Saturday, September 9, 2017

Yogyakarta, Indonesia: Borobudur and Prambanan

I’m in Yogyakarta, Indonesia aka “Yogya.” Yogya’s city center, the area around Malioboro mall, is very touristy—think Khao San Road in Bankgok—but only 1 to 1 ½ hours away are gorgeous temples, including two UNESCO sites. 

Borobudur is one of the two UNESCO sites. It's located on an area designated as a nature preserve, so if you walk around, you might see elephants playing in a pond. No one was around the baby elephants when I saw them, even though they were a short walk from the temple, so perhaps elephant-seeing isn’t a usual event. In any case, allow 3 hours or more if you want to see the entire place. I walked about 5 miles and hitched a scooter ride to the other side of the grounds, where I unsuccessfully lobbied to see inside the conservation department’s offices. 

The Borobudur temple itself is based on Mahayana Buddhism and has three levels to designate different levels of enlightenment. Two small museums, including, oddly, one about ships, is near the temple, but neither appealed to me. The walk up the temple is relatively easy. If Malaysia’s Batu Caves are a 6.5, then Borobudur is a 2 (assume 0 is flat terrain). 
If you want to sleep on-site, check out the Manohara Hotel/Resort. It’s pricey, but you’ll be on the temple grounds. I stayed at Wahid Borobudur Hotel, which is much cheaper but still classy and only a 4-minute walk to the temple. To get to the temple, you’ll have to brave persistent hawkers, but I ignored them and went straight to the ticket booth. Prices are different for foreigners and natives—I paid about 25 USD in local currency.

There are sunrise (4:30AM) and sunset tours available for purchase separately, but the weather this particular September was cooler than usual. Many more dark clouds were present, blocking the sunrise, and providing no advantage for the sunrise tour package.

About an hour’s drive from Borobudur is Prambanan, the site of another UNESCO temple and about four smaller ones within walking distance. Prambanan is basically a farming village, and one of the highlights was seeing farmers on rice paddies and elsewhere using centuries-old techniques to cultivate the land. The sunset at a local coffeeshop, Resto Wedang Kopi, was beautiful, and the coffee and tea were amazing. Right around the corner is another temple site called North Klaosan.
North Klaosan
I preferred Prambanan to Borobudur. Although Borobudur’s temple is more majestic, Prambanan feels more like a village that happens to have temples rather than a city that has built its entire existence around one. The main Prambanan site, also with a 25 USD admission fee, has several temples on it, but after you exit, if you keep walking, you’ll see four other standalone temples, including Candi Sewu, the best one. A small tram carts tourists around if you don’t want to walk, but don’t miss the tiny AV museum, which shows how the temples were built. 

Overall, 3 to 4 nights is sufficient to see all of Yogya. Happy travels. 

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