Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 9 March 2016 • Destination
My taxi driver thought I was a prostitute. He didn’t accuse me of being one upfront, as he probably thought it would be rude. I caught this when reading his micro gestures on his face, when I cleared things up with him. I can’t blame him. I was gal traveling alone, wandering through the alleys of Sarkem, the red light district of Yogyakarta. Maybe it was the tone of my voice that had set the assumptions, maybe it was my ghetto look (drizzled in sweat from the hot humid Yogyakarta air), or maybe because clearly I didn’t look rich enough. Assumptions did happen for obvious reasons. The truth was, I was there for Indohoy business, looking for a nice accommodation in Yogyakarta. This time, to stay at the nice Pawon Cokelat Guest House.
I had booked a room at Pawon Cokelat Guest House via online, recommended by a ‘hip’ friend. Yes, this accommodation has that industrial look with clean simple rooms and thought-out decor, defined as ‘hip’ these days, worthy for Instagram posts. However, my friend did not mention that it is located at a former red light district (allegedly former, because seems like the area’s reputation lives on). Hence, my booking. “I work at a travel company. I’m only here to try a nice hostel within these alleys.” My taxi driver Oh-ed and continued stating relief that I was a good girl, unlike most girls he sees that come and go within the area.
Pawon Cokelat Guest House is located in Sarkem, an abbreviation for ‘pasar kembang’ or flower market. It was (let’s roll with this for the moment) a former red light district but was ‘rehabilitated’ in becoming a friendlier neighborhood. One of the efforts to do so was to create a more religious ambiance with more mosques amongst the tiny alleys. However, by shallow observation, some people’s activities still looked suspicious during the day. Small houses still had a few men sitting in front doing very little. But, who’s to tell?
The backlash of this new area facade was more loud calls of prayer, including that at dusk. For those that can’t stand a little real islamic culture, better have some earplugs, strong sleeping pills or, while you’re at it, you could try sleeping under the bed. Other than the time of prayer calls, the area is relatively quiet even during the night, opposite to what you think you’d hear in a red light district.
I do have to add, there was construction right in front of the guest house when I was there in July 2015, adding the sound pollution during the day, but I’m not sure what’s the latest situation.
Considering travelers, the upside is Pawon Coklat has a great location. It’s just a walk away from the main train station on Jalan Kembangan. It’s also on the north end of Malioboro, Yogyakarta’s iconic street, where they’ve got everything made of batik, street food, and other various ‘third world country’ attributes. However, the accommodation sits in a small alley, hence, if you rent a car, it would have to be parked on the main road.
The room itself had white plastered walls still showing the brick layers underneath and combined with grey ‘unfinished’ walls. Access of each room was a glass double door with wood frames and long narrow windows on each sides. The bed was comfortable, enough for a good horizontal session. The AC mattered more than the TV considering it had limited channels on it. Table yes, wardrobe no.
The bathroom is a simple design, not as hip as the bedroom. It was clean, can’t remember if it had hot water, but nothing too special. All in all, the room had your basics. Size wise, it was small but cozy. It might be a little too small for a 6 feet person, but what it lacks in space makes up in neighborhood charm.
Rooms are about IDR 300,000 / night, which includes a simple breakfast and towels. Considering the location, what it offers, and that it can accommodate 2 people, I consider Pawon Cokelat Guest House a budget to cheap accommodation in Yogyakarta.
The staff was very helpful and friendly. And there’s a rooftop equipped with a few chairs, great for hanging out and sucking in the humid hot air of Yogyakarta.
Despite the reputation of the area, my stay was a very nice one. I liked walking amongst the tight alleys, dense with houses glued wall to wall. I question the air quality of these houses, which probably are former brothel houses.
The people around were really nice. It was just like any regular alley in Indonesia, and I could see people raising children decently around here. Aside to that one time I saw those sketchy men in front of a small house in mid day, no other moments reminded me that I was in a (former) red light district.
My taxi driver left me with hopes I would be careful around the area. I answered with an ‘oh yes, oh no, oh my God!’. Oh yes, I’d be careful. Oh no, he doesn’t have to worry, so far I can take care of myself. Oh my God, Pawon Cokelat Guest House is so nice, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Yogyakarta.
Sosrowijayan Wetan Gg. 1 No. 102, Malioboro, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta
Phone: +62 (0)819-1003-2933
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