If the Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) is Yogyakarta’s heart, Jalan Malioboro is its main artery, pumping 24/7. This heaving boulevard, Yogyakarta’s main thoroughfare, runs on a north-south axis that follows an important mystical line in Javanese cosmology, linking Mount Merapi, the Kraton and the southern ocean.
Originally conceived by Sultan Hamengkubuwono I (who reigned 1755-1792 and is considered Yogyakarta’s founding father), it was a ceremonial route for royal processions running from the palace towards the sacred mountain. Ironically today, this busy one-way street runs in the opposite direction, although we have heard rumours that plans are afoot to remove motorised vehicles altogether and turn it into a pedestrian thoroughfare.
What is essentially one street running just over two kilometres from the Tugu monument in the north, to the Kraton in the south, actually has a few different names, however these are modern designations as is “Malioboro”. We’ve found numerous versions of the etymology of the name Malioboro. The most romantic (yet unlikely) is that it comes the Sanskrit “malya bhara” meaning bearing garlands, fitting with the notion of a flower strewn royal cortège. We giggled at the joke that it’s a contraction of modern Indonesian slang “mari yok borong” which translates to something like “come on, let’s shop”.
Starting at the northern end of the city centre, a leisurely wander to discover the delights of the Jalan Malioboro is a way to spend a pleasant couple of hours. The Tugu monument (at the intersection of Jalan Mangkubumi, Jalan General Sudirman, Jalan PM Sangaji and Jalan Diponegoro), was erected to mark the founding of Yogyakarta in 1755. The current obelisk is not the original, but a replacement re-erected by the Dutch in 1889 after it was damaged in the 1867 earthquake. The locally iconic but not hugely impressive monument is a popular selfie stop for local tourists. Moving south, the Yogyakarta railway station (formally Tugu Station), built by the Dutch, has been welcoming visitors to Yogya since the mid-1880s.
Crossing the railway line, you are now in Jalan Malioboro proper. The right-hand lane is reserved for becaks (pedicabs) and andong (horse-drawn carts), and parking is prohibited along the street (a multi-storey carpark is near the railway station). The street is lined with shops and hotels, but stuffed between the road and the footpaths a continuous row of stalls, hawkers, buskers and scammers. Want your name in metal while you wait? Want T-shirts? Want a blangkon (Javanese traditional hat)? Want to request your favourite song played on a double bass? Want to see the government art exhibition closing today? (No, you don’t want this one—it’s a scam!) Fight your way through the crowds, haggle and have fun.
If it gets too much, you can pop into Mal Malioboro (10:00-21:00), where you’ll find clean(ish) toilets and the familiar international brands of any modern mall. Two good bookshops—Periplus with books and maps in English, and Gramedia, Indonesia’s largest chain (with a good range of stationery)—along with a well-stocked Hero supermarket are on the lower ground floor. You can also buy new spectacles, get a haircut or sip a coffee.
Back on the street, come late afternoon the footpaths turn into a mile-long restaurant, as venders roll out the mats and set up lesehan stalls. Lesehan refers to a “restaurant” where you sit on mats on the floor, and Yogya has the most famous in Indonesia.
On offer is gudeg (Yogya’s famous jackfruit dish), and fried or barbecued chicken, duck and pigeon—nearly everyone has an identical menu. Take off your shoes and sit at one of the low tables (if they have one), order your food, and wait for the street musicians to arrive (have coins ready). A constant stream will go from table to table and stay until they collect a coin or two. If you don’t like the music, pay up quick and they’ll move on. Or perhaps you’d like your portrait painted while you eat, or a foot massage? Shoes shined? It’s lots of fun, so relax and enjoy the passing parade.
As you move south, at number 16, you’ll find the helpful Government Tourist Information Centre (open Mon-Fri 08:00-19:00, Sat 08:00-14:00). These folk are super friendly and offer excellent information and free maps too.
Soon you’ll arrive at Pasar Beringharjo, Yogyakarta’s central market. If you thought the street was bustling, this adds bells and whistles. The three-storey building takes up almost a whole block. The front section is mostly dedicated to batik, but most of it is cheap and mass-produced; if you know what you’re looking for, you may find something special. Head back and wander among the narrow aisles, where you’ll find stalls packed with sparkling princess tiaras. Continue past the gold stalls into the more traditional section where the huge array of spice stalls sell goods not just for cooking, but for curing all kinds of ailments and beauty treatments. We’re sure they sell the elixir of youth. It’s full of surprises.
Outside, try some of the sweets and desserts sold by the street sellers. Have a bowl of cooling durian ice, or sweet and gingery wedang ronde, or perhaps try a little in-the-mouth-exploding klepon, green coloured rice flour balls, covered in coconut with a palm sugar syrup centre.
Opposite the market, Hamza Batik (formally Mirota Batik), is a popular, slightly less overwhelming store selling batik and traditional crafts. It’s fixed price and reasonable. The top floor has a good cafe, great for a break. The local food is tasty and reasonably priced and possibly a little less intimidating than that on the street for the wary traveller. On Friday and Saturday nights you can see a drag show here starting at 19:00. Tickets are 30,000 rupiah or 40,000 rupiah for VIP. A meal and show package is 110,000 rupiah (you eat before the show). Best to book as it’s very popular. (T: (0274) 588 524; firstname.lastname@example.org; open daily 08:00-21:00.)
You will notice as you head towards the next major intersection the cluster of colonial heritage architecture. On your left the Benteng Vredeburg Museum was an old Dutch fort built in the late 1700s. Today's museum is filled with dioramas depicting scenes from Indonesia’s struggle for independence. It’s worth popping in for the interesting architecture, and although we personally love a diorama, the exhibitions would not be of great interest for most general tourists. Entry is 10,000 rupiah for foreigners; open Tuesday to Sunday 07:30-16:00.
Outside the fort, satay sellers start grilling late afternoon, and people dressed in often elaborate costumes gather to make a bit of money by selling selfie opportunities with local tourists. Opposite the fort, with its manicured lawns, is Gedung Agung, the State Guest House, formally the Presidential Palace (you can’t go inside unless you’re a famous dignitary).
Across the intersection, the Central Post Office (1910), Bank Indonesia and Bank Negara Indonesia (1923) occupy commanding positions. Continuing towards the Kraton on your right you will pass Sonobudoyo Museum, which houses an extensive collection of Javanese arts. Wayang kulit, shadow puppet performances, are held here nightly (20:00-22:00). Open Tues, Wed and weekends 08:00–15:30; Friday 08:00–14:00. Entry fee is 5,000 rupiah. You have now arrived at kilometre zero kilometre, the geographical centre of Yogyakarta.
By Sally Arnold
Last updated on 4th December, 2016.