Prambanan and Borobudur

Prambanan and Borobudur

People in all times want to believe that their epoch is special, that the world has never been similar.  In the late-20th century Thomas Friedman popularized the idea that now goods and services could be produced and consumed anywhere.  His famous book, The World is Flat, lead many to believe that this was a new phenomena.  This isn’t really true, international trade existed long before nations as we know it existed.  The 20th century should be noted for it’s lack of international trade, closing of borders and clashes among countries more than opening of trade.  Trade across Europe, Asia, Africa, and possibly the Americas happened for thousands of years prior, leaving behind shared histories, blending of cultures and religions.  Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism spread over vast distances with traders.  One great example are at the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in Indonesia.

The remaining parts of Candi Sewu, a Buddhist temple on the grounds of the Hindu UNESCO World Heritage Prambanan Temple.

Nearly 1500 years after Buddhism was founded in India it reached its southeastern-most extreme in Indonesia, leaving indelible marks in Java and one remaining Buddhist island, Bali.  In Java the temple complex of Sewu is the longest standing, orignating in the late 700’s AD, but sadly was felled by a 1996 earthquake.  What remains is the central temple, detailed carvings and footprint of a temple that is very similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  (Click here to see more photos of Sewu.)

A guardian of the gods trapped behind the fallen blocks from one of the 249 temples in the Sewu complex.

A reconstructed side of a temple in Sewu shows the attempts and challenges of reassembling a 1300 year old structure.

Demonstrating the timeless aspect of religious competition, just 60 years after Sewu was built a Hindu King built Prambanan a mere 800 meters from Sewu.  Due to more recent restoration efforts and funding the temple made it through the 1996 earthquake relatively unscathed compared to it’s neighbor.  (Click here to see more photos of Prambanan)

The profile of Prambanan leaves a lot to be desired, especially when compared with the Buddhist designs nearby, but what stands out are the carvings and figures within the temples, each dedicated to different gods of the Hindu religion.

The bas-reliefs around the temples tell the Hindu epic of Ramayana and Krishnayana, one of the complicated epics that I have yet to fully grasp.  Even without understanding the story though it is hard not to appreciate the beautiful carvings.

Inside of the temples of Prambanan are the gems though, within each is gorgeous statues of the Hindu gods that the temple is dedicated to.

While the Hindus were planning Prambanan, the Buddhists built the grandiose Borobudur temple several miles away.  Featuring six platforms the monument guides visitors through the levels of Buddhism in a mere 1,460 panels of gorgeous bas-relief carvings.  The temple is reminiscent of the Angkor Empire’s pyramids near Angkor Wat, but in much better condition than many of those mega-structures. (See more photos of stunning Borobudur by clicking here.)

The imposing Prambanan shortly before a tropical storm.

Some of the panels that takes pilgrims through the various levels of Buddhism.

Borobudur is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues, all of which are in great condition due to ongoing restoration work.

The top level features the world of “formlessness” (Arūpajhāna), with impressions of Buddha peering out the the surrounding mountains.

These temples represent more than religion, they represent the interconnectedness of people across thousands of miles, hundreds of years prior to motorized travel.  People traversed great distances seeking opportunities, new products and buyers, leaving behind parts of their culture.  Religion, because of it’s strength of conviction leaves us the most visible reminder that long ago the people of the world were interacting and the fears we have today of globalization and losing our own culture are unnecessary, we humans have blended and adapted throughout time, always bringing us to a future that is different from the now, but generally better than before.



  1. It is possible to visit all three temples in one long day. It is best though to spread them out over two days.
  2. Dress appropriately. These are Buddhist and Hindu temples which have modest dress codes.  Women should have their legs and arms covered.  Men should have their legs covered.  At Borobudur there are traditional saris for free use.
  3. Hire a car. If you are visiting and not on a tour, you will want a car or hired motorcycle.  Indonesian traffic is crazy, so getting a car and driver for the day is probably the safest option.  We rented a motorcycle and found the roads to be well marked.


WANT TO TRAVEL TO INDONESIA YOURSELF?  Click here to read LivingIF’s Indonesia Travel Guide full of costs, tips and information to make your trip easier.

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» Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) :
May 18, 2012

What a beautiful place! Your pictures make it look so serene… was it actually crawling with fellow tourists?

And great tip on renting the motorbike or hiring a car. I’ve heard from people from Indonesia that it can be a real pain to get around if you are trying to rely on public transportation.
Read Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)’s awesome post China Visa Woes, Oh Noes!

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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