Shopping Yogyakarta

Sorry it took me several days (weeks!) to finish blogging about our trip to Yogyakarta. Several distractions including Easter came up but that is for another post….soon, I promise.

So, by Sunday afternoon we had done just about all the sight-seeing that was on our list. Initially I had asked Scott if there was time for a tour of a batik factory but he was less than enthusiastic and so it was tabled for another trip. (In his mind this was a trip I would take with other women thus releasing him from ever having to go to a factory at all.)  Imagine my delight (and his surprise) when our guide told us we would be visiting a batik factory!!

Once again reality slammed up against expectations. Like Scott, I imagined a factory would be a large building or several buildings with machinery and mechanical conveyor belts and huge vats of dye and other such stuff needed to create the bolts of batik fabric that then are made into shirts, dresses, scarves, etc. Nope. Not so. Not even close. We stopped in front of some buildings that looked like houses and a store. We headed down a hallway (or alley?) between two buildings making a couple of turns and ended up in a room. One room…not much bigger than some of the gymnasiums I have seen at Texas high schools. That whole room was the factory.

Okay, let me back up a bit and tell you a little about batik. The process of making batik is wax-resistant dyeing of cloth. Wax is applied to the fabric first in the desired pattern and then the piece is dipped into dye. Wherever there is wax the dye will not penetrate the material. This process can be repeated several times for a particular piece depending on the desired number of colors and the overall pattern. There are many traditional patterns. Some patterns are used for weddings, some for funerals, and some are reserved exclusively for the Sultan and his family.


There are three main ways to apply the wax to the fabric. The most time consuming and most traditional way is by canting. Think of a cross  between a pipe and an old fashioned ink pen. The bowl of the canting pen is filled with wax and, following a pattern drawn onto the fabric, the wax is carefully drawn. (Talk about having a steady hand!) The second way is by using copper “stamps”. Dipped into wax and then stamped onto the fabric this is quicker and gives a more uniform look to the pattern. The stamps are applied by hand. The third way is to “paint” the wax on. This is used when large areas need to be covered.


Okay, back to the factory. This was the Sunday of a holiday weekend and close to lunch time so there were not the usual amount of workers. Several women sat on stools in front of fabric doing the hand canting, applying the hot wax to the fabric. Along one side there was a man using a copper stamp to apply the wax. Our guide took us around showing us different patterns and the process to making batik. There were several large dye vats in the middle of the room. There was another gentleman painting the fabric to achieve a more complex pattern. In one corner was a huge pot where the finished fabrics were being dipped in hot water to melt off the wax. The wax rises to the surface where it is skimmed off and put in a large pile of used wax. The man then scoops out the fabric and hangs it to dry. Further on were finished pieces hanging in another area to dry from the dye before being “de-waxed”. Fascinating the simplicity of this operation, just as it has been done in Java for many centuries. After visiting the factory we exited through a store where the finished material is available for sale. They also have shirts, dresses, scarves and wall hangings for purchase. After seeing the amount of work that goes into it, the price did not seem to be as expensive as we previously thought. Scott found a shirt and I bought a lovely scarf to remember our trip.

We ate lunch at a restaurant that was near a silversmith. We got to watch as they twisted the silver (made there) into filigree patterns as simple as earrings and as intricate as sailboats. This too requires a steady hand and much patience. Some of the best silver comes from Yogyakarta. There is a whole area just outside the city known for their silver. Time did not allow us to visit there but the city does offer many silver shops as well. The choice of silver items for sale is overwhelming. It seemed as if there was not much that they could not make!

Our next stop was the bird market. Once inside the city, the market was moved further out after an epidemic of bird flu. In Javanese culture owning a bird is very important for a man as entertainment after a long day of work. It is said that your bird understands your moods. There are many birds in the market as well as everything you would need, cages, food, etc. The name is  misleading as birds are not the only animals sold here. You can buy bats, snakes, monkeys, squirrels, fish, etc. Many of the animals sold can be used for medicinal purposes such controlling acne or reducing high blood pressure. I didn’t ask too many questions here and pretty much stayed creeped out most of the time.


After that adventure we made a quick stop to buy boxes of Bakpia. This is a filled pastry-like food for which Yogya is known. The store was packed and some of the varieties were quickly running out. Personally I liked the chocolate and the cheese. The original is a favorite of Indonesians….green bean. We brought back several boxes to give to our staff and the apartment staff as well as coworkers in the office. A big hit!

We ended our day at Malioboro. When you tell people you are going to Yogyakarta this is one of the places they ask you if you are planning on seeing. It is actually a long street that is filled with handicraft/souvenir stores. There are also many stalls in the streets with handicrafts and food. At sundown the food vendors begin to set up their stalls in earnest and this is the late-night spot to catch a bite to eat. There are many becak (three-wheeled, pedal-powered carts) that will happily take you about the city or from one end of Malioboro to the other. The street is crowded and there are many vendors. It was definitely something to see and a perfect stop if your souvenir list is long and your wallet thin. There are many good deals to be had if you are willing to spend the time and negotiate. We just enjoyed walking about and people watching. It was a long day and we were thankful to return to our hotel that night.

Pool at the hotel

Our flight the next day wasn’t until 2:00 and so we decided to end our busy weekend by treating our battered bodies to a massage. The hotel had a traditional Javanese spa that was very good. A great way to prepare for our return trip. As stated before the airport is very small, only four gates, so everyone just sits in a big room and waits until they are called to walk out to their planes. It can be a bit confusing as, unlike the Jakarta airport, it is all in bahasa Indonesia but we are pretty good at numbers and after hearing the announcements over and over you get the idea of when it is your turn to go.


We look forward to returning this summer to Yogya when the kids come to visit. I can’t wait to go back. Definitely a must-see if you are ever in Indonesia.

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