Sangiran

Sangiran

Sangiran

Sangiran is a very important archaeological excavation site (so important it gained World Heritage status in 1996), where some of the best examples of fossilised skulls of prehistoric ‘Java Man’ (Pithecanthropus erectus) were unearthed by a Dutch professor in 1936.

The town’s main (if not only) attraction is its small museum, with a few skulls (one of Homo erectus), various pig and hippopotamus teeth, and fossil exhibits, including huge mammoth bones and tusks. Guides will also offer to take you to the area where shells and other fossils have been found in the crumbling slopes of the hill.

Take a Purwodadi-bound bus from Solo’s bus terminal and ask to be dropped off at the Sangiran turn-off (4000Rp), 15km from Solo. It’s then 4km to the museum (around 10,000Rp by ojek).

Imogiri

Imogiri

Imogiri

A royal graveyard perched on a hilltop 20km south of Yogyakarta, Imogiri was first built by Sultan Agung in 1645 to serve as his own mausoleum. Since then it has become something of an A-list cemetery for royalty. There are three major courtyards – the central one contains the tombs of Sultan Agung and succeeding Mataram kings; the other two are dedicated to the sultans of Solo and Yogyakarta.

Pilgrims from across central Java flock to the tomb of Sultan Agung. You’re welcome to join them but you must don full Javanese court dress, which can be hired for a small fee.

It’s an impressive site, reached by a daunting flight of 345 steps. From the top of the stairway, a walkway circles the whole complex and leads to the summit, with a superb view over Yogyakarta to Gunung Merapi.

To get to Imogiri (7000Rp, 40 minutes), take an angkot to Panggang and ask the conductor to let you off at the makam (graves).

Angkots and buses from Yogyakarta (4000Rp) stop at the car park, from where it is about 500m to the base of the hill and the start of the steps. Note that the only compulsory entry charge is payable when you sign the visitors’ book, inside the main compound.

Ambarawa

Ambarawa

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Ambarawa, 28km south of Semarang, was once the site of a Japanese internment camp where up to 15,000 Europeans were held during WWII. Today it’s a market town that’s of interest to trainspotters as the site of the Ambarawa Train Station Museum, located in the premises of the old Koening Willem I station, which opened in 1873. Today’s museum has exhibits of rail memorabilia, old Morse code telegraph equipment and 21 steam locomotives built between 1891 and 1928.

Though the line has closed, groups of (up to 100) passengers can charter a train for the 18km round trip from Ambarawa to Bedono for 2,700,000Rp. Book through the Ambarawa train station as far in advance as you can. Between June and August, Dutch tourists charter a train several days a week, so it may be worth showing up and seeing if you can hitch a ride.

The museum is a couple of kilometres outside town, just off the road to Magelang. Ambarawa has hotels, but nearby Bandungan is a nicer place to stay.

Nestled in a 22-hectare coffee plantation at an altitude of 900m, the Mesa Stila Resort, formerly the Losari Coffee Plantation, is one of Indonesia’s most special (and expensive) hotels. The location, ringed by volcanoes, is sublime and commodious villas make the most of the stunning views. All sorts of themed spa packages are offered: from ‘de-stress and indulgence’ to ‘escapism’ that make the most of the outstanding spa and fitness facilities. There’s an organic garden that provides for the resort’s two restaurants, or you can sample the plantation’s organic tea and coffee in the historic Club House. It’s near Pingit village, some 12km southwest of Ambarawa. From Ambarawa, it’s best to take a taxi (40,000Rp) to the resort.

Ambarawa can be reached by public bus from Semarang (9000Rp, one hour), and Yogyakarta (32,000Rp, three hours) via Magelang.

Gunung Lawu

Gunung Lawu

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Towering Gunung Lawu (3265m), lying on the border of Central and East Java, is one of the holiest mountains in Java. Mysterious Hindu temples dot its slopes and each year thousands of pilgrims seeking spiritual enlightenment climb its peak.

Although popular history has it that when Majapahit fell to Islam, the Hindu elite all fled east to Bali, Javanese lore relates that Brawijaya V, the last king of Majapahit, went west. Brawijaya’s son, Raden Patah, was the leader of Demak and led the conquering forces of Islam against Majapahit, but rather than fight his own son, Brawijaya retreated to Gunung Lawu to seek spiritual enlightenment. There he achieved nirvana as Sunan Lawu, and today pilgrims come to the mountain to seek his spiritual guidance or to achieve magic powers.

The unique temples on the mountain – some of the last Hindu temples built in Java before the region converted to Islam – show the influence of the later wayang style of East Java, though they incorporate elements of fertility worship. The most famous temple is Candi Sukuh; Candi Cetho is another large complex that still attracts Hindu worshippers.

Karimunjawa

Karimunjawa

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The dazzling offshore archipelago of Karimunjawa, a marine national park, consists of 27 coral-fringed islands that lie about 90km north of Jepara. The white-sand beaches are sublime, swimming is wonderful and the pace of life as relaxed as a destination defined by coconut palms and turquoise seas should be.

Holidaying Indonesians account for most of the visitors here, though Western travellers are starting to be seduced by the islands too.

The main island, Pulau Karimunjawa, is home to most of the archipelago’s facilities, and the majority of the islanders, most of whom are Javanese, though there are also some Bugis and Madurese. Fishing, tourism and seaweed cultivation are the main livelihoods. This is also the site of the islands’ only real town, Karimunjawa, and, despite widespread mangroves, a couple of good beaches. An airstrip is located on adjacent Pulau Kemujan.

The archipelago is divided into zones to protect the rich ecosystem. Zone One is completely out of bounds to all except national park rangers, with other areas set aside for sustainable tourism.

Access has improved recently, though during the rainy season boats don’t always run.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/karimunjawa

Prambanan

Prambanan

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The spectacular temples of Prambanan, 17km northeast of Yogyakarta, are the best remaining examples of Java’s extended period of Hindu culture. Indeed, the wealth of sculptural detail on the great Shiva temple here is the nation’s most outstanding example of Hindu art.

All the temples in the Prambanan area were built between the 8th and 10th centuries AD, when Java was ruled by the Buddhist Sailendras in the south and the Hindu Sanjayas of Old Mataram in the north. Possibly by the second half of the 9th century, these two dynasties were united by the marriage of Rakai Pikatan of Hindu Mataram and the Buddhist Sailendra princess Pramodhavardhani. This may explain why a number of temples, including those of the Prambanan temple complex and the smaller Plaosan group, reveal Shivaite and Buddhist elements in architecture and sculpture.

Following this creative burst over a period of two centuries, the Prambanan Plain was abandoned when the Hindu-Javanese kings moved to East Java. In the middle of the 16th century there is said to have been a great earthquake that toppled many of the temples. Their destruction was accelerated by treasure hunters and locals searching for building materials. Most temples have now been restored to some extent, and, like Borobudur, Prambanan made the Unesco World Heritage list in 1991.

Prambanan suffered extensive damage in the 2006 earthquake. Though the temples survived, hundreds of stone blocks collapsed to the ground or were cracked (479 in the Shiva temple alone). Today the main structures have been restored, though there remains a lot of work to be done, so expect some areas to be fenced off.

Pekalongan

Pekalongan

Pekalongan

Less than 100km west of Semarang, the sleepy, steamy coastal city of Pekalongan is known as Kota Batik (Batik City) throughout Indonesia. The one outstanding sight is the Batik Museum. It houses one of the world’s most important collections, including many antique pieces, in a stately art-deco structure, the former old city hall. Here you can check out Pekalongan’s unique batik style, which is less formal, more colourful and more innovative in design than those in Central Java, with apparent influences from China, Arabia and Europe.

The lanes along Jl Blimbing in the north of the city form the city’s venerable Chinese quarter, with pagodas and old terraced houses. To the east, Jl Patiunus and the streets leading off it make up the Arab quarter, another good area for batik. Not far to the south is the town’s main batik market, Pasar Banjarsari.

You’ll find budget hotels opposite the train station on Jl Gajah Mada, including Hotel Damai. For more creature comforts head to Hotel Dafam Pekalongan.

Pekalongan is located on the main Jakarta–Surabaya highway and train route. The bus terminal, 4km southeast of town, has frequent buses to Semarang (normal/air-con 21,000/30,000Rp, three hours) and Cirebon (36,000/46,000Rp, four hours). Train tickets can be hard to find on the busy nothern coastal route, so book ahead.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/pekalongan

Jepara

Jepara

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Famed as the best woodcarving centre in Java, Jepara’s booming furniture business has brought it all the trappings of prosperity. As you enter town you’ll pass dozens of furniture showrooms offering contemporary, ‘distressed’ and ‘antique’ designs. Even the fields here are full of wood carvings and half-finished wardrobes rather than rice and vegetables.

The town’s broad avenues, relaxed atmosphere and nearby beaches make it a tranquil spot to take a break from the road. The area is home to quite a few expats and visited by buyers from all over the world so it’s more cosmopolitan than many Indonesian towns.

Jepara is also a jumping-off point for the Karimunjaya Islands.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/jepara

Wonosobo

Wonosobo

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Wonosobo is the main gateway to the Dieng Plateau. At 900m above sea level in the central mountain range, it has a comfortable climate and is a typical country town with a busy market.

If you value your comfort it’s easy to base yourself here in one of the town’s good-quality hotels and get up to Dieng, which is only just over an hour away and served by very regular buses.