My objective in visiting Yogyakarta was to see two famous architectural wonders in Java: A Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple. I was told that tourists generally go to the Hindu temple for the sunset and the Buddhist temple for the sunrise. So that’s what I did, and I was hoping the weather would go well for the best view.
To know something about Yogyakarta
Between the 8th to 10th centuries Java was under two Kingdom’s rules. The South was ruled by the Buddhist Kings Shailendra, and the North was ruled by the Hindu Kings Sanjaya. The two dynasties were later united by the marriage of Rakai Pikatan of Hindu Mataram and the Buddhist Shailendra princess Pramodhavardhani. My point is that may be the reason the Indonesians adopted both Hindu and Buddhist ideas and values, fusing them with pre-existing native folk and Animist beliefs. Hindu temples and Buddhist temples were founded everywhere, while the Prambanan and the Borobudur are two of the biggest and most famous ones.
After we had arrived at Yogyakarta airport, we had a limousine pick us up from the hotel to the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa, which is not far from the airport. We were greeted by concierge staff and invited to have snacks and refreshments at the sky lounge before entering our room. We reserved a “lagoon access” suite on the ground floor where the balcony is directly connected to the pool, and the hotel’s main swimming pool on the terrace is very close as well. We took some time enjoying the hotel facilities, made spa treatment appointments, and then we were prepared to head out and book our tours. Before I took off, I learned that the hotel has a booking counter, and there would be quite a few tourist agencies in the Jalan Dagen / Malioboro area. Therefore, I did something that I never do: book a tour until I arrived at the destination! I was hoping to get a better price. The itinerary of each tour guide may vary (but the framework would generally be the same), so do a little research beforehand and make sure the guide would take you to all the places with a clean and safe vehicle. We headed to our cooking class the next day at the Viavia (which is located in the dining area of the city), we had afternoon tea at the Paprika Restaurant in Phoenix Hotel, and we had spa treatments in the hotel. So relaxed. To understand more about planning a trip to Yogyakarta, check out the 101 Travel Guide of What You Need to Know about Yogyakarta.
Sunset at Prambanan
I supposed most of the Indonesian visitors might have heard about Borobudur, but not as much about the Prambanan. The Prambanan World Heritage Compounds is the largest Hindu compound in Southeast Asia. As said, it’s a collection of Hindu temples, and there are three main temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, and the other three temples are devoted to the animals who serve the gods.
At about 3 pm we were picked up by the driver at the hotel heading to the Prambanan temple for the sunset. It was sunny in the morning but then after lunch, a dark cloud cast over the city, and a thunderstorm hit. So the traffic was intense, and it took more time to get to the temple, and I was so worried that I may not even see the sunset through the thick clouds…
Before entering the compound it reminded me very much of Angkor Wat, looking from afar. The puddles may have turned sand into the mud they also formed gorgeous reflections of the temples. Rising above the Prambanan Plain in the center of these concentric squares are three Hindu towers decorated with bas-reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana. The refined details in the sculptures and engraving that survived the 2006 earthquake, were mystical and outstanding, they are the best representation of Hindu art in the nation. Together with Borobudur, Prambanan made the Unesco World Heritage list in 1991.
The rain didn’t wash away the tourists’ spirit. They were climbing the temples one by one and waiting for the magic moment – which never actually came. L Yet it was still an amazing experience admiring the Hindu art that was intensively displayed on the walls.
For two hours, it was raining, and we thought it was over. Just when the temple was about to close, everyone has left the site, there we had it – we saw a perfect sunset in between the temples of Vishnu and Shiva. It was the highlight of an ending of yet another simple, uneventful, but blissful day…
Some watch the Ramayana Ballet at Prambanan at night. The performance took place on an open stage with the temple as the background. The visual impact is amazing on a clear day. Then we fed the deer!
Sunrise at Borobudur
We had a rather relaxed evening tasting Indonesian food like Gado-Gado (Indonesian Salad), Baso (noodle soup) with meatballs, Otak Goreng (fried fish balls), Mile Ayam, Es Teler (a shaved ice dessert)… and so on, at the hotel restaurant – because we had a big day the next morning.
We ordered a breakfast box at 4 am, and the driver picked us up punctually. A little bit sleepy and cranky, we were excited to see the sunrise. It’s about 50 km away from the city center, and we arrived at about 5:30 am – as we heard the roosters crowing it was time to walk our way to the hilltop so we would not miss the glorious sunrise!
There are two locations for viewing the sunrise at Borobudur:
- The Manohara Hotel Borobudur Sunrise tour – the Center of Borobudur Study is an agent organizing a sunrise tour that permits visitors to enter the temple before opening hours to view the sunrise. Ticket Foreigner – IDR400,000 / pax Domestic – IDR270,000 / paxStay in guest – IDR250,000 / paxThe tour includes a flashlight, and early entrance to the Borobudur temple, refreshments after the tour, and a souvenir. Visitors who stay in the city of Yogyakarta would have to get up early because the tour starts pretty early.
- Punthuk Stumbu is a ‘cheaper’ and ‘higher’ alternative to seeing the sunrise at Borobudur. Usually, this is where local tour guides would take visitors to see the sunrise and the hill is gaining attention now. Viewers could see the sunrise clearly over the misty Central Java jungle, with Borobudur looming out of a patchwork of green rice fields and swaying palms, and the sun rising in between Mount Merapi and Merbabu. It was epic! (Do you see the tip of the temple in the photo on the right?! 🙂
Together with Angkor Wat and Bagan, Borobudur makes the three best magical Buddhist sites in Southeast Asia. The colossal Buddhist monument is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Through the 2006 earthquake, terrorist bombs, and Gunung Merapi’s eruptions, the temple survived and remained as enigmatic and as beautiful as it was 1200 years ago.
Entering the temple park from the east gate, we climbed to the top of the temple, where the tiny pagodas in different patterns are lined up in concentric circles. Then we are suggested to walk down the temple and walk around every ‘stair’ (pradaksina) clockwise. The first foot of Borobudur and Karmawibhangga reliefs is shown in the Southeast corner of the temple.
Some Travel Tips in Yogyakarta:
- Traffic in Indonesia could be horrendous. In Yogyakarta, traffic jam is common (especially on Malioboro Street, it’s a one-way street, and it’s a dead zone). Leave ample time so you won’t miss the sunset!
- Cars are going nose-to-tail on the road. I learned to cross the road like parting the red sea – hold your arms up on both sides and walk steadily at the right moment.
- Enjoy the “Jogja” time. Servers could be a little bit slow, just relax.
- Coffee usually doesn’t come with milk. But you could get them asking for it.
- Taxi drivers are safe, but sometimes they get a little sneaky. Stay cautious. (For more about the taxi drivers)
In the afternoon – visit other key sites in the city of Yogyakarta! Do you know where these places are?