Yogyakarta, Indonesia: A college town in Central Java with some pretty awesome Hindu and Buddhist temples

Mar 03, 2016

Yogyakarta or “Jogja” as it’s commonly called is medium sized city in Indonesia with roughly 45 universities. It isn’t much of a destination for most travelers but rather a way of visiting a few of the Hindu and Buddhist Temples in the area. Overall, I guess I was indifferent to Jogja proper with its swarms of motorbikes and snarled traffic.  But the temples, oh they were totally worth visiting.

The most popular Temple to visit in Jogja is Borobudur, about 30km outside of the city. Borobudur was built around 800 AD when Central Java was ruled by Samarantungga, king of the Cailendra dynasty. Basically, Buddhists who lived in the area until volcanic eruptions forced people to flee a few hundred years later. The temple is in good condition now but it was essentially left to decay and fall apart when much of it was covered in ash and later, jungle growth. It was essentially abandoned for one thousand years until it was rediscovered in 1814. Since then, restorations have been carried out to rebuild portions of the site and shore up the remaining structures. Sadly, there was a bombing which destroyed portions of the temple in 1985 but they were mostly rebuilt with original stone or remnants of stone that were not placed in the initial restoration. The site is much smaller now than it was initially and many of the stoned found were not part of the restoration so there are huge areas of carved stones just placed in rows everywhere for later restoration efforts. Little by little progress is made but at this point, it seems like maintenance more than reconstructing some of the old temples as the stones have been moved and the exact temple placement forgotten.

Hard to take bad photos at Borobudu, this is a nice one taken by Jen Hays.

It is an interesting site with tons of carvings displaying Buddhist beliefs and stories on the walls and it’s easy to appreciate the serenity the place might have offered during its heyday. You have to be a little more into archeology than I am to really appreciate the little details that connect the place to more ancient times but to this simple guy, it was a cool place to visit.

You have several options to get to the site but we chose to rent a scooter and brave the insane driving and traffic. It was economical and fun while allowing us to conduct our day at our own pace. That being said, it is not for everyone. If you aren’t quite confident on a motorcycle or have little experience, then I would recommend taking a local bus instead or even hiring a driver/tour bus.

When you go is also a consideration. Sunrise and Sunset are both very popular and therefore more expensive. The photos you’ll get are no doubt fantastic as the mist rises from the jungle in the morning and you can more clearly see the volcano in the distance or the sky turns a golden color as it sets in the evening but we just turned up around 9:30am. Our photos were good and we enjoyed the site but holy hell, it was hot. Like, sweat through everything and drink a gallon of water hot. If you want to avoid the heat, get in as soon as they open at 6:00am and move on before 8:30 when temperatures skyrocket.

The other temple we visited was Prambanan (Hindu and dedicated to Shiva built around 860 AD) and, on the same site, Tewu (Buddhist built around 790 AD). Both were quite cool and it was interesting that they were so close. Perhaps it was a pissing contest between the different rulers over the course of 70 years but it is said that the proximity is actually a sign of tolerance toward each other. Either way, the sites were really cool.

They are less popular than Borobudur with respect to visitors, probably because they aren’t situated on a hilltop with a towering volcano knocking in their backyard but, Jen and I both agreed that we liked the site better than Borobudur. Perhaps it was that there were fewer people, particularly at Sewu where we were completely on our won, or that the clouds had rolled in cooling us off but I think the sites themselves were just a bit better. I mean you get two temple sites as well as some minor surrounding sites for a few dollars less than the price of just Borobudur. We purchased a package deal so it was a bit less expensive to see both sights but still, if you could only see one, our votes would go to Prambanan and Tewu.

It was getting quite stormy but the rain missed us and we had most of the site completely to ourselves.

Lastly, I might as well mention where we stayed. We checked out some guesthouses and homestays but nothing caught our eye given. Instead, Jen scoped out a place on Airbnb for about $20 per night and we went for it. It was a great little place tucked into one of the many little nooks of Jogja and inside it was a palace. Jen as a knack for finding these types of places and this one didn’t disappoint one bit. It had a pool kitchen, private room with AC and en-suite restroom and the most comfortable bed I have slept in since we left home. They even offered a scooter rental with deposit. The hosts were fine and treated us well and gave us some inside info about the area. We probably could have saved some money staying somewhere else but we both agreed this was money well spent.

So to wrap this up, Yogyakarta is good for a day or two but if you’re looking to see the temples and move on, two nights (one full day) should be plenty of time if you can quickly arrange transportation. We recommend looking into some of the really nice and very reasonable Airbnb deals there that usually include or offer airport transfers for a small fee. Also, if you find yourself looking for a motorbike, you can easily book online and have them dropped off at your door and picked up again for roughly $6. In fact, I bet you can hire one at the airport/bus/train terminal and drop it off there if you can sort out the details ahead of time and are traveling light enough. Just be ready for some crazy Indo driving.

Category: Places

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