Because of the vast appeal of Indonesia’s beaches, few people take into consideration the fact that Indonesia is also home to some of the region’s most spectacular temples. As the centre of ancient trading routes between South Asia, the Middle East and the Far East, Indonesia also has some of the region’s most fascinating stories. Its history of occupation dates back to an era where, quite literally, our species mixed concurrently with distant human ancestors, making Indonesian history some of the deepest in the world. For those interested in cultural relics and deep history, Indonesia is an unsung hero among countries in Southeast Asia and is often, mistakenly, overlooked.
Often referred to as the “Angkor Wat of Indonesia,” Borobudur Temple is the largest temple in Indonesia both in terms of its physical stature and international reputation. It’s located in the Kedu Valley of Central Java, at the heart of the former Syailendra Dynasty which ruled the island for some five hundred years. It’s not only the largest Buddhist monument in the world, but also one of the most culturally important. The monument consists of nine stacked platforms topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 ornately decorated relief panels and 504 Buddha statues while the central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues- each seated inside a perforated stupa. It is, without a doubt, well-deserving of its place among the most spectacular historical relics in the world, and is often compared with the likes of Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu.
Only 40 kilometres away from Borobudur is the charming city of Yogjakarta where you can find the largest Hindu temple in Java- Candi Prambanan. Built in the mid-ninth century, it’s one of Indonesia’s most picturesque temples and a popular spot for photographers hoping to catch a glimpse of its famous mist-shrouded silhouette.
Also within the vicinity of Prambanan Temple is the fortified hilltop archaeological complex of Ratu Boku Palace. Believed to have been constructed around the ninth century, the precise details of the complex’s history is also a bit unclear. Based on fortifications and evidence of nearby inhabitation, it is thought that the complex housed ancient Javanese kings.
The Dieng Temple Complex, also in Central Java, is a plateau consisting of eight small Hindu temples. While they may not be the most imposing structures in Indonesia, they are amongst the oldest representations of ancient Hindu architecture. Although many of the finer details of the compound have been lost to time, the structures themselves date back to the early seventh century.
Because spirituality comprises such a huge component of Balinese identity, the island of Bali is rife with temple complexes. The most important of these, according to Balinese custom, is Pura Besakih Temple. Also known as “Mother Temple,” it’s constructed a thousand meters up on an active volcano, Mount Agung, in East Bali.
In West Bali, one of the most picturesque temples is Tannah Lot. Built on a tiny island, it’s perhaps one of Indonesia’s most visually dramatic temples. It’s a particularly great place to visit during sunset due to its spectacular setting amidst rock outcroppings and crashing waves. At only 45 minutes from the tourist centre of Kuta, it’s also relatively easy to access.
Also in West Bali is the Cliffside temple of Uluwatu. The Hindu complexes are perched on the edge of a massive cliff overlooking the sea. It’s particularly well-known amongst travellers for the traditional dance performances that take place there at sunset every evening.
Located in the Central Highlands of Bali, Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is one of Bali’s most culturally significant temples. Resting on the western edge of Beratan Lake and surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, it’s also considered to be one of the most photogenic temples in Bali.
When: The great thing about temple and historical exploration is that it’s not significantly depended upon weather. However, if weather is of great concern, November to April are typically the wet months and May through to October are the driest. If you want to avoid the crowds, peak tourist season is between mid-June and mid-September.
More often than not, these temples are active places of worship. As such, visitors should take into consideration that certain Western fashion sensibilities may not be considered appropriate. At a minimum women’s shoulders and legs above the knees should be covered. In Indonesia, both women and men are required to wear Lungi- traditional skirt-like garments that go from hip to ankle. Luckily, many of the larger temples allow visitors to rent these for a small fee. It is, however, a good idea to purchase your own. Not only for the novelty of it, but also because you never know when you might need one. There are endless temples to explore in Indonesia, and you don’t want to be denied access to any of them.