In this trip report, we visit the great Hindu temples of Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta in a combined day trip with Borobudur.
Borobudur and Prambanan
Together with the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, the Hindu temple compound of Prambanan is the blockbuster sight of Yogyakarta.
I would even go further and say that the ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are the highlights of the entire island of Java – and perhaps even of Indonesia in its entirety.
Borobudur and Prambanan can be easily visited from Yogyakarta as a half-day trip, either by organised tour or by arranging your own wheels by renting a car and driver for the day.
In the previous chapter about Borobudur, I explained more about this and detailed my experiences of a sunrise visit to this magical Buddhist temple.
After visiting Borobudur, we drove back towards Yogyakarta. While Borobudur is located quite a distance (40km) out of the cultural capital of Indonesia, Prambanan is located quite a bit closer to the city centre as it’s just 17 kilometres away.
Just like Borobudur, Prambanan was also built in the 9th Century, although the big difference is that Prambanan is of course a Hindu temple complex.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and one of the biggest in all of south east Asia. It was most likely built by a local Hindu dynasty as a reply to the construction of Borobudur by a rival Buddhist dynasty.
Basically, it was the 9th Century version of buying a brand new Mercedes just to outshine the BMW of your neighbour. And sure enough, when you walk from the car park to the temple complex you instantly feel that Prambanan is a highly impressive site.
A ticket to the complex costs 350,000 IDR (20 EUR). There are discounts for students, children under the age of 10 and Indonesian nationals.
Exploring the Prambanan temples
Prambanan differs from Borobudur that it consists out of multiple smaller temples instead of one giant temple mount. When you approach the complex you immediately see the temples towering above the trees.
The highlight of Prambanan is the central compound, where there are eight main temples assembled on a raised platform.
Inside the temples
Each temple at Prambanan is dedicated to a different Hindu god – and features a statue of the respective deity inside.
The largest of them all is the ‘Candi Shiva Mahadeva’, a temple dedicated to Shiva. The main spire of this lavishly carved temple soars 47 metres high.
Inside the temple of Shiva, you can find several smaller shrines dedicated to other Hindu deities such as Ganesh and Durga.
If you look closely at Ganesh you can see that his right hand is cracked. This is part of the damage which Prambanan sustained during an earthquake in 2006 which killed around 5,800 people in the greater Yogyakarta area.
Although the main temples were relatively unscathed, many smaller temples sustained some extensive damage. Restauration works are still ongoing and some parts of the complex are therefore off-limits.
Other Hindu gods
The other two main temples at the central temple compound of Prambanan are dedicated to the Hindu gods of Brahma and Vishnu.
You are free to climb into every temple – and exploring all the staircases and walkways of the temples is certainly part of the charm of the magnificent complex.
Outside the main compound
In total there are a whopping 244 temples at Prambanan, although not all of them are as massive or well-preserved as the main temple of Shiva.
If you walk outside the main compound, you will find a lot of smaller temples, as well as some crumbling stone remains of what once used to be temples.
A lot of these temples were toppled by an earlier earthquake which hit Prambanan in the 16th Century. At that time, the entire area was already abandoned by the Hindu kings of Java who fled east after Islam gained a foothold in the country and the Mataram sultans took power.
It marked the start of a long decline as the Prambanan temples were left to crumble and treasure hunters ravaged the area.
Even though the temples outside of the central compound are not as impressive, it is still well worth it to walk a bit around. The lack of crowds and the mesmerising sounds of some bells or triangles made for some amazing moments.
Besides, the further you get away from the main compound of Prambanan, the better the views are when looking back!
Just like Borobudur, Prambanan is an amazing sight which cannot be missed when visiting the island of Java. To me, visiting Prambanan and Borobudur was the absolute highlight of my trip to Indonesia.
Even when I compare it with other historical places around the world which I was fortunate enough to visit, Prambanan would certainly rank among the top.
When visiting Prambanan, do however make the effort to walk a bit more around the area. Although the main shrine of Shiva and the surrounding temples of the central compound are arguably the finest of all, there is a lot more to see in the area.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Journey to Java‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Rome Ciampino (Airbus A321)
2. Half a Day in Rome: A Walk Around the Eternal City
3. Review: Casa Alitalia Lounge ‘Piazza di Spagna’ Rome Fiumicino Airport
4. Review: Saudia Business Class Rome to Riyadh (Airbus A320)
5. Review: Saudia Alfursan Business Lounge Riyadh Airport
6. Review: Saudia Business Class Riyadh to Jakarta (Boeing 777-300)
7. Review: The Hermitage, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia
8. A Day in Jakarta: Exploring Indonesia’s Bustling Capital City
9. Review: Garuda Indonesia Domestic Business Lounge Jakarta Airport
10. Review: Garuda Indonesia Business Class Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Boeing 737-800)
11. Review: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta – Mgallery By Sofitel
12. A Magical Sunrise Visit to Borobudur Temple
13. A Visit to the Great Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan (current chapter)
14. Review: Yogyakarta to Surabaya (Indonesia) by Train
15. Review: Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya, Indonesia
16. A Day in Surabaya: Exploring Indonesia’s Second Biggest City
17. Review: Concordia Premier Lounge Surabaya Airport
18: Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Surabaya to Singapore (Airbus A330-300)
19. A Short Singapore Stopover: Into the City or Stay at the Airport?
20. Review: SilverKris Lounge Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2
21. Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Singapore to Manila (Boeing 787-10)
22. Review: PAGSS Business Lounge Manila Airport Terminal 1
23. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Manila to Taipei (Airbus A330-300)
24. Review: China Airlines Business Lounge Taipei Airport Terminal 1
25. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Taipei to Rome (Airbus A350)
26. Review: TAROM Economy Class Rome to Bucharest (Boeing 737-700)