If you come to Yogyakarta to spend your nights dancing in clubs or drinking in bars, you’ve come to the wrong place. You see, in order to count the number of nightclubs and bars there, you probably only need to hold up two hands (or even one!) Being the laid-back yet somewhat elegant city that it is, Yogyakarta has its own way to have fun at night. Based on my experience in Yogyakarta, I’ve compiled a little manual on how to spend a night out in this awesome city.
1. Have a Dance Party while Driving the Coolest Vehicle Ever at Alun-Alun Selatan
Aside from the famous Malioboro, Alun-Alun Selatan is probably the coolest, hippest hangout spot in Yogyakarta. You’ll find that anyone of all ages – from kids to elderly people – being able to have fun here.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get to square is the amount of flashy neon lights contraptions shaped like horses or VW Beetles that dot the road surrounding the square, blasting a variety of pop or EDM tunes. They would probably look something like this.
These are actually makeshift pedal cars – they have a steering wheel and an emergency brake like cars do, but instead of being powered by engines, they move if everyone in the vehicle pedals with the bike pedals provided under our seats. The coolest thing is that each of these vehicles come with their own portable DVD player with CDs playing music videos of various pop and EDM tracks inside them, so anyone who rides shotgun can be the DJ for the ride. You can rent a vehicle and drive them for a lap around the square for around IDR30.000 and considering the traffic around the square, one lap will take about 15-20 minutes.
Getting on one of these vehicles is a great way to get a feel of the square and snap photos of it without breaking too much sweat. Unfortunately, our vehicle didn’t have the best music choices so it didn’t feel like a party inside our own vehicle but that’s not a big problem because every vehicle around us had rap, dance, or EDM tracks blasting in full volume. In short, my family and I had a party in that vehicle.
Aside from getting on the vehicle, there are other things that you can do on the square. There are people selling LED light sticks attached to ropes that you can flip around and do cool stuff with. Couples can also chill on the dry grass and just enjoy the vibe. The best thing about this place is that there are no pushy vendors who nag you and force you to buy their stuff – you can enjoy the evening by yourself, undisturbed. This place is a haven for people watchers and photographers because there are plenty of things that you can capture.
But flashy vehicles and LED sticks aside, the main reason why a lot of people visit the square is to try their luck at masangin (masuk antara dua beringin – get in between two ficus trees). There’s a myth that surrounds this: basically, if you manage to walk from a certain point of the square blindfolded to the space between the two huge ficus trees at the center of the square, you’ll get whatever it is you’ll wish for. Sounds really easy, but only few manage to do it. Naturally, I was in that huge pool of people who fail.
There are a lot of people renting blindfolds for an infinite amount of time for IDR5.000. If you fail, you can just keep trying over and over again, but a lot of people believe that the trees possess some sort of magical power which can divert your course even if you’re on the right track. It’s best if you don’t do this alone but have someone to watch where you’re going and get people out of the way so you can’t tell if you’re going on the right direction.
2. Watch Street Musicians Perform at Malioboro
You definitely can’t miss Malioboro when you visit Yogyakarta as it is a strip of road that comes alive at night instead of day. With souvenir shops, a hotel, and a shopping mall lining up the road, the traffic at night here can be quite crazy for Yogya standards (but nowhere near Jakarta’s madness) and the sidewalk will be crammed with people and parked motorcycles. For the first couple of hours after sunset, there are just people and cars and crowded shops and street food vendors. But 9 PM is when the fun really starts.
Somewhere around 9 PM, you’ll find street musicians setting up guitars, makeshift drums, kolintang, and angklung on the rickshaw lane of the street and just start jamming. There were three street musician groups on different parts of the street that night and they all had different tunes playing, but somehow no one’s sound clashed with the other. There were huge crowds forming around them and there’s this clear space between them and the huge crowd where – if you dare – you can go ahead and dance to their music. Remember to watch out for your belongings as this crowd can become a hunting ground for pickpockets.
After that, take a rickshaw back to your car’s parking spot, next spot for the night or even to your hotel. Make any excuse possible to avoid them taking you to a bakpia store – they usually won’t push you into it. Once you get that out of the way, rickshaw drivers make great conversation buddies as long as you use your manners and more often than not, they won’t set a fixed fee on the trip, but instead will say “pay me however much you’d like to.”
3. Have a Cheap yet Delicious Late-Night Meal at an Angkringan
If you’re not familiar with the term angkringan, it is basically a place where you can have a really cheap, comfort Indonesian meal while sitting on the floor, in front of a closed shop or public facility. This is something you can’t find in most cities in Indonesia because it would most likely be to unsafe to eat like this somewhere else. But in Yogyakarta, it doesn’t matter if it’s 8 PM or midnight, as long as an angkringan is open and looks crowded, just approach the people manning the food cart and place your order.
It was about 10 PM when we got to Warung Lesehan Pak Pele which was claimed to serve the best Javanese noodles in town according to my dad’s friend. Located at Alun-Alun Utara, the angkringan extends all the way from the parking lot in front of the square to an elementary school beside the parking lot.
The crowd mainly consisted of Indonesians, locals and tourists so if you’re looking for a place to hang out with the local crowd, this is it. Let’s talk about the noodles.
Javanese noodles are basically noodles with shredded chicken, bean sprouts, green vegetables and deep-fried garlic and you can have your noodles with broth or stir-fried. I’d had some before in Jakarta and I had some more afterwards at my hotel and I kid you not, Pak Pele serves the best Javanese noodles I’ve ever tasted. The spices are just right and they cooked the vegetables and mixed them with the noodles so well that they tasted awesome. We had to wait for about 30-45 minutes for the food, but it was exceptional and definitely worth the wait.
Warung Pak Pele also has its own “home band”, a duo of two street musicians who play for the crowd there. The duo consisted of a guitarist/vocalist and a bassist. The first thing I noticed about them is that the vocalist has a really, really great voice – like this deep, booming kind of voice that belongs in opera houses instead of the streets. But his demeanor seemed a little shy and tense and the bassist was an old man and sadly, no one in the crowd paid attention to him at all. My mom and I were waiting for the food when we decided that instead of just sitting around, doing nothing, we’re going to sing with him and busked.
Yeah, we came up to him and asked if we could sing along with him and he said yes. He motioned at a black notebook in front of him which contained handwritten (yes, handwritten! This guy’s dedicated!) lyrics and chord progressions of the songs he knows. We flipped through it, found songs we both knew and just started singing.
That was the most fun I’ve ever had and ranks as one of the happiest moments of my life. Everyone at the angkringan gave this weird “what are you doing? You’re weird” kind of looks to us but hey, traveling is all about impulsive moments like this so screw them. The musicians were really cool – the guitarist did little solos, turning on the amplifier attached to his jeans as he did it and the bassist gave us (undeserved) applause every time we finished a song. We didn’t help him make more money (I mean, the crowd did give us weird looks), but we gave him some extra cash to thank him for allowing us to experience that. Oh, and if you’re into 80s to 90s rock songs, you’re going to love this guy because his entire notebook was filled with songs by The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Deep Purple, and Aerosmith. So if you see him at Warung Pak Pele, give him some extra cash and sing along with him for me.
On a final note, here’s my main rule for you to enjoy a night out in Yogyakarta: most places with a crowd in it are generally safe, especially around the city center area so a night stroll can end up to a good meal and a great conversation. However, like anywhere else in the world, watch your back and keep your guard up. So skip Yogyakarta’s tiny amount of nightclubs and bars and enjoy your night out in Yogya the Yogya way. I promise you, you’ll be rewarded with a more unique experiences that way.
Ps: pictures taken by me are watermarked, the ones which are not are taken by my dad.