Jalan Malioboro (Yogyakarta)

Upon settling into our hotel, the Phoenix Yogyakarta (see "digs"), we decided to take in our first shopping trip of the vacation by nightfall.  Jalan Malioboro, the city’s main artery is a cluttered avenue so synonymous with shopping that it has its own souvenir T-shirts!  And while, handbags, tees, and pajama pants abound on each side of the street, it’s the batik products on offer that attract the most attention.

Batik designs are easily part of Indonesia’s identity, though some of the best examples of the art form can be found in Yogya.  On that first night out on Malioboro we were shocked to see that the place was still-a-hoppin’ well after the sun had gone down.  Here, the shopkeepers of at least a hundred or so storefronts, boutiques and stalls cater to locals and tourists alike.  Again, batik-printed fabric is king (or “sultan” as the case may be), and you will find the intricate patterns on all sorts of items from shirts and dresses to bags, backpacks, scarves, and sarongs.  Why the Javanese have not caught on to batik-style wrapping paper, stationary or other paper goods is beyond me.  We suppose it must have something to do with the fact that “true batik” involves the creation of heavy iron pattern blocks that are then dipped into hot wax to create the repeated prints on fabric.

Gilded paisleys and checkered curly-cues are everywhere.  In fact, it’s somewhat overwhelming to see so much of the busy patterns in one place.  That being said, we very quickly realized that now all batik is created equally.  Just like many other forms of art, there is good batik and bad.  Regretfully in the tourist shops, most product is of the latter variety.  The trick is to find a print that is appealing and then make sure that the fabric retains good quality as well.  (We brought one shirt home with us that ripped after the first wearing!  Bummer.)

As for pricing, you can find very inexpensive prints and higher priced versions in most shops.  In retrospect, we wished we had spent more time buying the batik in Yogya instead of just comparing it.  While you can find prints all throughout the country, we surmise the best bang for your buck was along Jalan Malioboro... that is if you are willing to do a little hunting and pecking.  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

For a completely different shopping experience, check out the Pasar Ngasem, a “bird market” located just beyond the Taman Sari (see “sights”).  As we would later experience on a tour of Kalibaru’s farming villages, keeping perkutut doves in cages outside the home is a favorite past-time of many Indonesians.  In fact, heads of the family have been doing it “for luck” over the last few centuries.  Our East Java Herman even revealed to us that, at times, Javanese men spend more time with their birds than they do their wives!

It’s no surprise then that there are markets throughout Indonesia that specialize in the selling of birds.  While we were determined to see Yogya’s “bird market” in all of its glory (perhaps only to see the trays of live maggots and worms used to feed them), we missed a turn around the water castle and ended up walking in circles for almost an hour in the hot sun!  We hear it is an incredible experience nonetheless and it is our one regret in Yogya that we missed it.  There’s always next time!

Pasar Ngasem is open daily from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM.  Admission is FREE. 

Jalan Malioboro - main road that bisects Yogya from the Tugu Monument down to the Kraton (We dare you to just try and miss this street while walking through town)

Pasar Ngasem Bird Market - Jalan Polowijan (Jalan Ngasem), Yogyakarta

shopping in the noisy food markets (Pasuruan)

On our second day of the tour through East Java, our guide Herman had us stop off at a market in Pasuruan (or at least I think that is where we were?)  He had told us that this was the “real” Java, a scene that, when compared to other tourist experiences, was infinitely more intrinsic to what Indonesia is all about.  (Herman mentioned that the issuance of sarongs at Borobudur was really just a means to make the experience seem more “cultural” for the hordes of tourists who visit each day.)

The noisy city block-wide market we visited was crammed with tin-roofed stalls that hugged simple dirt pathways.  The grid pattern inside was so complex, it could almost have been the beginnings of an entirely new village on its own!  We walked through the maze cautiously, all the while capturing the stares of just about every vendor within spitting distance.  (Set of Drifters tip:  We would not recommend spitting here of course!)  What we found so interesting was the fact that as we passed each of the vendors, they all tried just as desperately to get us to stop and try their wares even though we had just passed on the same jack fruit or eggplant proffered by the last thirteen stalls!

Nevertheless, the fruits and veggies here looked mean, green and fresh!  Best of all, they were cheap.  (For more on Indonesia's best fruit picks, see "eats" in "Sulawesi.")  And while foodstuffs are certainly the main attraction here, visitors to any of the region’s many markets should also expect to find ample supplies of jewelry, candy and tobacco.  Many stalls sold apparel as well, from simple Western style T-shirts to stacks (and stacks) of colorful sarongs.  Note that there are many varying degrees in the quality of a sarong, and if Bali is anywhere on your itinerary, save your sarong shopping for that destination.  Like we mention above, Java is more “batik country.”

Partnered with the rather comical salespeople who will haggle down to almost nothing in order to get your attention, the markets of East Java are as entertaining as they are practical, and if you are hungry for a small snack, a visit is a fun way to kill two birds with one stone.  (In fact, if you are lucky, you may just see a bird being killed with a stone out back!)

Pasuruan market - along the main street about 34 km. from Mt. Bromo (that is, 34 km. of some rather winding, but well-paved roads), East Java

Asmara Massage (Ijen Resort)

While massage services are not quite as prevalent (read: in your face) in Indonesia as they are in other parts of Southeast Asia like Thailand, there are still plenty of great options if you put forth a little effort.  Of course, if you are staying in a hotel or resort that is charging upwards of $125 USD a night, chances are it will have its own on-site spa as well.  Such was the case at the lovely Ijen Resort in East Java (see “digs”).

Upon checking in we received a brochure for the Asmara cottage that detailed six of its most popular massage options.  Each set at relatively excellent prices, we made a point to book dual foot massages for later in the evening.  After our stroll through a nearby village, we returned to Ijen Resort with a stop off at the bar before we headed to Asmara.  Since we had booked the same massages for the same time, a receptionist greeted us and brought us to a private room with two massage beds.  We were then treated to individual warm herbal foot baths made delicately fragrant by the addition of plumeria and other floral buds.

The 45 minutes of massage and foot reflexology that followed was certainly one of the best we’ve had.  What made the experience entirely special was the fact that the cottage featured open-air windows at top which let in the natural sounds of the surrounding rice paddy landscape.  Frogs, crickets, cicada and the like sung us into a state of submission as our therapists went to work on their complete “foot makeover” using jasmine oils and natural scrubs.

The whole thing cost only $15 USD each - including tip!  If we had more time at Ijen Resort I am sure we would have headed back to try out some of their longer massages and /or their specialty, “the Mandi Lulur Keraton,” a sea mineral bath and body scrub experience that is part of the traditional Royal Javanese prenuptial ceremony.

Asmara Massage (at Ijen Resort) - Randuagung, Desa Licin, Banyuwangi (about 25 minute drive from town), East Java, 011 (62) 333-7733338