Preface: I started writing this post when Jia and I were on our way to Siem Reap but now finishing and posting it in Bangkok. Man keeping these things up to date sure is tough. When you’re out and about during the non-transit days you literally have no time to do this and by nighttime you’re dead beat tired so you pass out almost immediately. Don’t worry I’m on top of this!
Also not sure if you’ve noticed but I’ve been trying to follow a bit more structure with my posts to keep it consistent. On average these posts seem to take anywhere from an hour or two hours to write but I figure these’ll be great in the future for any of you that want to head out here or for me personally to remember what the htideck I did. If you have any suggestions please let me know!
Today is a little temple crazy and probably the hottest days we’ve encountered so far on the trip probably due to the fact that we were outdoors all day.
The day starts off with another superb breakfast in the club lounge where again it was only us and consisted of Chantelle and I scarfing down ridiculous amounts of food in an incredibly short amount of time. We literally have 10 minutes to finish our food in order to make our 8AM pickup. Still we manage to be late and end up having to take our french toast to go.
ViaVia Prambanan and Hidden Temples Motorcycle Tour
We get the lobby and survey the area to try to figure out where our pick up is. The concierge is clueless and after a few minutes two lovely Indonesian students from ViaVia greet us. One is Reni and the other is Aham. They go back to the parking lot to pick up their motorcycles and then we start our journey towards Hidden Temple #1. I totally thought we’d get picked up in a van first and then dropped off in the Prambanan area first but it’s motorcycle all the way. I ride on Aham’s bike and Chantelle on Reni’s. I have to say riding on a motorcycle is pretty awesome. With my helmet and me holding onto the back seat for dear life we zig in and out of local traffic before turning into some sort of backstreet in the country side where it seems like only motorcycles area allowed. It’s quite thrill with the wind blowing by and rice fields zipping past to your left and right. The bike isn’t particularly fast but for my first time I loved it. In an area like this biking around is the total way to go. Both Chantelle and I are total tourists with our point and shoot cameras. The locals are totally rubber necking at us as we pass by.
Hidden Temple #1 is actually called Candi Sambisari, a Hindu temple, and is pretty unique because it actually sits below the ground line and was discovered by a farmer trying to dig into the land to plant crops. The farmer eventually started finding temple stones buried underneath presumably covered over the years by the ash from the nearby Merapi volcano. The interesting thing is that now that same farmer is the temple caretaker. We saw him walking around on our tour with his broom. Inside the temple itself is a “lingga” and “yoni” which are symbols of male and female private parts that were worshiped back then. Reni was finally able to explain to us the story about Siva which is one of the main gods of worship. So Shiva is the “destroyer” but not one that destroys everything in a devil type way as we had originally thought but a destroyer of all things bad which finally makes more sense. The story goes that Shiva was a badass player who liked to have sex and wasn’t doing his job of destroyer properly. So then the “creator” Brahma cut his penis off and placed it on top of all temples to reset Shiva’s priorities. So this is why if you look at Hindu temples you always see these phallic symbols on the top. I thought that was interesting.
Hidden Temple #2 is Candi Sari and is a Buddhist temple. This one was a little less impressive and just one big structure with the interesting part being that you can go inside to see the three rooms and look up to see what looks what could have been a second level.
Hidden Temple #3 is Candi Plaosan and was the most impressive of the hidden temples. The story behind this one was that a Hindu Prince married a Buddhist Princess and some locals as a gift built a pair of main temples in their honor. One of the temples is for the queen and so all the reliefs on the wall are of women and the other has men only. Surrounding the temples are perwaras which are basically super miniature temples around the main one. They’re in the process of restoring all of them which will probably take another 50 years but what’s neat is that you can see a few restored and the rest are in perfectly placed piles of rubble. Somehow archaeologist have figured out which stone blocks belong to which perwara and have set them in their right areas for restoration in the future.
After this we finally make it to Prambanan. The ticket buying area is actually very easy and top of that provides free glasses of ice cold water and a clean bathroom. So far I had been carrying the packed up french toast in my backpack so we ended up munching it down. On the Prambanan grounds there were tourists galore and more so of the local variety. Most seemed to be large groups and more specifically school kids. The main Shiva temple was closed because of restoration from the 2006 earthquake but there were a few others that we were able to climb up into. Each one basically just had a statue of the god the temple represented.
So the most hilarious thing happened during our tour of Prambanan and also at Borobudur. It would seem that tourists are somewhat of a rare item around here. On many occasions the local tourists at these sites would approach us to take a photo and at first I thought they were asking us to help take a photo of them but instead what they wanted was a picture of us with their camera. At Prambanan I even heard kids and adults pointing to us as we passed by and saying “Tourist! Tourist!”. It totally felt like we were celebrities or something. The other thing that happened at Prambanan was this huge group of kids that seemed to be following us as we climbed our last two temples. They pointed at us and said a few things in their own language, would giggle when I turned around and would yell “Mister! Mister!”. At the last temple they totally surrounded me as I got to the top and one of the kids asked something that sounded like he wanted to know where we were from. I said “Canada” and he replied with something and shouted something back to the group. He then proceeded in saying something with “camera” in it and I figured he wanted to take a photo with me so when I said “ok” ALL of them came up and we took a big group photo with their cameras and phones. Chantelle got one for me so I’ll post that up when I get the chance. Too cute. We later asked Reni about this and she said they were basically honored to have us in their own country.
With Prambanan completed we literally only had about 40 minutes left before we were supposed to meet with Reni and Aham at the front gates (1PM). We really wanted to see Candi Sewu which is also part of the grounds. Not able to wait for the little shuttle train, we found a bike rental place nearby and did a quick 30 min impromptu bike ride up to Candi Sewu which was actually pretty awesome. Candi Sewu was totally deserted so we had free reign to roam around though unfortunately we were tight on time. We snapped our shots and then rode back to meet up with our guides.
Aham and Rainy dropped us off at the ViaVia Café/Hostel in town, settled our bill with them and even bought some souvenirs from their eco-sustainability/support the locals type of items. We originally wanted to eat our super late lunch (3:30PM at this point) at Kesuma which is rated #1 on TripAdvisor (TA) but when we got there they said they weren’t open until 6PM. Too lazy to walk all the way back to ViaVia which I knew also had decent food, we hired a tuktuk kind of deal to drive us back which was kind of neat. There will definitely be a lot more tuktuk-ing to come in Cambodia and Thailand. The food at ViaVia Café was a bit average. We ordered an assortment of random tapas including fried mushroom, laksa, calamari and satay. We also had some local drinks which were interesting followed by this mojito-like sorbet. I give it a 7/10.
We debated for awhile whether to check out the markets in town but eventually gave way to the idea of just swimming at our 5-star pool back at the Sheraton. Hot day deserves to be followed up by the pool! By the time we got changed and down to the pool the sun was almost down so we just roamed around for 30 minutes and got out since the water was getting a bit cold. My bad though…after I wanted to finish writing my postcards and so we did them by the pool. During that time Chantelle got bit like 3 times on her left shoulder in consecutive fashion. Whoops.
For dinner of course we had high-tea again haha! What a sweet deal.
About Our Guides
Okay so a little bit about our tour guide Aham and Reni. I got some decent chatting time with my driver Aham throughout the day. We got close but don’t worry I didn’t wrap my arms around him. Aham just joined the company and so this was his first time on the tour as well so basically he was also a first timer for some of the hidden temples. Super nice guy and he told me a bit about himself along the way. He was hoping to make a little money and learn more English by taking on this job. Reni’s been doing this for about 2-3 years and like Aham is also still a student at a nearby university in Yogyakarta. Both seem to be in some sort of English language program there and doing this freelance work on the side. Highly recommend ViaVia tours. They’re all about eco-tourism and sustainability and the tour guides are run by locals.
- How do you tell if a temple is Buddhist vs Hindu? So apparently Hindu temples always come in threes and of course the Shiva ones have the penis towers. Buddhist temples usually consist of just one temple.
- Earthquakes – There was a recent one in 2010 that covered the city in ash from Mt. Merapi. There was a huge earthquake in 2006 which heavily damaged the Prambanan.
- The legend behind Prambanan apparently involved some sort of princess that had a suitor that wanted to marry her. She said she would only marry him if he could build a temple for her in a day and be done by the next sunrise. So he went ahead and began the construction. He was on his way to finish the temple when she cheated and changed the sunrise time to earlier. Then he turned her into stone and put her in the temple somewhere. Totally missing details here but you get the idea. The end.
- Java is 83% Muslim, 13% Christian, Rest Hindu/Buddhist
- Most of the temples have to be locked at night because there’s a serious issue with looters and people chopping off Buddha heads.
- Dry-fit clothes – If you’re coming to Southeast Asia you are inevitably going to sweat like crazy like we did on this day. Dry fit clothes do make a difference though as it takes less time to dry up and easier to cool down in them. Make sure you pack a few of these for your trip down here.
- Breakfast @ Sheraton Club Lounge
- 8AM pickup by ViaVia on motorcycles (Prambanan and Hidden Temples Motorcycle Tour)
- Hidden Temple 1 – Candi Sambisari
- Hidden Temple 2 – Candi Sari
- Hidden Temple 3 – Candi Plaosan
- Prambanan grounds until 1PM
- Arrive in Yogyakarta at 2 ish
- Lunch at ViaVia Café
- Back at Sheraton for quick swim
- High tea a.k.a. dinner
Tours you should check out
Continue onto the next day!
When you’re ready, head to the next day over here: Day 13 – Transit – Hello Singapore.