hidden, started Geneng Street Art Project in 2013 because they wanted to give art as a present to their neighbors. Plus, they believe the best way to protect street art is to hide it away. Everyone in the neighborhood was on board and people started to offer up their walls for murals from 25 local and international artists. During the tour, Anagard will show you many of the pieces and explain how they came to be, and their meaning.
But, I was most interested in Anagard. After spending the day with them I was totally enamored—not just with their art but with everything they represent. I had seen some of Anagard’s work around the world in Europe and Asia and was thrilled to get the chance to meet the famed street artist myself. I never would have expected to meet such a humble human who is truly only in it for the art and the message.
Anagard’s art is politically powerful and graces walls everywhere from Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, Denmark to Thailand, and have had their work exhibited in Germany and Australia. They have a background in sculpture which they studied in Sumatra in 2005. Did you know there’s only one art degree for street art and that it’s only offered in Germany?
We met at their house and they gave us a tour through their stencils and explained their creative process to us. They hand draw every stencil and many of the characters are rooted in visual images of Hindu mythology and incorporate both human and animal body parts. They use a human model to get the proportions correct. Anagard finds inspiration from their surroundings and community so it’s no surprise that much of their work is rooted in policy.
Their bathroom has ‘You’re in anti-fascist area’ painted above the door, ‘no border nation’ painted on a wall, and a poster that said ‘stage of hopelessness’ crossed out to say ‘age of hope’. When I ask about the statements Anagard tells me that immigration is a natural behavior for human beings, no one is illegal, only countries make us illegal, no one chooses where they’re born, and there is no ideal world. My kind of person.
If you love Anagard’s work you can support them by purchasing their sketches but they don’t take commissions as they don’t want to work on order—art just isn’t good that way. Some of the motifs of theirs that they show me around the village include a toilet plunger as a gun since life is stuck and an impossibly long ladder to get to a dream house. Pigs represent corruption and farmers are heroes—we can’t eat without them. The piece above depicts the struggle between villagers and police.
SHOP AT VIA VIA FAIRTRADE SHOP
Via Via is an ethical enterprise with do-good businesses across the planet including in Tanzania, Chile, and Belgium. Their only outpost in Asia is in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and it serves as a fair trade shop, cafe, bakery, and responsible tourism agency. The quirky Via Vai Fairtrade Shop has many zero-waste items and locally handcrafted keepsakes such as tote bags and jewelry made by producers dedicated to environmental and social sustainability. I picked up some tiger balm and a shampoo bar here. Traditional Javanese items to take home would be traditional batik print goods and organic locally-grown coffee.
Location: Prawirotaman St No.30
YOGYAKARTA RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL GUIDE: WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT
Yogyakarta has it’s own unique cuisine as does the Indonesian island of Java. Don’t expect to find your favorite Balinese dishes here—the food customs are entirely different. I was in Yogyakarta, Indonesia during Ramadan and expected it to be frowned upon to eat in public during the day but most restaurants were open during sunlight hours. It was extra special though to be able to bear witness as folks broke fast at dusk and the call to prayer echoed over the city.
EVENING STREET FOOD TOUR WITH BACKSTREET ACADEMY
My favorite thing to do when arriving in a new city is to head out on a food tour or take a cooking class to get introduce to the local flavors and learn the local lingo for ordering my food vegan-friendly. Backstreet Academy is my favorite marketplace for ethical tourism experiences in Southeast Asia and their Evening Street Food Tour was one of my most beloved experiences to date mostly because my guide Rama was so amazing!
GUDEG YU DJUM
Our first stop was for gudeg—one of the dishes I couldn’t wait to taste! I met my guide at Gudeg Yu Djum in the Gudeg district. You’ll see in this area there are dozens of gudeg restaurants buy Gudeg Yu Djum No.167 is the original and is actually the one that creates the gudeg for all the other restaurants. Dutch colonizers said the dish was good which is how the meal got it’s name. The Sultan is also a big fan and how often do you have a chance to try a meal thats adored by royalty? Gudeg is made from young jackfruit, palm sugar, and coconut milk. It’s super sweet and usually served with meat but if you have it by itself with rice it’s totally vegan! They also have an outpost at the airport so be sure to pick it up as a snack before you leave Yogyakarta.
Location: Jl. Wijilan No.167
SPECIAL BAKMI AND NASI GORENG PAK PALE
After the sweet gudeg it was time for noodles! Rama took me to Special Bakmi and Nasi Goreng Pak Pale as it’s the most famous street food stall for noodle-based dishes and is right outside the Sultan’s Palace. We arrived around 5 PM, usually there would be a long line but as it was Ramadan we were immediately served. Plan your trip here at an odd hour because right after sunset the line was wrapped around the block. People really love this place.
Most of the noodle dishes are very meat-heavy so I had a pretty normal rice noodle and veggie dish here that wasn’t anything too special. If you’re vegan, I’d give this street stall a skip. Bakmi is the famous dish here which literally means meat noodles. It’s served fried or godog which is when it’s in a soup.
We tried a green drink here that was a bit outside of my tastebud’s preferences but it’s actually quite interesting as Rama told me it’s a way Muslim college students sneak in having a little alcohol at an acceptable level. It’s fermented glutinous rice which turns green naturally when mixed with lemonade and has a low level of alcohol.
Location: JL. Pojok Tenggara Alun-Alun Utara
DESSERT STALLS ON MARLIOBORO STREET
We made our way to the famous Malioboro Street to pick up some local sweets at the various food stalls that hawk dishes at the night market. I was thrilled to find some of my favorite Indonesian sweets here including kelopon, the pandan coconut sugar bites I learned how to make in the Gili Islands and onde onde which are fried sesame dough balls stuffed with mung bean paste.
Location: Jl. Malioboro
The dish we tried that surprised me the most is called Ronde. It looks like a normal soup but is sour, savory, sweet, spicy, and crunchy. There’s the ginger broth with a crunchy fried rice ball, roasted peanuts, palm fruit jelly balls, and bread crumbs. The first few bites were a bit unusual to my palette but I ended up loving it and finishing the whole bowl. The ginger makes it a great digestive.
Location: Jl. Malioboro
ANGKRINGAN KOPI JOS PAK AGUS
I obviously had to have my fair share of cups of Java while on the island but I wasn’t expecting to have charcoal coffee at midnight. No, this isn’t the charcoal latte of your favorite hipster cafe—this is straight-up pieces of charcoal in your glass of coffee. At the Angkringan Kopi Jos Pak Agus night food street stall, they serve Kopi Jos. The local specialty coffee has the owner dropping a chunk of fire-roasted Rambutan tree charcoal directly into your cup of java to lower the coffee’s caffeine level. The owners take all the charcoal home and use it for their kitchen fires. It’s a huge hit with local students. It didn’t alter the taste much so I actually quite enjoyed it and was surprised that I didn’t stay up all night. Usually, I can’t cope with caffeine after 2 PM.
Location: Sosromenduran, Gedong Tengen
TEMPEH MAKING WORKSHOP
While in Java, I got to learn the process for one of my favorite foods from Indonesia while in Yogyakarta at the Backstreet Academy Tempeh Making Workshop hosted by the organic local family operation, Rumah Tempe Indonesia Sleman. Tempeh is delicious and only contains soy and yeast—it’s always vegan and is a great source of protein. The ingredients may be simple but the method of making this protein-rich plant-based food is time-consuming when done by hand—but the high-quality taste is so worth the extra work.
Wihan showed me the age-old process he’s been using to make high-quality tempeh since 2015. I got to be a part every step of the way from cleaning the soybeans, adding in yeast, and measure the exact grams for each bag. The process Wihan uses to make tempeh is very low waste as he feeds the soybean skin and excess water to his cows.
Looking to the future he hopes to start growing his own soybeans to use for the tempeh and cultivate banana plants to wrap the tempeh in the leafs which infused the tempeh with an amazing scent instead of using plastic which is, unfortunately, more cost-efficient for now. As Wihan says, ‘Tempeh is happiness in the form of fermented soy cakes’, but it’s not a very popular or profitable business anymore.
EAT AT SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND TRAINING RESTAURANTS
VIA VIA JOGJA RESTAURANT
The ViaVia Jogja cafe is absolutely beautiful and is a delicious restaurant in Yogyakarta. It’s part of the Via Via social enterprise. They have plenty of vegan-friendly options on the menu and make excellent juices. There are daily specials and plenty of Javanese specialties.
Location: Jl. Prawirotaman No.3
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I was hosted at Greenhost Hotel and on the Backstreet Academy Tours. All opinions and photos are my own. This article contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.