Overshadowed by Borobudur: Why Prambanan Temples Need to be in Your Itinerary

The second stop in our SEA by Train vacation in Indonesia, Prambanan.

Prambanan was not part of our original itinerary. After Yogyakarta, we were supposed to go straight to Borobudur. That is before I stumbled upon a blog that mentioned Prambanan as a worth while side trip for those visiting the famous Borobudur temple.

Another thing about Prambanan that really captured my attention, is that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a goal of mine to see at least 20 World Heritage Sites in my lifetime. So far, I’ve been to Angkor, Ayutthaya, Vigan, San Agustin Church, Paoay Church, and those we will visit in Indonesia: Prambanan, Borobudur and Bali.

Prambanan temples Indonesia

We left for Prambanan early in the morning. We wanted to avoid the crowd. Forums say they usually arrive around 10 in the morning. True enough, at around that time, the complex was filled with students on an educational trip.

From Malioboro, we took a taxi straight to Prambanan. The driver asked for a fixed rate of IDR 100,000. It took around 30 minutes to get to the temple complex. As it was early, we didn’t encounter any traffic. According to wikitravel, there is a direct bus route from Malioboro to Prambanan and vice versa, the TransJogja Route 1A.

On a bus back to Yogyakarta from Prambanan temples in Indonesia

After our visit to Prambanan, we decided to take a commuter bus to get back to Yogyakarta as our hotel service to Borobudur will not be able to pick us up. There aren’t a lot of taxis in Prambanan. I suggest renting a service for IDR 350,000 for 10 hours. This will include a trip to Prambanan, Borobudur and around Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta has a well organized bus system. I like that designated stops are strictly enforced and that bus fares are paid for at the stations. Just like anyone in a foreign place, no matter how systematic things are, it can still get confusing.

It was quite an adventure. It took 3 different buses to finally get to Malioboro St. If it hadn’t been for the very helpful Miknu we would’ve been completely lost. Thanks Man!

By the time we got to Malioboro St., we were exhausted. We ended up renting a service straight to our hotel in Borobudur for IDR 200,000. Hehe!

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia. It was built during the 10th century and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Often overshadowed by Borobudur, most tourists fail to include Prambanan in their itinerary.

Prambanan Temple Complex

Prambanan Temple Complex Schedule:
6 am to 6 pm

Prambanan Temple Complex Admission Rate:
IDR 117,000 / IDR 63,000 for students
These are rates for foreigners. Indonesians pay less, around IDR 10,000.

There is a separate entrance for foeigners. The ticket also entitles you to free drinks. Guides can be hired at the ticketing office for IDR 75,000. Guided tours usually last about an hour and is confined within Prambanan’s main temple compound.

A toy train shuttles around the park. Especially helpful when going from one temple complex to another. Ride is free for foreigners.

The Prambanan temple complex has three zones. The outer, middle and inner zones. The outer zone is a large open space bounded by a wall, this can no longer be seen in the compound. The middle zone consists of 224 identical shrines, most in ruins. Our guide, Bagyo, says that these were used for meditation. The inner zone contains 8 main temples and is the holiest of the three.

The largest shrines in Prambanan, also the three main shires, are found inside the inner zone. Called the Trimurti, or three sacred places, these shrines are dedicated to Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer.

Our guide tells us that when the Prambanan temples were discovered it was all toppled and people from the surrounding villages used the stones as construction materials or decorations for their houses. Restoration started in the 1930s and continues until today.

The Prambanan temples are just majestic. They’re also huge, with the tallest rising to over 150 feet! Some of the temples are off limits. They are deemed unsafe due to damage sustained from the eruptions of nearby, ever active Mt. Merapi and are undergoing restorations.

Bagyo explains that the smaller shrines in Prambanan’s inner zone are dedicated to the vehicles of the Trimurti. Of the three only the bull Nandi (for Shiva) remains.

The six main temples at the central court of Prambanan are richly decorated with carved reliefs. According to Bagyo, the ones outside the walls are of the various deities and mythical beings, while those inside tells the story of the Ramayana.

I really didn’t quite grasp the entire story of Ramayana. It is a lengthy epic,  filled with names I can’t even pronounce. Hehe! In a nutshell, from what I understood, it tells the story of the major events in the life of Rama (Vishnu’s avatar).

The part of the story that caught my interest is when the demon king kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Of course there was war to reclaim her. More than anything, the Ramayana explores the concept of human values such as duties of relationships and portraying ideal characters.

Candi Sewu is a Buddhist temple one kilometer north of Prambanan. Meaning one thousand temples, this complex tells the story of the Rara Jonggrang Legend. A story with a plot worthy of Hollywood.

Legend says that Prince Bandung wanted to marry Princess Rara but she declined as Bandung killed her father in order to rule the land. The prince insisted and Rara was forced to agree on the union but posed an impossible condition, Bandung must build a thousand temples in one night.

The prince meditated and conjured spirits and succeeded in building 999 temples. When he was about to meet the condition, the princess woke her maids and order the women of the village to start pounding rice and set a fire to the east of the temple to trick the prince and the spirits that the sun was about to rise.

Fooled, the spirits fled back to the ground. The prince was furious and in revenge cursed Rara to stone. I guess, he didn’t really love her that much… :)

Like many other attractions, Prambanan has no shortage of souvenir shops in and around the complex. You can buy an assortment of things. From the usual key chains and shirts, to the more curious, such as a mortar and pestle made from volcanic rocks.

There are also performances near the main temple entrance of Prambanan. No, these are not the spell-binding Ramayana ballet, that we regret not seeing. I’m not certain if they are students or a cultural group.

What I reckon is that the performers are portraying themselves as warriors. A little later in the performance they were being whipped, they were whipping them good! After the whipping they have the performers eat flowers from a bowl. We chanced upon Bagyo and he said that the performers are supposed to be in some trance.

If you’re hungry from all the walking and have used a considerable amount of your energy trying to remember all the names that your guide had been throwing at you, you don’t have to go far. There are a lot of warungs or food shops inside Prambanan complex.

I no longer remember the names of everything we ordered. I do remember Ayam Bakar (grilled chicken) and Cendol. Cendol was my favorite. I’m not sure what’s in it, but I think I tasted rose water, milk and jelly. We also had fish cake wrapped in tofu, which was very good.

The following are our major expenses. This does not include purchases like snacks, supplies, souvenirs, etc.

Taxi to Prambanan IDR 100,000
Prambanan Entrance IDR 117,000
Prambanan Guide IDR 75,000
Lunch IDR 80,000
Bus to Malioboro IDR 20,000 (approx)

In most other countries, a monument such as Prambanan would easily be a national symbol. Think of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. However, Prambanan is cast under the shadows of another magnificent monument, Borobudur. Of course, this doesn’t make Prambanan any less significant.

The Indonesian government had taken serious actions to restore this amazing ancient monument. I’m glad they did. It is a humbling experience to stand before such a splendid age-old structure as Prambanan.

Prambanan temples Indonesia

We experienced yet another act of kindness during our travels in Indonesia in the form of Miknu, who volunteered to see us through from Prambanan to Malioboro street. Interactions such as this adds a whole lot of value to the experience.

So if you’re planning to see Borobudur, I suggest to add Prambanan in your itinerary. And don’t make it just an optional item that you can cross out, take the time to really see it. I guarantee you, it will be worth it.

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21 Responses to Overshadowed by Borobudur: Why Prambanan Temples Need to be in Your Itinerary

  1. agung hary 4 June 2016 at 4:27 pm #

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  2. Rainbow Journal 9 June 2014 at 3:07 am #

    Borobudur is a must-see for anyone who loves history. So is Prambanan temples.

  3. Christian Melanie Lee 9 June 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Wow! with the rich culture of Indonesia, would love to visit the temples in Borobudur.

  4. Rainbow Journal 6 June 2014 at 9:03 am #

    You've already seen a lot of the Philippines. High time to visit our neighbors, don't you think? :)

  5. Gabriela Fernandez 6 June 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Wow!!! Don't have plans to go to Indonesia yet but this will be in my Itinerary if ever. thanks for posting. This place is not so popular for SEA trip. :) Worth visiting. Thanks! It made me eager to pursue my SEA trip. Gab – http://www.taragumala.blogspot.com

  6. Rainbow Journal 5 June 2014 at 4:12 am #

    Thanks Kaycee! I was thinking it will be easier for readers to jump to the topic they are interested in. Also, I don't like scrolling a lot. It makes the article seem like a burden to read. Hehe! :)

  7. Kaycee Enerva 5 June 2014 at 4:00 am #

    Out of topic but I like how your posts are labeled with easy access links :)

  8. Rainbow Journal 4 June 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Jerome Lupisan I think I remember. He was whispering into one of the pillars?

  9. Rainbow Journal 4 June 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    That's a great analogy. Hehe! My older brother is such a huge fan of Pippen and he says that Pippen is often underrated because of Jordan.

  10. Jerome Lupisan 4 June 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I think Prambanan suffers from being a Pippen to a Jordan. Pippen is a gifted defender and offensive all-star player himself, but all you hear is MJ. Perhaps, if Prambanan was in another country, let's say the Philippines, it would have the same reputation.

  11. Jerome Lupisan 4 June 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Rainbow Journal There's a scene about how people used to whisper their secrets in a hole on a tree and cover it with mud. He does that there in Angkor Wat.

  12. Rainbow Journal 4 June 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Prambanan is really awe-inspiring. You can spend hours just marveling at the intricate reliefs on the main temples.

    I saw "In The Mood For Love" a few years back. Although, I don't remember much of it and that it featured Angkor. Hehe! I think it's time I watch it again.

  13. Jerome Lupisan 4 June 2014 at 11:17 am #

    The word epic is thrown a lot these days from being able to take an uninterrupted 3 hour nap to a pizza. This should be reserved to marvelous feats of human artistry such as this. I've seen them myself and how I wish I had the whole day to see every single relief. It's not just the reliefs, but the overall beauty of it architecture. Too bad, my companions were in a hurry to visit other sites. You are correct, people always hear Borobudur and Prambanan gets to be overshadowed.

    I paid the lower fee for locals as I am a KITAS (work visa) holder when I went there. I've never set foot to Cambodia and have always wished to go to Angkor Wat. That it features in "In The Mood For Love" doesn't make things easier for me. Hopefully, I can visit that too.

  14. Rainbow Journal 4 June 2014 at 8:19 am #

    I hope you'd be able to check Prambanan off of your bucket list soon. :)

  15. Andy Dela Cruz 4 June 2014 at 4:52 am #

    That's just beautiful. I will add this on my bucket list.

  16. Rainbow Journal 3 June 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Oh, the Angkor temples… It holds a special place in my heart. Not only because of its beauty and rich culture, it was also my first trip out of the Philippines. :)

    The Prambanan temples are fewer than those in Angkor, but no less grand.

  17. Cla Martinez Badong 3 June 2014 at 9:00 am #

    I, too have never been to Indonesia, but I find myself attracted to Prambanan Temples just like I am attracted to Ankor Wat :D

  18. Rainbow Journal 3 June 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Hi Sherlane! Hopefully you'd have the chance to visit Indonesia. It's a remarkable place. And yes, do include Prambanan in your itinerary. :)

  19. Rainbow Journal 3 June 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks for sharing this article Jing! The Prambanan temples surely are amazing. :)

  20. Sherlane Fortunado 3 June 2014 at 6:08 am #

    I’ve never been to Indonesia. The Prambanan Temples looks cool and will surely have it in our itinerary if ever i would have the chance to visit Indonesia.

  21. Jing Dalagan 3 June 2014 at 5:55 am #

    Amazing sights :D Love the temples. Shared this on Twitter and Pinterest :D