One week in Yogyakarta – Prambanan, Plaosan Complex, Borobudur, Mt Merapi

In May this year, my friends and I decided to make a short trip to Yogyakarta, a city on the Indonesian island of Java. A couple of them had suggested to climb Mount Merapi, and to be honest, I’ve never really considered climbing a volcano, not to even mention an active one. Nevertheless, being new to this climbing volcanoes thing, not knowing what I was in for, I readily agreed! Besides, the thought of making a visit to the magnificent Borobodur was also quite exciting!

Prambanan, Plaosan Complex

On our first day of arrival, we reached Yogyakarta at 9.30am, and went straight to the first of many cultural sites we visited — Prambanan. Prambanan is a a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. There, we climbed up steep steps into each and every temples located within the large compound.

In Hinduism, there is a multitude of gods and goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being or Brahman. There are a total of 240 temples standing in Prambanan, and 3 of the main temples are dedicated to Shiva, Visnu, and Brahma. While the area could have been better preserved, the magnificent structures forms spectacular view to behold, and definitely is one of the places you have to visit at least once in your life.

After which, our driver drove us about 1km northwards to Plaosan Complex, which is a Buddhist temple located in Bugisan village, Prambanan district. What makes this temple unique is that it has a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist characteristics.

Look closely at the stone carvings and structures, and you’ll notice what makes this place different compared to Prambanan. Of course, getting to know the history prior to your visit, or having a guide to help you along would make your visit much more fruitful, just like we did!

Sunrise at Borobudur

On day 2, we woke up in the wee hours at 3.30am and headed to the Borobudur to catch the much anticipated sunrise at the top of the world famous UNESCO site. Our driver dropped us at the Manohara hotel, and after which we proceeded to walk by foot and climbed up the stacked stone platforms. Do note that it’s best to bring along a torch or wear a headlamp, as the area is completely dark, with no street lamps to guide your path.

The Borobudur a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple, and is the world’s largest. Every year, many Buddhists would make pilgrimage visits to this place to celebrate Vesak day. All of us, including many visitors from all over the world waited in anticipation for the sunrise. For me, I had all my camera gear set up and all ready to capture the classic Borobudur sunrise photo I’ve always seen in postcards. In a distance, we also saw Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu! It was quite exciting then, to imagine climbing On Merapi itself, on the following night.

Taman Sari aka Water Castle

After the Borobudur, we went to Taman Sari, also known as Water Castle, and took a relaxing walk around the ancient compound.  In Javanese, Taman, refers to a “garden” and Sari, means “flowers”. Hence, the name Taman Sari simple means a flower garden.

As with any other heritage sites I’ve been to, it was interesting to imagine how life was like in the past, as I stood and walked on the same grounds as those who did before me, hundreds of years ago.

Hike Up Mount Merapi

We then left for our hotel in the noon, and tried to rest for our overnight climb up Mount Merapi. At 10pm, our driver picked us up from our hotel, and we drove about 2.5 hours to the base of the active volcano. This is an active stratovolcano located on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta. It is the most active volcano in Indonesia and has erupted 68 times since 1548.

For all of us in the group, this was our first climb up a volcano! A little silly, but we actually brought a little too much weight in our backpack. A good tip is to pack a light as you can, bring sufficient water(1-2 litres), and of course, a compact camera would be nice. Or if you wish, you could pass your backpacks to your guide (psst, just tip them a little more at the end!). Good shoes, with strong and sturdy soles are utmost important when climbing up this active volcano. Across the terrain, we met with dry/loose soil and also muddy trails. Towards the top, I was scrambling on all fours, and was thankful to my friend who had extra gloves to lend! It was really fun, but really tiring at times. In between my climb, I took a few breaks at some points, just to sit and stare into the night horizon, and also managed to take some pictures of the night sky. Unfortunately, the milky way wasn’t too obvious that night, as it was near full moon. Still, the multitude of stars up there is something we will not get to see in the Singapore sky! It was indeed a beautiful sight.

 A flood of stars in the night sky, with a faint Milky Way in sight A flood of stars in the night sky, with a faint Milky Way in sight

Hours into our climb, the sky started to lit up slowly, and we started to increase our pace, so as to not miss the sunrise at the top. Roughly about 4-5hours, we eventually reached, and the feeling was overwhelming. It was cold at the top!

We kind of all agreed, that the descend was scarier than the ascend(while the ascend was way more tiring)! The route was slightly different, and the soil was much drier, causing some of us to slip and fall several times. Without the expertise of our guides, we probably would have taken several more hours down. While it was tiring, the mood was high, as we all felt absolutely happy to have accomplished what we have set out to do(Despite several thoughts of quitting at the start!). I would definitely recommend all to try this once in your life, with some proper “leg day” training, of course!

Yogyagarta – Experience Culture, Food, Outdoor Adventure

Other than the cultural and adventure tours that Yogyakarta has to offer, I also love the slightly modern/bohemian vibes that the city has. Surrounding our hotel was several cafes serving local/western cuisines, at very reasonable prices. For instance, an eggs benedict breakfast only costs about $5-$6 If you love massages, you can easily go for a 1.5 hours massage at just $10! And we did that almost everyday, at a popular massage chain, called Kakiku. Shopping wise, the one signature item you will need to shop for is Batik. For both girls and guys, do visit Jalan Malioboro, one of the largest shopping streets in Yogyakarta, to get your Batik fix!

Overall, I highly recommend Yogyakarta for an enjoyable short distance holiday and wouldn’t mind going back again!

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