After spending a few weeks on the Indonesian island of Bali, we were excited to explore nearby Java and the bustling city of Yogyakarta. Anyone who likes coffee knows the term “java,” the nickname of which is derived from early coffee plantations on the tropical island that provided large amounts of coffee for export.
Java is also the political and cultural center of the archipelago nation of Indonesia. Some of the most popular sights for visitors are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Yogyakarta (or “Yogya” to locals) is situated right between them, making the city a convenient base for exploring these early examples of Hindu and Buddhist culture. A good choice for lodging in the city is the Novotel Yogakarta which you can find on Traveloka.
Start your journey at the Prambanan temples (shown above). It’s located only 10 miles northeast of the center of Yogyakarta. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, that originally consisted of over 200 structures, is easily reached by the 1A bus from downtown. Many compare the experience to visiting the famous temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but with less crowds.
Prambanan is simply wonderful, with structures dating from the 9th century AD. For centuries they were lost to the jungle until being rediscovered over 200 years ago. Since the temple complex is so huge, you might want to spread your visit over several days, interspersing days at the temple with sightseeing in Yogyakarta. In fact, for a sight this large and complex, it’s worth your time to focus on just a few temples each day and really explore them in detail. The decorative stonework friezes alone can take hours to seek out every nook and cranny.
The next temple complex that visitors to Yogyakarta must see is Borobudur, a Buddhist temple from the 8th and 9th centuries. It is surrounded by 72 stone stupas that each contain their own statue of Buddha, truly an incredible artistic feat and sign of devotion by the artisans who create them. The photo at the top of this post also shows Borobudur, with an exposed statue of Buddha out front.
The temples of central Java are truly awe-inspiring. During the 8th and 9th centuries, Europe was in the Dark Ages while the Americas had yet to be “discovered” by those same Europeans. Yet here, on a remote island, some of the greatest achievements of mankind were being created. The fact that centuries later they are still standing is a testament not only to their survival skills and durability, but to the advanced civilization that created them.
The temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan have earned their UNESCO World Heritage status for a reason and are a worthwhile destination for a cultural journey.
Back in Yogyakarta there are also several sights worth exploring between visits to the temples. Since I tend to drag Larissa to military history sights, one popular attraction is the Yogyakarta Fortress Museum; it was built by the former Dutch colonizers of Indonesia in the 18th century. Nowadays, in a bit of turnabout, it houses the Independence Struggle Museum, highlighting Indonesia’s fight for freedom. It tells a history of this nation that is often overlooked by visitors.