Yogyakarta is home to Candi Borobudur – the largest Buddhist Temple in the world – and lies on the island of Java, Indonesia. It is also home to the Prambanan temple. I’ve visited twice – the first time as a solo traveler visiting only Candi Borobudur. I took on board a few lessons learned from this trip when I returned with my wife a couple of years later, and visited both temples. If you’re based in Singapore, you can comfortably do this trip over a weekend.
Yogyakarta airport serves Central Java, and is a two-hour flight out of Singapore. I traveled on SilkAir flight 152 and landed there at 9:50am local time (Yogyakarta is an hour behind Singapore). Yogyakarta airport is small. There are no air bridges, and you walk off the plane onto the tarmac and into the terminal building. They have three counters for immigration, and while the lines look long when a flight lands, you get through pretty quickly. The immigration officers are polite and professional, and after duly stamping your passport, will welcome you to their country.
Where to stay
I stayed in Borobudur at a resort called Villa Borobudur that was fairly new at the time, having been open for about two years.
Villa Borobudur is perched at the top of a hill that overlooks the Borobudur valley. They have a series of villas with multiple rooms, and self contained single suites. My suite was constructed entirely of timber and tastefully decorated in traditional Javanese decor.
The resort also had an outdoor pool, and two outdoor living and dining areas that overlooked the valley. The most striking thing about the location was how quiet it was, once the calls for prayers had come to an end.
The most efficient and comfortable way to get around Borobudur and Yogyakarta is to hire a car. Having learned from my first trip here, the second time I visited, I had the hotel send out a vehicle to pick us up from the airport and drive us around between the temples for the next couple of days. Yogyakarta has heavy traffic, and having a vehicle at your disposal is the way to go.
The two temples are the things to see in Yogyakarta, and I recommend that you do not get distracted by anything else. I recommend catching an early morning flight from Singapore into Yogyakarta, that will allow you to get to the hotel by lunch time.
Day # 1
- Arrive in Yogyakarta, drive to and settle into the hotel.
- Get a sunset viewing of the Borobudur Temple
- Get a sunrise viewing of the Borobudur Temple
- Drive to Prambanan
- View the Prambanan Temple.
- Go back to the hotel and get some rest.
- Fly back to your home base.
Day 1 – Borobudur at Sunset
After checking into the hotel, getting some lunch, and some rest, head to Candi Borobudur around 3pm in the afternoon. You will need to get a ticket to visit the temple.
Borobudur temple (or Candi Borobudur as the locals call it) is about 3km down the road. Entry to Candi Borobudur for the sunset viewing was priced at IDR400k for foreigners in both 2016 and 2019 when I last visited, through the Manohara centre. The hotel had a package arrangement which also served refreshments at the end of the sunset viewing, and supplied guests with flashlights and a rain poncho.
Sunset isn’t until around 6:00pm in this part of the world.
Candi Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist Temple. It is no mean feat of architecture. The structure is built entirely of stone, and consists of nine ascending levels. The first five are square with panels of Buddha in slightly varying poses. The next three are circular, with perforated stupas arranged in a circle around the central major stupa that makes up the top level. Each of these perforated stupas contain a sculpture of Buddha, again in a varying pose.
Candi Borobudur is very popular among tourists, who are mostly locals. There are times when it can get very crowded, with everyone looking to get a selfie or their souvenir picture for their collection.
At around 5:00pm, security guards usher everyone away, except those who have a sticker on their shirts for the sunset viewing. This is when one get to enjoy the quietness of the temple.
During my visit, a group of about 50 visitors sat on the western side, gazing into the setting sun. Walking across to the eastern side, I got a view of Mount Sindara that began to change colour as the sun dropped below the horizon. Indonesia has a large number of volcanoes. Mount Sindara is one of two dormant volcanoes in the area that form the valley. Its eruptions from the past have left the area with very fertile soil that make it perfect for farming.
I recommend getting an early dinner and turning in early on your first night. You will have an early start on the second day.
Day 2 – Borobudur at Sunrise and the Prambanan Temple
A sunrise viewing of Borobudur requires an early start. I was up at 3:30am the next morning and out the door 45 minutes later. I had the hotel prepare a breakfast box so that I could eat straight after the sunrise viewing. Following the 15 minute ride to the Manohara, I was spared the need to line up for tickets (the hotel had made arrangements). I was also issued a headlamp and a rain poncho.
The sunrise viewing allows one to take in the surrounding areas, and also watch the sun illuminate the two dormant volcanoes in the backdrop.
Following the sunrise viewing, we returned back to the Manohara where the staff were serving some hot beverages and snacks.
It was about 8:00am by the time we started making our way to Prambanan in Yogyakarta. This is a 90-minute drive and a good opportunity to catch up on some lost sleep.
The Prambanan temple or Candi Prambanan dates back to 850B.C.E. It’s focal point are the 3 main temples dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti – Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer. The temple walls are decorated with bas-reliefs that depict stories from the Hindu epics – the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. Beyond the main temples lie several smaller Perwara temples. The temple complex also houses Candi Sewu – an ancient Buddhist temple – and the archaeological site of the Ratu Boko Palace. It takes one a good 3 hours to truly take in the site.
Once done with the site, we headed back to our hotel at Borobudur for an early night’s sleep.
Day 3: Travel back to your home base
Traffic in Indonesia can be unpredictable. On my first trip, the normally 2-hour long trip to 3 hours due to diversions. I recommend scheduling an afternoon flight so that you don’t have to get up too early to catch it.
Both Candi Borobudur and Prambanan are holy sites. One needs to dress modestly with covered shoulders and covered legs for ladies, and knee-length shorts at a minimum for men.