Browsing Date

February 2011

Indonesia, Yogyakarta February 10, 2011

Getting Scammed Buying Batiks in Yogyakarta, or Not

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

She was desperately trying to get rid of the Indonesian guy who was following her footsteps. Harassment is too strong of a word, but the blond girl was visible annoyed. As they passed, I overheard the guy saying, ‘So, you already know about tonight-only batik exhibition?’

Not until the next day did I realise what that scene was all about.

Our turn to get approached

We were walking along Malioboro browsing the various t-shirts, souvenirs, keychains, and what not. Jack was a little ahead of me and I noticed he was carrying on a conversation with a guy with a very wide smile who seemed to be giving Jack some sort of a direction.

Being the pessimistic person that I can be, I was like ‘Uh-oh… an overly friendly local in a touristy place. That can’t be good.

The guy went on saying,

The batiks on Malioboro are low quality. Very expensive. You need to go to this place… it’s an art center where students learn to make batiks. Much cheaper and better quality batiks.’

A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'

A 'student' at 'Novi Art Studio'

Our scam alert went off the radar.

What threw us off was the fact that he didn’t insist on taking us to the place. He pulled out a map (how convenient that he happened to have a map with him) and drew us the direction to get to ‘Novi Art Center’.

Headfirst into the scam

Well, we didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the day so we decided to check out this so-called batik ‘Art Center’. It’s about 10 min walk from Malioboro and located off a small alley.

Inside was a very big collection of batik paintings of various qualities, each was given an ‘A’ to ‘ZZ’ rating with ‘ZZ’ being the most elaborate and thus most expensive.

I didn’t know much about batiks, but there were some very pretty and colorful batik paintings there. The patterns varied from traditional characters to abstract splashes of colour. When you held them against light from a window or an open door, the colors came alive.

Check out the video below to get an idea at how varied and colorful these paintings are:

I kept wanting to tell Jack to stop looking so interested (haggling lesson no:1), he was practically drooling. But that’s the hard thing about shopping in Indonesia: the merchants understand BOTH Indonesian and English (we have to come up with a third code language).

The guy was a pro and observed very quickly that Jack was the weaker point. He stopped talking to me altogether and was catering completely to Jack’s wishes.

You like the dragon on silk, Sir? How about this much-bigger one we have? Big dragon, Sir. Made by famous artist.

At this point Jack would like to intercept to say that:
It wasn’t drool — I just took a sip of water and some got on my chin. Stop exaggerating.’

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind having some of these batiks on our walls. But I was wary of starting a negotiation without knowing a base price. The salesmen kept bringing more and more paintings out. Whenever he noticed we were interested in a particular style or color, he’d bring out the larger version of the painting.

After haggling back and forth for almost an hour, we ended up with 3 large paintings for $200.

Now, do we think that the guy with the map was being paid by the place?


Are the batiks genuine?

I was told that a genuine batik doesn’t have a front or a back. The dye goes through the cloth making the pattern indistinguishable on both sides. A ‘fake’ batik is produced by a machine and the dye would only show up on one side. If you turn it over, it will be obvious that it’s the ‘wrong’ side.

The batiks that we got from the place look the same on both side. So maybe they’re real? Who knows.

Batik for sale at Novi Art Center

The 'Mahyar' we got is very similar to the bottom one

Were we scammed?

We were sure from the very beginning that we were walking into a crafted scenario. We were told that the shop was only open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and guess what day it was when were there? Tuesday. Subliminally they were saying, ‘You can’t come back tomorrow. Today is your last chance to buy.’

But we also wanted to buy the batiks. We bargained really hard and ended up paying 70% of the opening price. Later on in the day, we checked out other ‘exhibitions’ (also courtesy of other friendly locals) and we could happily say that both the selection and the quality of the batiks at ‘Novi’ was much better. If we had found similar types of paintings in these other stores for cheaper, we would feel really bad.

But we didn’t.

And thus we left Yogyakarta pretty happy with our purchases. I guess that’s all that matters.

Now we’ve just had to hold on to our batiks until after we came back from our RTW trip — whenever that happens to be.

Other notes:
– Sometime the person would claim that the shop is a government-sponsored shop and the price is fixed by the government. Don’t fall for it. Always negotiate the price.
– Beware of those saying today is your last chance to buy them because they’re either being shipped off somewhere or today is the exhibition’s last day.
– The two main batik paintings we bought were signed ‘Mahyar’ and ‘Novi’. A quick Google search revealed that they’re both, indeed, well-known Indonesian batik artists. Looking at the prices online it seemed that we did score a decent bargain after all.

Indonesia February 3, 2011

Get Off The Tourist Trail, 10 Favourite Destinations in Java, Indonesia

Java, Indonesia

Java, the most populated island in Indonesia is often overshadowed by its much, much popular next-door neighbor, Bali (which despite its popularity, hidden gems in Bali do exist!) Growing up in Jakarta, my family would take my brother and I on road trips all over Java. Java has many nooks and crannies to explore, hiding its highlights in plain sight. Below is a partial list of my family’s favorite places to visit in Java.

Getting around Java is not the easiest, being home to a large population Java’s traffic can be brutal and the roads are not the best. You’ll most likely need to rent a car with a driver. But I can assure you, those who take the time and effort to explore Java will find out that it has a lot to offer.

Doubtless there are still more for us to discover. But for now, here are what I think 10 must-visit destinations in Java, Indonesia:

1. Borobudur and Prambanan Temple

Borobudur, one of Java's most famous attractions

Stupas on Borobudur -- Jack and Jill Travel

relief on borobudur wall

Carved walls of Borobudur -- Jack and Jill Travel

prambanan temple in Java, Indonesia

Prambanan temple - by zsoolt

The remains of what once two great kingdoms of different religions (Buddhism and Hinduism) in Java, these two temples are definitely worth a visit. They make great short day trips from Yogyakarta.

I remember learning about these two temples when growing up in Indonesia. One of the stories is the legend of Loro Jonggrang, and here it is in its abbreviated (and probably slightly inaccurate) version:

A kingdom was besieged by a neighboring kingdom, but the prince of the attacking kingdom fell in love with the daughter of the enemy king, Loro Jonggrang, and proposed a marriage. She would only agree on the marriage if he built 1000 temples in one night. The lovestruck prince agreed.

Helped by earthly spirits that he conjured up, he started to build one temple after another. At temple no 999, the princess was getting worried. She instructed her maids to imitate dawn by lighting fires around the compound, pounding rice, and waking the roosters up. Thinking that the dawn was upon them, the underground spirits went back to earth leaving the 1000th temple unfinished. Angry at her betrayal, the prince cursed Loro Jonggrang into a statue.

The Loro Jonggrang statue basically became the 1000th temple that became part of Prambanan temple complex.

Public buses serve these two sites and it costs about Rp. 10000 and Rp. 3000 to go to Borobudur and Prambanan from Yogyakarta respectively.

Learn more about our visit to Borobudur.

2. Ujung Genteng

Ujung Genteng Beach, Java

Ujung Genteng Beach, Java -- Jack and Jill Collection

Beautiful, deserted sandy white beach, watching sea turtles bury their eggs, a traditional fish market, and throw in a waterfall or two. What’s not to love about Ujung Genteng?

How about the grueling 8 hour drive from Jakarta to get there? But Ujung Genteng is so, so, so worth it.

3. Bromo

Beautiful Bromo

-- Jack and Jill Collection

Looking into the mouth of Bromo

Looking into the mouth of Bromo -- Jack and Jill Collection

Dormant cone at Bromo - an iconic sight in Java, Indonesia

The dormant tip of Bromo -- Jack and Jill Collection

Beautiful majestic Bromo. The sandy desert like environment surrounding the crater is out of this world. So is the area surrounding the village itself.

Ride a horse to get to the crater and look down into the belly of a still active volcano (apparently it just recently erupted). Or rent a jeep to catch a sunrise above Bromo to get that classic Bromo picture. This is a place that we’d like to come back to because 3 days that we spent there just simply weren’t enough.

Edited: Unfortunately we felt that Bromo is now simply overrun by tourists. The last time we visited (2016), we didn’t really enjoy the heavy-handed sales pitch and were astonished when our jeep driver threw trash out of the car. “No problem, we already pay a fee to have people clean it up” – he said. Ugh.

4. Yogyakarta

Batik making in Yogyakarta

Batik making in Yogyakarta

Artist on Malioboro Yogyakarta

Artist on Malioboro Yogyakarta -- Jack and Jill Collection

Becak in Yogyakarta

Becak in Yogyakarta

My favorite city in Java! Explore the narrow alleys that weave in and out of Malioboro, the main street of the city. See how batiks are made and watch silversmiths and puppet makers at work. Or rent a becak to explore the kraton (Sultan’s palace) and soak in the culture of this still somewhat traditional city.

Don’t forget to try the gudeg – jackfruit curry – a local specialty that happens to be one of my favorite vegetarian Indonesian dishes.

5. The Dieng Plateau

Temple on Dieng Plateau, Java

Temple on Dieng Plateau -- Jack and Jill Collection

Rice terrace on Dieng Plateau

Rice terrace on Dieng Plateau -- by druidabruxux

Detail of a temple on Dieng Plateau, one of my favorite destinations in Java

Detail of a temple on Dieng Plateau -- Jack and Jill Collection

Beautiful scenery of lush greenery and rice paddies is what this area is all about. Dare I say that they’re even more fetching than the rice terraces in Bali? Located high up on the mountain and about 2 hours north of Jogjakarta, the cool weather of the area provides a nice respite from the tropical heat of Java.

The road there is narrow and windy but the view is beautiful. Add to that the ancient ruins that are scattered around the area, the volcanic craters and hot springs, and the rosy cheeked ‘Dieng’ children with their dread-locked hair really make this area our family’s favorite destination.

(Updated in 2018) The ever-growing list of other places in Java to visit:

Because this island packs a lot.

6. Kawah Ijen (Ijen Crater) in West Java

Kawah Ijen

Kawah Ijen by Jean-Marie Hullot

The last time we went to Kawah Ijen was 10 years ago and I wouldn’t mind paying it another visit. However the latest words on the street is that Ijen has become a victim of its own success and the touts have gotten quite aggressive, especially towards foreigners. Sigh.

7. Krakatoa Island – Ujung Kulon National Park (West Java)

Then there’s Ujung Kulon National Park where you can catch a glimpse of what’s left of Krakatoa, the infamous volcano whose eruption was recorded as the loudest sound ever heard in modern history. Only attempt the crossing to Anak Krakatoa (a “baby” volcano that’s growing where Krakatoa used to be) when the weather is calm. Read our harrowing account here. I’d never been more afraid in my life.

8. Karimun Jawa (East Java)

One of the best collections of islands and beaches in Java can be found here at Karimun Jawa – a boat ride away from Japura in East Java.

9. Kawah Putih (White Crater) near Bandung (West Java)

Kawah Putih or White Crater in Bandung

Kawah Putih or White Crater in Bandung

Located about 3 hour drive from Bandung, it’s a weekend destination for a lot of domestic tourists from Bandung or Jakarta. It’s a beautiful crater with milky, blue water with a walking path around the whole crater. Entrance fee is Rp20.000/Rp50.000 (domestic/international).

10. Kampung Naga in Garut (West Java)

traditional village of Kampung Naga, one of the highlights of Java Island, Indonesia

Visit traditional “adat” village with thatched roofs and fish ponds located in a lush valley. Relatively unknown for a long time, Kampung Naga became very popular with domestic tourists just within the past 5 years or so. While in the area, you can also go body rafting in Citumang River. Ask locals. (One of these days, I’ll write about it. But it’s fun! Do it!)

Got more time for exploration?
Beyond Java: A sample of 3 week Indonesia itinerary

Sometimes exploration of your own backyard reveals a lot more than what first meets the eyes. That’s definitely the case here with Java.

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