Central Java was and still is one of the main tourist destinations in Indonesia, next to Bali. Over 200,000 tourists visited Borobudur in 2013. Therefore, it is so sad, so regrettable that things have gone from bad to worse. Here is my report (April 2018):
The Dieng Plateau – Central Java
In the 1980s, the Dieng Plateau still was the magic place “up there in the clouds”, where the weather is changing by the hour; mystic colours, steam, rain, cabbage and potatoes. Here are some old pictures. To capture the true beauty of the area, it is best to be “there” at sunrise and no later than nine or ten in the morning. However, in the 1980s there was only one very mediocre place to stay overnight. Things have changed, but not all for the better.
Now, every attraction (the colour-lake, the temples, etc.) charges for the entry, foreigners pay at least double the price (reason unclear). In the temple compound, there are clown-like figures posing to be photographed, the temples themselves are only background for more pictures, selfies. There is nothing left of a sacral atmosphere of this religious site that used to be a place of worship for the Hindus – it is now like Disneyland. The famous colour lake (telaga warna) is not worth visiting. Just another lake, trash along the foot-paths, plastic rubbish everywhere. A disgrace. – Worst, the Sikidang geysir. By itself, it is an interesting site with a pool that is bubbling with hot water and steam. Around the lake, trail-motorbikes are rented out and wannebee-stuntmen (without helmet and protective gear) drive between the hikers and pedestrians. The noise can be heard a kilometer away. This situation is worse than the city traffic in Jakarta.
Next to this crazy circus, birds (kind of owls, protected species) are chained to a piece of wood to serve as background for selfies and memory pictures. They all have their feather clipped and cannot fly any more. Very sad. In other places protected flowers, (Edelweiss, Anaphalis javanica) is sold. They have been dipped into watercolour. The entire area, for which an entry ticket has to be bought, is full of trash and plastic.
The attractions of the Dieng plateau have become a monument to the ignorant people who have no respect for culture and nature. Very sad!
The Kresna Hotel, Wonosobo, Central Java
To access the Dieng Plateau and to enjoy the sunrise there, it is best to stay overnight in Wonosobo and then leave the hotel early in the morning, say at three or four. There are a number of losmen and smaller hotels. One of the more fancy places is the Kresna Hotel.
The Kresna was a boutique hotel, we can see the beauty of the past contrasting with the reality of the present. The rooms are nice, cool, even without air condition and have a pleasant wooden flooring. The architecture and design – from colonial times – is impressive. Some corridors feature a variety of paintings that someone may have been collecting. There is a bar (we were not offered any drinks) with a billiard table. The biggest contrast is the restaurant: Nice set tables (see images) but nearly no guests. The breakfast is tolerable, the egg-station is above the other offerings, such as cold nasi goreng or greasy mie (fried noodles). Unfortunately, there are only a precious few alternatives for food, dinner, in Wonosobo.
At the time we visited, there were only a few guests; this emptiness gives the Krisna hotel an eerie, spooky atmosphere at times. The windows, with their wooden exterior shutters, seem to add to this impression, giving the building an appearance of a prison. In summary, it is difficult for me to summarize the different experiences: Nice cool and quiet nights (the place is at 800 meters elevation), a friendly quiet pool side that invites to sit for hours and read a book, space and tranquility (but no WiFi). On the other side the substandard F&B section.
The hub of Javanese tourism is Yogyakarta, which can be reached by train or plane. There, the main points of tourist interest are the Borobudur temple, batik, a visit to the Dieng Plateau and the Keraton, the Sultan’s palace.
To start, the taxi from the train station to downtown is not a real taxi but only somebody’s private car. A counter inside the station (the only way to get a car) charges Rp. 80,000 for a ten minute ride to any destination downtown. Compared to Jakarta, this is a rip-off.
The touristic main drag in Yogya is the Jl. Malioboro, a street in a strategic central location. It could be comparable with the Orchard Road in Singapore or Unter den Linden in Berlin, but it is nothing like that. It is just a mess with inadequate sidewalks, traffic and and people bothering anybody who looks like a tourist. Towards the end of Malioboro Rd is an old Dutch fort (Vredeburg), nothing special to see but it serves as a quiet place to rest and escape the tourist-madness of the main road. Near Vredenburg is the traditional market (Pasar Beringhardjo), a lively, sizzling mess without air condition. The predominant merchandise is batik, the basic cheap versions. Yet, still worth a visit.
At the lower, the southern end of Jl. Malioboro is the alun-alun, a free square place that is so typical for many cities in Central and East Java (e.g. Wonosobo). Usually the west side of the square is occupied by a mosque. On the opposite side can be governmental building, a prison, or – now, in modern times – a bank. In the center of the alun-alun are one or two Banyan trees. This seems to be a tribute to Hindu mythology, where this tree is seen as the resting place of god Krishna.
In any case, the alun-alun is always the center of the city and a meeting place where the youngsters get together on Saturday night, or where – on occasions – rock concerts take place. From this point of view it is sad to see that this centerpiece of Yogyakarta, which is seen and visited by ten-thousands of tourists, is not much more than a grassy patch, comparable with the football pitch of a forth-class amateur club. So sad!
Temanggung and Magelang
And there are good things to report, too: The two captioned cities. Temanggung, once the heart of the tobacco growing area, has always had the reputation to be the cleanest and best organized city in Java, at least in Central Java. This may be true. Temanggung is green, the streets are lined with trees and sidewalks. In a way, it feels like a piece of Switzerland in the tropics. I recommend to drive though Temanggung on the way back from Wonosobo to Yogyakarta, also to view the beautiful scenery along this road.
Further down on the road back to Yogya is Magelang. The city has historically been a military post, dating back to the colonial era. Still today, Magelang is the location of several army academies. Recently, the infrastructure has improved, there are large hotels and – again – sidewalks along the main shopping streets. Less known is the fact that the Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple and the top tourist attraction of the region, is located in the Magelang regency and not in the greater Yogyakarta area (DIY).