Once part of a great Islamic empire, Solo conserves Javanese arts like Batik, ceremonial Keris daggers and Wayang Kulit puppets.
Once a single great Islamic empire, Surakarta (Solo) and Yogyakarta (Jogja) were split into two sultanates in 1755, thanks to Dutch intervention, each headed by rival kings. In 1757 a rebel prince defeated the Dutch and was rewarded with an independent principality within the Surakarta realm, provided he would submit to the current sultan. The result was two Surakarta palaces, the Keraton Kasunan, housing the descendants of the original sultan, and Puro Mangkunegaran, the residence of the progeny of the rebel prince. Both courts are supportive of Javanese arts, and although neither has had any legal authority since Indonesia attained independence, they are still respected as royalty.
The two courts’ commitment to conserving Javanese arts has resulted in a city that remains true to its traditions. Although its heritage buildings have been neglected, there are still artisans who craft ceremonial keris daggers, leather wayang kulit puppets, and gamelan ensembles. Particularly omnipresent, though, is Solo’s batik culture. Villages near the town centre still produce high-quality batik and perhaps hundreds more Solonese practice the art individually. Javanese rituals are part of daily life, and the area’s unique cuisine can be found everywhere. Near Solo are other relics of its heritage, two ancient Hindu temples on holy Mt. Lawu and at Sangiran is the site where Java Man was discovered.
Solo is a year-round destination. For tourist sights, go during the week, if possible, as the city is packed with Indonesian tourists on public holidays and during school breaks.
Singaporeans and citizens of other ASEAN member states can visit Indonesia for 30 days without a visa. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket. Visitors from many other countries can get a 30-day visa on arrival at Solo for US$25.
Indonesian rupiah. There are plenty of ATMs and currency exchange counters at the airport. Banks in the city centre also have ATMs accepting international credit and debit cards, and can change foreign currency including Singapore dollars.
From the airport to the city, either take a taxi or arrange with your accommodation for airport pickup. Many of the tourist sites are along Jl. Slamet Riyadi, and visitors can walk from one place to the next on paved sidewalks. For other areas, wave down any vacant taxi on the street. Alternately, have your accommodation arrange a taxi or a rental car and driver for the full- or half-day for you. For touring in town, try travelling the traditional way, either by horse cart or by becak (bicycle rickshaw). The staff at your hotel can advise what the current rates are.
As with any major city, watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas, thieves in cheap hotels, and the occasional scam artist. As everywhere in Indonesia, don't drink the tap water. While there is very little danger of contracting malaria in Solo there is a potential risk of dengue fever, particularly towards the end of the rainy season, so do your best to avoid mosquito bites.
|How are you?||Apa kabar?|
|Fine, thanks||Baik, terima kasih|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Permisi!|
|Thank you||Terima kasih|
|What's your name?||Siapa nama anda?|
|My name is…||Nama saya…|
|Nice to know you||Senang berkenalan dengan anda|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Anda ada di Facebook/Twitter?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Warnet [warung internet] di mana?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Di mana saya bisa mendapatkan taksi?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Stasiun bis/kereta di mana?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Tiket sekali jalan/pulang-pergi ke…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Ada kamar untuk satu/dua orang?|
|When's check out?||Kapan waktu check-out?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Bisakah anda menyarankan restoran/bar yang bagus?|
|A table for two, please||Tolong meja untuk dua orang|
|A menu, please||Tolong minta menunya|
|The bill, please||Tolong minta bonnya|
|Where's the toilet?||Kamar kecil di mana?|
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Higher up the west side of Mt. Lawu than Candi Suku, Candi Ceto (Ceto Temple) is an enigma. Constructed in the 15th century prior to the Hindu Javanese kingdoms conversion to Islam, the multi-terraced terrace is regrettably in very bad repair. Nevertheless, it is still interesting to visit if for no other reason than to see its stone mosaic of a large phallus decorated with a bat carrying a turtle.
One of the last Hindu temples built before the Javanese kingdoms converted to Islam, the purpose and architecture of 15th-century Candi Suku (Suku Temple) remains a mystery. Its Mayan pyramid-shaped main temple is unlike any other found elsewhere in Java, and there are stone altars, three of which are in the shape of giant tortoises with flattened shells. A large lingga (phallus) statue was also found here but is now in the National Museum in Jakarta.
Sangiran (or Sragen) is a Unesco World Heritage Site thanks to the wealth of prehistoric archaeological finds unearthed on the outskirts of an otherwise humble village. The 1.5 million-year-old skull fragments from Java Man (Pithecanthropus erectus, later reclassified as Homo erectus) that was discovered nearby have been removed from the nearby Museum Trinil for safekeeping, but there is a replica here. There are also mastodon tusks, artefacts from prehistoric settlements and fossils, some of them over two million years old.
Popular with the local folk, Sriwedari Park (Taman Sriwedari) is a culture centre in the centre of town that also includes a kids’ playground. At night it stages music and dance performances, such as wayang wong (also known as wayang orang), where dancers – as opposed to puppets – perform scenes from the Ramayana or Mahabharata epics. A more enthusiastic, younger audience appears on dangdut nights. A totally Indonesian popular music genre, dangdut is a mix of Hindi, Malay and Arabic styles that encourages swivelling hips and waving arms.
Mt. Lawu (3,625 metres/10,712ft) is revered by many Javanese. On the eve of the Javanese New Year, thousands of people climb to the summit to meditate, believing that the gods who created the first kingdom of Java descended from heaven here. Tawangmangu is popular with the local folk for weekend getaways for its beautiful scenery, including Grojogan Sewu and Jumog waterfalls. From here, the adventurous can climb to the summit on a well-maintained track, a one-way hike taking about 7–9 hours.
Solo is renowned for its thriving batik industry. In 2009, Indonesian batik was listed by Unesco as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, breathing new life into this traditional art.
Batik Danar Hadi (Jl. Slamet Riyad, No. 261, tel: 64 271 713 140) is one of Solo’s largest mass batik producers. Go there for good-quality tulis (hand-drawn) and cap (pronounced 'chap'; stamped) cloths and clothing. It also has an interesting museum containing over 10,000 batik cloths from throughout Indonesia, some of them very old and rare, as well as a good restaurant for a lunch break.
The Batik Keris factory (Jl. Dr. Rajiman Laweyan, tel: 64 271 721 217) is located in Kampung Laweyan, one of two villages whose sole industry is creating batik. The other is Kampung Kauman near the Keraton Kasunanan. In both areas, batik shops line the streets and alleyways, and you can see the artisans at work. Kampung Kauman specialises in silk batiks. Don’t miss the workshop of Bapak Gunawan (Jl. Cakra, No. 21, Kampung Kauman, tel: 64 271 632 214), an important traditional batik master.
Any thorough Solo batik tour should also include Pasar Klewer, near the west gate of the Keraton’s north square. Known as the Batik Market, the cloths and garments here are not actually batik because they are printed and not hand-drawn or hand-stamped, but there are so many of them that it makes the mind boggle. Bargain hard here.
Batik Danar Hadi, Batik Keris, Bapak Gunawan, Pasar Klewer.