No trip to Yogyakarta is complete without seeing a few candi. The word candi is an all-encompassing Indonesian term for buildings and temples built between the 8th and 16th century, regardless of its Hindu or Buddhist background. The area surrounding Yogyakarta is rich with old these old historical buildings. And for our second day in Yogyakarta, we decided to visit two of the most famous ones: the Buddhist Candi Borobudur temple, and the Hindu Candi Prambanan temple.
Entrance tickets; foreigner and local visitor. The IDR 375k ticket includes entrance to both the Candi Borobudur and Candi Prambanan within two days.
Visiting the Candi Borobudur is to become an adventurer, an explorer, and a traveler to a long-forgotten time of ancient Javanese kingdoms and dense foggy jungles with many hidden secrets. Ok, I admit that sounds somewhat too romanticised, but a visit to the Candi Borobudur is definitely a very fascinating experience.
The history of this magnificent temple complex in a nutshell:
The Candi Borobudur was built in the 9th century and it is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It is decorated with over 500 figures of Buddha (504 to be exact) and 2,672 panelled reliefs depicting Buddhist stories. Fascinatingly, this impressive monument was lost for hundreds of years and buried under layers of volcanic ash and over time vegetation covered the temple as well. Among the Javanese locals the temple remained known in folktales and lore, but it was largely undiscovered and forgotten until the British conquered parts of Indonesia. The famous British governor, Sir Stamford Raffles, who had always been fascinated by antiquities, relics, history, heard the rumours of a hidden temple complex deep in the Javanese jungles, and sent forth a Dutch officer in search of this forgotten place. This officer eventually discovered it and so began the immense process of clearing and restoration of the temple, which resulted into the Borobudur that we now know and love. The temple was restored and partially renovated in the 1970s and it also survived a terrorist attack by muslim extremists. Fortunately, there were no human casualties, but nine Buddhist statues were destroyed on the upper levels of the temple.
The Candi Borobudur is absolutely massive. It is a giant enthralling temple complex in which you can spend hours perusing the various relief stones that decorate the levels of the structure. If you have not been here before, a visit to this temple is a must if you are in Yogyakarta. Its historical significance aside, it is also a stunning area. The Candi Borobudur is surrounded by mountains and the temple is located in a hot arid valley, enclosed by forests. It is a really a stunning place. And the black volcanic stones used to built it gives it a very ominous and neat atmosphere contrasted to the green environment.
There are literally thousands of bas-relief panels on the structure itself. Some are quite gorgeous, while others are missing their accompanied “puzzle piece”. I believe the structure was also partially damaged during an earthquake and some parts have not been returned to their original location. Which is understandable considering the enormous size of the temple.
The bas-reliefs depicted on the walls of the Candi Borobudur depict various buddhist scriptures. These scriptures are aimed to lead the pilgrim eventually to achieve nirvana at the top of the temple. In a Buddhist’s terms this would mean to release all ties to earthly desires and to finally achieve formlessness with the spirit realm.
Traversing upwards the Candi Borobudur will lead you through various levels filled with relief panels and headless buddha statues. Unfortunately, the headless statues are due tomb raiders and other thieves who used to steal the heads and sell them to collectors through black markets. Moving on, eventually you will reach the higher levels where the sky opens up for you and you will be greeted by tens of so-called stupas. These little domes house statues of the buddha and if you can reach in and touch one it is supposed to bring luck. The view from the top here is amazing. You can see all around the valley and the mountains. It is truly a gorgeous place.
Of course, since the Candi Borobudur is such a popular destination, it can get very very crowded. We arrived there in the morning and had a few hours of relative calm before the busloads of tourists started to arrive, which was around 12pm. Afterwards, it became pretty much impossible to take a photo without other people in it. And it also became much more difficult to go up and down the narrow stairs due to the crowds. If you happen to find yourself there on a crowded day, be extra careful going down the steep stairs. Funnily enough, we heard we caught the Borobudur on a quiet day. I can’t imagine the crowds on a busy day.
Also, do not underestimate the weather there. It can get extremely hot around the midday until the afternoon. The sun is relentless and there is not much shade that can be found in the Candi Borobudur area.
I would highly recommend going early to enjoy the temple in a less crowded atmosphere. For the Candi Borobudur, I think it is also worth looking into booking a sunrise or sunset tour. I haven’t done this myself, but if I would go again, I would opt for that. It is more expensive than a regular ticket, but you get to visit the temple before it officially opens or after it officially closes (so it will be very serene and beautiful). Which would be amazing in that setting. Not to mention the temperature would be perfect.
The worst part about this place is the forced tourist trap maze you will have to navigate through to get to the exit. There are literally hundreds of souvenir stalls and touts trying to sell you the same stuff over and over again. It’s unbecoming of the elegance and spiritual nature of the temple; a dark blemish on an otherwise captivating location.
All in all, the enormous size of the Candi Borobudur, in combination with its age, history, design, and the thousands of detailed figures and reliefs make this temple an impressive sight that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world for good reason. The Candi Borobudur temple is amazing, and truly one of Indonesia’s gems and major attractions.
Important information before visiting the Candi Borobudur:
- Be prepared for extreme heat. Around 11am until 3pm the temple and surrounding area can be very hot.
- Best time to visit the temple is early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the mid-day sun.
- Bring a hat and/or sunscreen lotion. Umbrellas are also available for rent.
- Bring sunglasses.
- Bring something to drink.
- Bring your camera.
- There are two entrances: one for locals, one for foreigners. Two different entrance fees.