By the time I left for Indonesia, I was more than ready. I had my fill of laksa in Malaysia, and after a brush with a pair of rogue parasailers, I felt it was time to move on. My first port of call was Yogyakarta, a city in Central Java, and known as “Jogja” to people in the know. Much smaller than the megalopolis of Jakarta, Yogyakara is the home to one of the oldest and best universities in Indonesia, so there is a large student population which gives the city a hip, youthful vibe. There’s plenty to do in the city, including visiting the sultan’s palace (he still exists but is basically a figurehead at this point) as well as exploring the maze-like streets of the Kraton. The reason I decided to start my Indonesia travels in Yogyakarta, however, were the twin UNESCO World Heritage sites of Borobudur and Prambanan.
Boroburdu is the most-visited site in Indonesia and it’s easy to see why. It’s a 1200 year old Buddhist temple nestled into the jungle valley between looming mountains. It also was abandoned to the jungle until its rediscovery in the 1800s. Since then, the monument has been restored to its former splendor. Its six platforms tell the story of the Buddha’s life in engraved carvings, while the top is scattered with stupas and provides spectacular views.
Because the site is the most-visited monument in Indonesia, it can get extremely crowded. However, there is one way to avoid the crowds, and that way is visiting during sunrise. For the relatively expensive price of $32, you get to watch the sunrise at 5AM while nestled among the the stupas and sharing the space with only a few visitors. To me, it was worth it. We didn’t actually see the sun itself rise, but the experience of watching the mist lift from the valley as Borobudur comes into the light was magical in its own way. By 7AM, crowds started to show, but that gave me two hours to explore the site in relative solitude.
After exploring Borobudur, I headed to Prambanan. Like Borobudur, Prambanan dates back about 1200 years, but it’s a Hindu temple complex rather than a Buddhist one. It’s architecturally very similar to Angkor Wat, but is still worth a see if visiting the area.
Unfortunately, my trip to Prambanan was significantly less peaceful than Borobudur. At Prambanan, I was followed, videotaped and photographed by a huge crowd of locals, who seemed more interested in me than the ancient ruins. At least 30 people asked to take pictures with me, a favor I sometimes grant if there are only a few people asking. It was overwhelming. I didn’t get the sense anything malevolent was afoot, but as a solo female traveler, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable posing for pictures with strangers. That didn’t stop people from asking and trailing my every step the entire time I was there. I know, I know. It’s part of travel, especially in Asia. But the crowds and aggressive visitors damped my enjoyment of the ancient site, fair or not.
I highly recommend including Yogyakarta on a trip to Indonesia. Borobudur makes the trip itself worth it, and adding on Prambanan is an added bonus. It’s also a jumping off point for the volcanos of East Java, which are worth a few days as well. Yogyakarta is an excellent place to scratch the surface of the history of this diverse country beyond the beaches of Bali.