That's a reasonable impression when you're plonked down in the middle of Yogyakarta's Malioboro shopping district: a single street that runs north to south, crammed on each side with kiosks, department stores and markets selling batiks, traditional Javanese sculpture, artwork, and food.
Malioboro is Yogyakarta's one-stop shopping destination. You might get fine silver at Kota Gede or pottery in Kasongan, but Malioboro sells products from these places and more (much more) besides.
The Location of Malioboro
The street called Jalan Malioboro straddles a line with mystical import for the Javanese. From Mount Merapi in the north to Parangtritis Beach in the south, a straight line can be drawn with Yogyakarta placed right in its midsection. The Sultan's Palace (Kraton) stands smack in the middle of this line, as does the Tugu Monument: the stretch of road we now know as Malioboro lies north of the former and south of the latter.
The Malioboro shopping district is generally thought to begin at the railway intersection at its north point (location on Google Maps) and end at Fort Vredeburg at the south.
Malioboro's location in Yogyakarta's city center makes it a convenient stop for travelers looking to buy a piece of the city to take home. Becak (cycle rickshaw) drivers can take you there for as little as IDR 10,000 (about 70 US cents; read about money in Indonesia) if you're somewhere in the city center.
Can you walk to Malioboro? Probably, but it's better not to. Yogyakarta is not very pedestrian-friendly, at least not in the Western sense. The streets are crowded with cars, becak and andong (horse-drawn carts); what little pedestrian areas exist are generally crowded with vendors, or otherwise unprotected from the elements. The humidity can also be quite stifling between 9am and 4pm.
What You Can Buy in Malioboro
.Batik is the main draw at Malioboro (this traditionally-colored fabric being a mainstay of Javanese culture), but you'll also find everything that the artistically-inclined Javanese turn out. Silver, ceramics, stuffed toys, T-shirts, masks, traditional weapons… the variety is simply endless.
Batik in Malioboro is cheap, consisting mainly of the stamped variety (batik cap, pronounced chap) as opposed to the hand-drawn batik (batik tulis) favored for Indonesian formalwear; you'll find more of the latter in Solo and Yogyakarta's batik villages. The batik shirts found in Malioboro are awesome substitutes for Hawaiian aloha shirts, and should be worn in the same spirit!
The Javanese believe that the husband-and-wife sculptures known as loro blonyo ensure fertility and happiness. Loro blonyo come in all shapes, sizes and prices, but they are generally depicted as a prosperous Javanese couple wearing traditional dress.
What Shops to Focus On
The brute-force approach to shopping in Malioboro can be rewarding but exhausting. If the idea of combing the entire length of the street (and the innumerable stalls along the way) turns you off, you can get most of Malioboro's best if you focus on a few key stops.
Pressed for time? Take the Naked Traveler's advice and zeroed in on Hamzah (Mirota) Batik, a department store just a few minutes' walk north of Fort Vredeburg.
Hamzah takes up two stories, with the lower floor selling batik clothes, and the upper floor selling handicrafts, bags, shoes, hats, and others (interesting find: incense burners shaped like penises). Go here for Malioboro shopping lite: good-quality and inexpensive souvenirs in an air-conditioned setting. Location on Google Maps; Facebook page.
If you're closer to the railway on the north side, go instead to Pasar Seni Nadzar, which serves a similar product range at just about the same prices. Location on Google Maps.
Want the local experience? Visit Pasar Beringharjo, a traditional market across the street from Mirota Batik. This landmark market has stood here since the 18th century, replacing a stand of banyan trees that gave the market its name.
The market opens in the wee hours, providing traditional market wares to local shoppers (fruit, vegetables, and an honestly staggering amount of spices). Two more floors provide all the usual Malioboro wares at the customary low prices.
With three levels of shopping to be had, Beringharjo offers an almost complete Malioboro experience… that is, until its relatively early closing time of 4pm! Location on Google Maps.
Please remember: prices in Mirota Batik and Pasar Seni Nadzar are fixed, while most of the prices at Pasar Beringharjo are negotiable. At the latter, haggle as much as you like to get the best price on your stuff.
What to Eat Around Malioboro
As night falls, lesehan (food stalls) selling Indonesian street food set up shop on both sides of Jalan Malioboro. As long as the food is cooked right in front of you, there's nothing to fear: choose from Indonesian street treats like onde-onde (fried rice cakes with gooey molasses centers), bakpia (a Chinese-inspired pastry), and gudeg (a jackfruit-based savory dish, eaten with rice).
Bakpia in particular is valued as a take-home gift item. These are disc-shaped pastries with a flaky exterior and a pasty core than can come in sweet mung-bean, chocolate, and even durian flavors.
On Jalan KS Tubun (“Pathok Street”) just off the main Malioboro stretch, you can find several factory outlets for these tasty morsels, all clustered together (location on Google Maps). You can watch bakpia being made, then buy the finished product afterward.
Festivals on Malioboro
Locals occasionally turn Malioboro into a festival venue; one event takes place once a month, another is an annuel celebration that unfolds every July.
The Selasa Wage festival takes place one Tuesday a month. This event turns Malioboro into a pedestrians-only space (cars and other vehicles are blocked for the night), and the streets are cleared of ambulant vendors too. In their place, a series of stages and events take place all down the length of the street, from flashmob dances to musical performances to topical talks.
Selasa Wage is an all-day event, with the streets closed off from 6am to 10pm. For the dates of the next Selasa Wage, Visit the official Yogyakarta tourism page (visitingjogja.com).
For two days in July, the Malioboro Night Festival celebrates Yogyakarta’s Javanese culture with live musical performances, traditional art exhiits, and many other events that unfold around the area’s traditional buildings. In 2020, the Malioboro Night Festival takes place from July 12 to 13.
What else can I see in Malioboro?
Yogyakarta is one of Indonesia's most historically important cities, and many of the structures around Malioboro reflect the country's turbulent modern history.
Reminders of the European occupation of Indonesia still stand at two colonial-era buildings, both within sight of each other. Fort Vredeburg was a citadel erected in 1790 by the Dutch military. The newly-independent Indonesians later converted Vredeburg into a museum chronicling the country's independence movement, the story told in a series of dioramas.
A cozy European-style coffeehouse, Indische Koffie (pictured here), serves as the perfect last stop to a busy day walking down Malioboro. Location on Google Maps.
The Gedung Agung mansion near Fort Vredeburg serves as an official Presidential residence. Built in 1824 as the official home of the Dutch Resident in the East Indies, the palace was turned over to then-President of Indonesia Sukarno in 1946. The current administration now uses Gedung Agung for official ceremonies. Location on Google Maps.
Malioboro's success as a shopping street can be attributed to the large Chinese community that made its home here. Visit Kampung Ketandan to see the remnants of this formerly bustling settlement, legislated into existence by Sultan Hamengkubuwono II in 1830. Ketandan is now famous for its gold shops and traditional medicine trade, but really comes into its own during Chinese New Year, when this village is the focal point for Yogyakarta's Chinese Culture Week. Location on Google Maps.