Earlier this year, I travelled to Indonesia to attend a yoga teacher training. It was my first time to study and practice yoga outside of the Philippines, and I was looking forward to the experience. But more than that, it was also my first time in Indonesia—a country so close to home, not only in proximity, but also in history, language, and culture. Having been to other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore—I feel as no other country mirrors our experience of colonization, liberation and healing, and creating beauty in the seemingly chaotic present.
As I was preparing for my trip, I was quickly drawn to Yogyakarta—a small province of Java, known for its vibrant art and literary and community, and the majestic Borobudur.
I took a domestic flight from Soekarno Hatta International Airport, and it was only a very brief, one-hour trip. For my first day at the province, I had hired a very accommodating airport driver who had offered to drive me around the sites for a very modest price. For my second day, I had pre-booked my temple tour with Klook—and was very happy about the experience.
Taman Sari Water Castle
My first stop was the Taman Sari Water Castle. In the mid-18th century, this served as the royal grounds of the Sultanate of Yogyakarta. My guide, a local grandfather who had been giving tours of the water castle for over thirteen years, explained that the castle grounds were once large and sprawling, filled with gardens, meditation areas, and secret hideouts only known to the sultan. Regrettably, these were mostly destroyed during the Dutch occupation, and after the royal family were eventually driven out.
Nonetheless, the grounds remained serene, and held in the stillness of the bathwaters was that same, mystical aura it must have had for centuries. I also had the privilege of visiting the underground mosque, which was truly a dense maze. I was amazed at how such an intricate structure could have been built during the early days. My guide explained that the river waters would fill the mosque, especially during the monsoon season. It was believed that water would aid in purification, healing, and in the transport of prayers from earth to heaven. At times, the sultan and his family would have to be taken around the mosque in a small boat.
My guide was curious to know that I was Filipino, and mentioned that he thought I was Indonesian until he realized I sounded different. I told him that the Philippine was also colonized, except by the Spanish. We exchanged similar words, such as anak, kambing, and sa/selamat—which means “thank you,” in our language, and “good” or “safe” in theirs. Different, but the same.
After touring the water castle, I visited Kotagede—a nearby neighborhood known for its craftsmen and artisans. I had signed up for a silver-making workshop with Backstreet Academy, a travel platform that organizes workshops and activities with local communities. Kotagede, after all, is known for its homegrown silversmiths, and for its silver trade. I had never attempted to make my own jewelry before, and learned that making the simplest silver ring was already so complex in technique.
Clad in a simple vest and bandana, sixty-one year old silversmith Pak Sumedi greeted me cheerfully and welcomed me to his home workshop. I was a bit embarrassed throughout the class, watching him smoothly demonstrate the silver-making process, and then clumsily trying to imitate the hammering, shaping, polishing, and carving. I felt a deep respect for Sumedi, who had dedicated his whole life to silver. As a teacher myself, I have only been teaching yoga for two years—a feat so shrunken and miniscule compared to his lifetime of practice!
Hands down, this was definitely my favorite part of my trip. I had booked my tour with Klook, and was really happy with how they coordinated with me. Prior to the tour, their team messaged me via WhatsApp and let me know that I could contact them for any questions or concerns, and that they would be sending my driver to my Airbnb. I found them very friendly and responsive, and my driver was also very helpful and accommodating.
The Borobudur is one of the largest Buddhist monuments in the entire world; it is thought to be a stupa (a shrine) instead of a temple, because of its pyramid-mandala shape. Built in the 9th century, the temple consists of 72 Buddha statues, nine platforms, and is topped by a central dome. Each platform is intricately carved with different scenes and stories recounting life in Ancient Java—from lavish palace life to exile and meditation in the forest. As I climbed up the stupa, I learned that the platforms ascend according to the levels of human experience in the context of Buddhist cosmology (from desire and bodily pleasure, all the way up to formlessness).
The park grounds were very clean and well-maintained, and my guide happily showed me around the many trees that grew in the grounds: cinnamon, eucalyptus, teak, and of course, there was the Bodhi tree. I absolutely loved every moment spent in the Borobudur, and suddenly felt very connected and free, remembering that every moment I’ve ever lived has led to where you find yourself today.
Malioboro is also known as the 24 Hour Street, and is the most vibrant part of Yogyakarta at night. Walking through the street was quite daunting, as it’s teeming with vendors, store halls and booths, horse-drawn carts (known as andong), and becaks (pedicab). Anyone who visits Yogyakarta knows that Jalan Malioboro is the heart of the city, where you can buy crafts, batik, sarongs, and rattan.
It was already dark and the street was quite hectic; I didn’t get to take a proper picture because everything was so chaotic. The street is named after an English duke, “Marlborough,” who lived there from 1811-1816. However, in Sanskrit, “Malioboro” means bouquet or wreath. It is interesting how a name could be understood in both ways, completely foreign to one another—but after all, is this not what travel is: learning something new, and making the experience your own?