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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

At Home in Yogyakarta

Gamelan music plays from the speakers, a conversation hums in the background. A motorcycle putters past along the lane in front. Cars from the nearby road motor by. Frogs are chattering, the engine of a motorbike starts. I look out from the terrace of d'Omah Hotel, into the darkness of the rice field, stretching beyond the narrow lane between us. It is evening in Tembi Village, as I reflect on our royal afternoon.

I am here with my mother, visiting from half a world away, to show her one of my favorite places in Yogyakarta (and probably the entire country), a city which coincidentally she recently learned about in an episode of the Amazing Race. The participants hadn't made it to this cozy village 20 minutes north of Yogyakarta, but we had a chance to retrace some of their steps nearby.
On the way to the Sultan's Palace, at a traffic light, Mom pointed out the masked man dancing for money, as the racers had done one afternoon.
We proceeded to the Sultan's Palace, passing Taman Sari, a park in which kids play, and which is home to two expansive banyan trees between which people stroll, eyes closed, and make a wish, our driver informed us.
Green predominates throughout the rambling grounds of the palace, or kraton. We saw traditional dancing, the performers' graceful, controlled movements, with a gamelan orchestra playing their bell-like, xylophonic music in the background.

Among the many open air structures that form the palace, our guide pointed out a capacious hall where VIPs including Hillary Clinton had been received by the sultan. Was this also where the Amazing Racers presented themselves to the Sultan?  My mom tells me the Sultan asked them whether they had donated all of the money on their person, including that which they made from street dancing, to the orphanage earlier, in order to receive their next clue. Our guide, remarkably, hadn't seen or wasn’t aware of the episode.
The palace was built in 1756 and has housed Yogyakarta's royal family since then. A younger daughter of the present monarch married here just weeks ago in a traditional ceremony. Her father decided to break the polygamist tradition of his ancestors and has remained married to the same woman, who bore all daughters. The tradition of a male heir inheriting the throne persists, however, and unlike the United Kingdom, there does not appear to be an effort to allow the first-born offspring, regardless of gender, to rule.

At the end of our tour, having viewed the vintage photos, heirloom crystal, china, silverware, and palanquins, we shopped at the comprehensive gift store managed by the Sarinah group, and proceeded to lunch at the adjacent restaurant, which offers guests the opportunity to try the beverages and dishes favored by the royal family.
Sated, we returned to d'Omah, which in Javanese appropriately enough means "at home," to cool off and relax in slightly more humble surroundings.
phone: +62 274 368050
address: Jalan Parangtritis KM. 8.5 Tembi,
Timbulharjo, Sewon, Bantul Yogyakarta

How to get there

I’ve taken both Air Asia ( and Garuda ( to Yogyakarta.  Lion Air, Batavia Air, and Merpati Airlines are among the other carriers offering service to Yogya.
Train information is available at:

Visiting the Kraton, or Sultan’s Palace

Admission: Rp 12,000 (about $1.50)
Gentlemen should remove their hats while in the palace area
Dress conservatively; no shorts
Further information is available at:


  1. Hi there, I like the way you describe your observations and impressions of present day Indonesia. And the way you did vent your irritation—although diplomatically—in the Jakarta Expat (yes waiters and cooks can be irritating) does clearly show the downside of living in a different cultural setting.
    As you might be interested in reading about lesser known facts re some Indonesian features, historical settings and backgrounds, eg, the early days of Bali tourism, the hidden foot of Borobudur, or ikat of NTT, I gladly direct you to my blog at
    Regards, Hans

  2. Thanks, Hans. I look forward to reading your blog.