As I wander through bustling streets, the soundtrack changes with each turn I take…first jazz plays, then hip-hop, rock, even a full gamelan (a traditional Indonesian percussion instrument) orchestra… Mingling with the music in the air is a delicious aroma of spicy and sweet sauces, rising up from little warungs (street-side food stalls) serving up ayam goreng (fried chicken with rice; 80 cents) and gado-gado (a salad with peanut dressing; less than $1).
I’m in Jogja—or Yogyakarta as it is formally known—the unofficial artistic and intellectual capital of the Indonesian island of Java. A small city brimming with friendly locals, temples, art galleries, palaces, and universities, it’s a treasure trove of art, culture, and music.
It’s also the perfect place to find your own little oasis of peace. Mine was the TigaLima homestay. Run by lovely English-speaking sisters, the TigaLima consists of several small wooden rooms set in a tropical garden, each designed in a different style. My room had a four-poster bed, a shower that was surrounded by plants, lined with pebbles, and open to the sky…plus a porch overlooking a lush, green garden. The room set me back around $230 per month and included air-conditioning, WiFi, and access to a common area with a fully-equipped kitchen and TV lounge.
A couple of dollars goes a long way in Jogja: You can catch a taxi ride across town, eat a full meal at a warung, or get a fresh-blended fruit smoothie (mango and passion fruit for less than a dollar was my favorite daily indulgence).
My biggest splurge was the $5 I paid every Sunday to use the pool at the Jogja Plaza Hotel. For an afternoon of swimming, reading, and napping by the palm-tree shaded pool while luxuriating in poolside service, it was more than worth it.
And that’s not the only affordable luxury on offer here. Try a cup of kopi luwak–it’s one of the world’s most expensive coffees, but as it’s produced locally you can sample a cup in Jogja for around $3. But be advised, it’s made from partially-digested beans that have passed through a civet cat. If this isn’t your thing, don’t worry, you’ll be spoiled for choice here between Sumatran, Balinese, and Javanese brews. And—on the side—indulge in a rich, chocolate brownie. The Javanese like to steam their brownies instead of baking them (brownies kukus), giving them a soft, moist texture.
Andrew, my neighbor at the TigaLima homestay, discovered Jogja while traveling and took early retirement here. He shared his reasons for the move over large salads ($2) and mango yogurt smoothies ($1.50) at our favorite organic garden restaurant, Milas.
“Jogja has everything. The people are so warm, you never feel like an outsider. There’s just enough expats to have friends but not so many that it changes the experience of the place. I get up to Bali or Singapore for a few days when I like and it’s barely a dent in my savings,” he says. “Not much more a guy could ask for.”
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