Ancient Temples of Java, Indonesia – Prambanan – (Part I)


Yogyakarta (pronounced Jogjakarta, but also referred to as Jogja) is a bustling city known for it’s artistic flair, great food, and it’s nearby temples. At first glance, you would think that you’re in the middle of a busy city with only a strip or two aimed specifically to tourism. You would be correct in thinking that, and it turns out that this isn’t such a bad thing. Restaurants, stores, and malls line the street of Malioboro, where you find most of your tourist wares, and local shoppers.

It’s got a backpackers feel to parts of it, with close connections to back alleyways that lead you to guesthouses, mini bookstores, and other appeals. The adjacent street two blocks west of Malioboro also caters to your daily needs. This general area has more affordable restaurants and places to buy tickets to Borobudur, Prambanan, and other destinations in Java and beyond.

I must note that we had the option to arrive in Yogyakarta by train. We were told to take a train (if you can) if you’re coming in from either the east or the west. It’s supposedly faster, safer, and more comfortable. But at the time of our visit, the trains were full due to a holiday.

We had met some travelers who flew in by plane as an option (mostly due to time constraints). But, eventually we had to opt for the 14 hour bus ride from Jakarta…(a ride that we would not necessarily recommend). So, plan ahead if you’re planning on taking the train and make your reservations early. It fills up quickly, especially around holidays.

While in Yogya, we stayed in a guesthouse called Dewa Homestay, (not to be confused with Dewi Guesthouse) which was very affordable and had all of the basics. Breakfast was included in the price, and coffee & water were available for refills or refueling.

It’s slightly hidden in the back alleys, so don’t be afraid ask a local to help you find it if need be, with many other guesthouses along the way (if it’s full). I would definitely recommend Dewa as a place to stay, based upon it’s comfort level, location, and friendly staff. The breakfast wasn’t half bad either.

Our comfy bed at Dewa Homestay.
Our comfy bed at Dewa Homestay.

On the second day of our stay in Yogya, we clambered out of bed to go catch the bus to the Prambanan temples, (listed as a World Heritage site in 1991).

To visit, we caught a local bus to the site around 7:00 am. It’s about 11 miles northeast of Yogyakarta, and it takes about 45 minutes on the #1A busline. We caught the bus on Marlioboro street and bought our ticket at the bus-stop. The bus ride cost about 20,000 Indonesian Rupiah, or about US$2.

We managed to find the bus and the transfer quite easily with the occasional pointing out of where to go by the locals. You can also find travel agencies that provide direct minivan services to the temples, but they will obviously be more expensive.

Student priced ticket for Prambanan.
Student priced (US$9) ticket for Prambanan, Normal ticket for foreigners is US$18.

Prambanan is a Hindu temple structure built about 50 years prior to it’s Buddhist neighbor Borobudur, in the 9th century. It was ‘rediscovered’ by Dutch explorers in the early 19th century and it’s reconstruction began in the 1930’s. Very few locals knew of it’s origin, and therefore created many tales of it’s existence with myths and fables. It wasn’t until it’s reconstruction, that archaeologists were able to piece the temples and the stories behind it, together again.

There are two main clusters of temples, Prambanan being the largest group, and the Sewu temples to the north. There are a few smaller temples in between, as well as souvenir shops, and an archaeological museum to visit as well.

The main temple structures in Prambanan.
The main temple structures in Prambanan.
Inside the Shiva Temple in Pramabanan.
Inside the Shiva Temple in Prambanan.

Prambanan is quite an amazing place to see in Indonesia, having it’s Hindu (and Buddhist) origins, it’s a rare sight to see in a predominantly Muslim country. The main structures are quite extraordinary, with their bas reliefs, and the stories dedicated to the many Hindu gods they portray. Mostly noted are the temples (or Candi’s as they are officially called) that comprise the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). With Mount Merapi and Mount Murbabu volcanoes in the background, as well as the designs of the temple structures, it is an amazing sight to see.

Bas relief in the Prambanan temple structure.
Bas relief in the Prambanan temple structure. (Not sure what the monkey on the left is doing…hmmm.)

The weather was starting to get very hot, and we were glad that we caught the first bus to the site, because the later the day went, the hotter it became. I should mention that no shorts (or bare shoulders for women) are allowed in the temples. So, it can get very hot indeed!

After about a half hour in the main temple area, we decided to stroll up to the Sewu temple complex to the north. On the way there, we stopped off at the Lumbung Temple. It was a buddhist temple with it’s original name unknown. The name Lumbung was given by the locals, translating to ‘Rice Barn’.

Lumbung Temple.
Lumbung Temple.

We walked onward to the north and came to the Sewu temples, the second largest structures in Prambanan. The temples are surrounded by the leftover bricks and mortar that would have completed other outlying structures.  If only the missing pieces hadn’t been used for building local homes and foundations over the centuries instead.

Incredibly, the main temple structures were reassembled and found to be surprisingly intact. But all in all, most of the buildings were in piles of ruins, with little or no intention of more construction in the future (so it’s been told.)

Upon reaching the complex, you will find large bellied soldiers guarding it’s contents, with a menacing glare (mostly at each other). With volcanoes in the background, this all makes for some pretty good photo ops.

Entrance to the Sewu Temples.
Entrance to the Sewu Temples.


Sewu Temple and  it's happy visitor.
Sewu Temple and it’s thrilled visitor.

After a few hours at Prambanan, we decided to start heading back to town. It was mid afternoon and the sun was starting to cook us…hence this is why it is recommended to visit in the early morning (which we did) or in the late evening. We backtracked from the way we came, and caught a bus after a few minutes of wait time.

We had worked up an appetite, and once we arrived back into Yogyakarta about an hour later, we hunted down some grub. Nearby our guesthouse, there was a man selling a noodle soup called Bakso. I fell instantly in love with the soup, (especially in Yogya where it is most popular and cooked extremely well).

Unfortunately, I must say that I had a hard time finding it as good or as abundant outside of Yogya later on our trip. But this time it definitely hit the spot, and after we had our fill, we dragged ourselves back to our room for a late afternoon siesta.

Bakso soup, vegeatrian style...yummers!
Bakso soup, vegetarian style…yummers!
Bakso chef, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Bakso chef, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Shot with my Rolleiflex TLR.

After we took a long nap, we decided to stroll the city at night, and wandered aimlessly for hours. We stumbled across a sign in an alley that read, ‘Get Information in here, a man fight with King Cobra snake.’ This immediately gave us a chuckle, (and our curiosity to boot), but the place to get the information was closed. No king cobra wrestling for us. Aw well, maybe next time.

The sign in the alleyway. Very interesting indeed...
The sign in the alleyway. Very interesting indeed…

We strolled back over to our guesthouse district and ended up with a few hunger pangs to cure, so we checked into the local watering hole and had a bite and a local brew to wash it down. The food and the beer were tasty and a good finish to our Yogyakarta experience. We had our other adventure to look forward to, and that leads me to my next story…

Evening beer and our friendly waiter in the background.
Evening beer and our friendly waiter in the background.
Prambanan Temples.
Prambanan Temples. Shot with my Rolleiflex TLR.
 *This post is a part of a series. Click on the link to read more of the story. – Ancient Temples of Java, Indonesia – Borobudur – (Part II)