Yogyakarta is home to the highest concentration of universities and higher education colleges in Indonesia and is renowned across the country as a scholastic hub. While most travellers aren't keen to hit up a Biology 101 class on their holiday, the huge concentration of students has created a hip scene that is worth checking out, especially for those travellers who may still be students themselves — at least at heart.
Yogyakarta is home to 19 universities, as well as many arts institutes and specialist colleges. Universitas Gajah Mada (UGM) is the biggest and also one of the largest university campuses in Asia, occupying a huge site in the city's north. Pretty much right next door is the Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta (UNY), and not much further away are the Universitas Islam Indonesia and Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta. In the city's south, one of the nation's largest arts schools, Institut Seni Indonesia Yogyakarta (Indonesian Institute of Arts), has historically turned out graduates who have become leaders in Indonesian visual and performing arts.
With all this youthful, creative energy bouncing around the city, not to mention all these students needing some sort of stress relief when those essays are due, a number of vibrant dining and entertainment enclaves are situated close to the major campuses, and perhaps best of all for the budget traveller, it's all student priced.
In the north, Jl Kaliurang and Jl Gejayan are some of the best areas for finding distros, which are student-run independent fashion boutiques selling clothes and accessories produced by young designers. The northern end of Jl Kaliurang, near the intersection with the Yogyakarta Ring Road, hosts several indie clothing boutiques along the main road as well as along the small streets running off it. There's also a bunch of cheap eateries.
Further south on Jl Kaliurang, near the Galeria Mall and the intersection with Jl Solo, are more busy eateries and an abundance of cheap perfume stalls. The Galeria Mall itself boasts some independent clothing and design stores on the 2nd and 3rd floors.
On Jl Gejayan the stores are more spread out, however there is a concentration of distros and eateries around the popular Dixie Easy Dining Restaurant (Jl Gejayan No. 40), which serves up pasta and Western dishes, as well as some behind the Yogyakarta Plaza Hotel and another bunch in the small street opposite the futsal courts, behind Snap Cafe (Jl Gejayan No.55).
While cheap eateries may all appear the same on the surface, some in Yogya are better than others when it comes to being campus trendy. Some of the most popular Yogya student eateries have now morphed into large franchises.
For example, you might never have heard of Waroeng Steak and Shake, but take a ride around the city's north and the number of outlets seems to exceed the number of McDonald's or KFCs in the entire city. Every single one of them is crammed full of diners and jammed with motorcycles out the front. Students just refer to them as "WS". The attraction is the plates of Western style food, namely beef and chicken steak, for around 10,000 rupiah, with milkshakes for 5,000 rupiah. They are almost without fail surrounded by a few independent clothing stores. Similar chains include Obonk Steak and Ribs.
The cheap Western food trend continues with two other local chains called Mister Burger and Big Burger. These roadside stands are literally everywhere in Yogya's north, with some major roads hosting 7 or 8 outlets. Mister Burger's English slogan of "safety your hunger" is somewhat quizzical, however for around 7,500 rupiah a burger, many students affordably safety their hunger at these stalls every day while parked on their motorbikes, the favourite mode of student transportation.
Another chain popular with students is Waroeng Spesial Sambal, known simply as "SS", which serves up affordable Indonesian chicken, fish and vegetable dishes with a huge range of different sambals, or chilli sauces. If you don't like chili, the food itself is not hot, it's only the sauce that kicks it. The chain's slogan, which roughly translates to "a tide of spicy", is very accurate.
The advantages of dining at these student warungs is not only the cheap prices. Many of the students are studying English and will take the opportunity to practise — and despite their protests otherwise, they are usually pretty good at it. This is a great opportunity to socialise with the locals and learn about Javanese and Yogyakarta youth culture, as well as occasionally help students with their class assignments.
You may have noticed there has so far been no mention of beer, that staple beverage of most university students in Western countries. Most students in Yogyakarta are Muslim, so only a small group drink alcohol. But that doesn't mean there is a shortage of ways to have fun.
Yogya hosts a strong live music scene and many groups play at cafes and food courts rather than bars. FoodFezt Yogya (Jl Kaliurang Km 5,5, http://www.jogjafoodfest.com) is just one of several outdoor food courts with a centre stage for bands. Bunker Bar and Cafe (Jl. Magelang No. 71) serves up local live music with beer and spirits, if that's more your scene.
Pool halls, video karaoke chains like Happy Puppy, ten pin bowling, futsal and going to the cinema are just some of the other ways students while away the time after class. And if you want to relive your campus days, you are welcome to take a walk around most of the schools. UGM's lush green campus is the most impressive and on Sunday mornings the main boulevard is open to the public for exercising.
By Ashlee Betteridge
Last updated on 6th May, 2015.