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Borobudur and Prambanan: Exploring the Best Ancient Temples in Indonesia

There are many facets which make up the perfect trip to Indonesia. You’ll want to visit some beaches, climb a volcano and get to know some of the many cultures which make up this fascinating country (or, like many Australians do, you could stick to the trashy beaches of Bali and sink dozens of Bintangs). Assuming you want to see a bit of the country outside of its beach bars (not judging here — there’s nothing wrong with a boozy break abroad when you’re working 50 weeks of the year), you’ll also want to see some of Indonesia’s historic masterpieces, which means you’ll need to visit central Java. Jogjakarta is the ideal base for exploring Borobudur and Prambanan, the best ancient temples in Indonesia.

Here’s a quick guide to visiting the temples as well as an overview of Jogjakarta.

Sunrise at Borobudur

Borobudur, a massive temple built in the 9th century, is considered to be the largest Buddhist monument on Earth. It looks a bit like a pyramid and its nine levels are lined with detailed reliefs. The top level features 72 bell-shaped stupas, each housing a statue of the Buddha.

I’ve been to Borobudur twice now — once for sunrise and once during the day. Unfortunately the sun was concealed by a thick layer of cloud during my sunrise tour of Borobudur, but it was still worth the 3 am wake-up call.

READ MORE:  Check out my one week Java itinerary!

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It gets pretty busy at Borobudur in the minutes leading up to sunrise, but it’s easy enough to find a spot. If possible try to avoid the November to March rainy season — I visited in November which tends to be a bit grey.

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Borobudur is huge and it’s hard to grasp the scale of it when you’re there (which is why you hardly ever see photos of the whole thing). My favourite part of the experience (both times) was strolling by the relief panels which line the walls of the temple. Peaceful scenes of nature abound, including a large variety of animals and scores of people sitting calmly beneath trees.

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Getting to Borobudur

Booking a minibus transfer or hiring a car and driver are the best ways to get to Borobudur. It’s 40 km from Jogjakarta and going by public transport seems like a bit of a hassle (and not much cheaper than booking a minivan transfer, which costs around Rp 75,000).

Prambanan

The Hindu temple complex of Prambanan, 17 kilometers from downtown Jogjakarta, is an impressive set of ruins dating back to the 9th century. It was badly damaged in the 2006 earthquake but they’ve done a great job of restoring it. The complex features a large array of temples dedicated to various Hindu gods. On my second visit to Prambanan I was lucky enough to be toured around the temples by Anu, a travel blogger from India. She is an expert in Hindu mythology and it was interesting to hear the stories behind the carvings. It’s also a great place to explore without a guide — the structures themselves are beautifully crafted and the reliefs are fun to decipher. Just before sunset is probably the best time to visit Prambanan. On my recent trip I visited in mid-afternoon and it wasn’t bad, although the light wasn’t ideal for photography.

READ MORE: Check out this post about 10 awesome islands near Bali that are easy to visit!

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Getting to Prambanan

You can join a tour, hire your own car and driver, rent a motorbike or catch a bus. I took a bus on my first visit and it worked out alright, although I had to stand up for the entire ride (around 45 minutes).

Other things to do in and around Jogjakarta

There is plenty to keep you busy for a few days in Jogjakarta, including volcanoes, historic city suburbs and a vibrant art scene. Mount Merapi, a giant volcano which violently erupted in 2010, is fun to explore by jeep. When I visited it rained heavily and the volcano was hidden behind thick clouds, but the views would be incredible on a clear day.

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The villages and farms surrounding Jogjakarta make for an interesting visit. I recently visited Paper Moon Puppet which is set in an idyllic rural village. I made a puppet (which turned out pretty creepy looking) and saw how these famous local artists perform their world renowned shows.

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If you’re into art you’ll love exploring the maze of back alleys in Jogjakarta. Batik, an art form which involves wax, dyes and fabric, is found in abundance and sometimes the salesmen can be very pushy. Try and avoid following them to their galleries — always shop on your own terms! Another fun thing to do in Jogjakarta is explore the historic districts of the city. The narrow alleys of Kota Gede are full of stylish houses and friendly locals — it’s a great place to get lost. Jalan Malioboro is similar to Kota Gede but it’s a lot more touristy — it’s a good place to stay though as it’s close to several of Jogjakarta’s attractions, which include the Kraton (palace) and Taman Sari (water castle).

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Jogjakarta is home to countless old buildings from various ages — it’s probably the most interesting city in Indonesia. Borobudur and Prambanan, which are surely the most impressive ancient temples in Indonesia, are the star attractions — don’t leave Indonesia without seeing them!

Are you planning a trip to Indonesia? Would you like to visit Borobudur and Prambanan? Let me know in the comments below!

My trip to Indonesia was organised by Indonesia Travel for their #TripOfWonders and #WonderfulIndonesia campaigns. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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