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TOP FIVE ATTRACTIONS OF JAVA

Guide and Photos by Nil Roy

java-featured-photo

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world with five major islands and about thirty smaller groups of islands – altogether a staggering 17,000+ islands. Islands of Bali, Borneo, Kompodo, and Raja Ampat have gained much popularity recently, thanks to some stunning pictures on Instagram. While each of these islands is worth a visit, we discovered a gem amongst them in the form of Java. A relatively lesser-known neighbor of Bali, Java is home to breathtaking landscape, stunning historical architectures, lush green paddy fields, friendly locals, and fantastic coffee! (A cup of “Java” is a reference to this island). Here is my list of top five attractions of Java you may want to include in your next Indonesia trip.

top-five-attraction-in-java

Java Travel Tips

When to go: 

Indonesia has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season which runs from April to October is the perfect time to visit Java.

Where to fly: 

Jakarta is the cheapest option as it is connected by all the major airlines. If you decide to skip Jakarta, Surabaya and Yogyakarta are good options; served by international carriers like Singapore Airlines.

What to pack:

Can’t travel to Indonesia and not pack some Lore Company products. The Indonesia Island Collection is made from natural and organic ingredients, and owes its name to the volcanic islands and dense tropics of Indonesia. (sponsored)

1.   Temples of Central Java

borobudur-temple
Borobudur Temple

Central Java was the center of power for this island from the 4th to 9th centuries. While early rulers of Java were devotees of the Hindu god, Shiva, later dynasties, such as Shailendra, were ardent followers of Buddhism. One can find several beautiful temple complexes across central Java dating back to these kingdoms. Borobudur and Prambanan, two representative masterpiece temples from these times are a must-see and by far the major attraction in central Java.

stupas-of-Borobudur
Stupas of Borobudur

Foundation of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world and one of the greatest archeological sites of Asia, was laid in the late 7th-century. Completed by mid-8th-century, Borobudur architecture is based on Buddhist cosmology where each tier of the temple from the base up represents the three forms of earthly life experience- Kamadhatu (when we are bound to the world of desire), Rupadhatu (we abandon our desire but are still attached to the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (enlightenment or “Nirvana”). A person ascending from the base of the temple to the central dome is meant to be taking a spiritual path leaving the materialistic desires in search of the true meaning of self. While I didn’t have this spiritual realization, the temple does inspire a grounding feeling!

Buddha-at-Borobudur
Buddha at Borobudur

The pyramidal base of the temple represents the basest form of our earthly existence; second tier with five square terraces epitomizes the journey towards the enlightened mind represented by the large central dome sitting atop of the three circular platforms. Reliefs on the temple walls also reflect these three realms of existence. You will find motifs depicting mundane daily activities on the base morphing into more meaningful depictions as you ascend the steps of the temple. The three highest terraces are adorned only with only domes or stupas. There are a total of 504 total Buddha statues in Borobudur, 72 of them are located inside these perforated stupas surrounding the central dome.

Prambanan-temple
Prambanan Temple

Around fifty km from Borobudur, you will find another archeological marvel, Prambanan. Built in the 10th century this enormous Hindu temple complex consists of around 240 temples. In the central complex, three main temples are dedicated to “Trimurti” – three expressions of Hindu Gods of the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Transformer (Shiva). Three smaller temples in front of them are dedicated to “Vahana” (a mythical entity Hindu deities used as a vehicle) – the bull “Nandi”, swan “Hansa” and bird-like creature “Garuda”, vehicles of Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu respectively. Temples are decorated with reliefs portraying the major Sanskrit epic of ancient India – Ramayana. Similar to Borobudur, the architecture of the Prambanan depicts the spiritual journey through life. The base of the temple depicts “Bhurloka” (akin Kamadhatu in Buddhism) where humans are bound by lust and desire. The body of the temple symbolizes “Bhuvorloka” (i.e., Rupadhatu in Buddhism), the path one embarks on to seek the truth to finally reach “Svarloka” (Arupadhatu), the divine enlightenment.

Prambanan-at-sunset
Prambanan at sunset

In addition to Borobudur and Prambanan, Central Java is home to innumerable gorgeous temples and monuments. A visit to Plaosan and Ratu Boko is highly recommended. Plaosan, a Buddhist temple built around the 8th century, is located around 1 km from Prambanan. In contrast to other sites, Ratu Boko is a settlement, not a temple. Both Hindu and Buddhist artifacts were recovered from this site indicates that Hindus and Buddhists dwelled here in harmony.

reliefs-at-prambanan
Reliefs at Prambanan

Travel tips: 

  • Visit Borobudur either at sunset or sunrise to avoid the crowd. Tickets for sunset/ sunrise are higher-priced “special tickets” and they are sold at Manohara resort, a 15 minutes walk from the main entrance of the temple. 
  • Sunset is the best time to visit Prambanan. Temple gates close at 5 P.M., but if you enter before that, you can stay until 6 P.M.
  • Sunset at Ratu Boko is equally impressive. If you are planning to stay multiple days in Yogyakarta, try to catch the sunset at all three places.
ratu-boko
Ratu Boko

2.   Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

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Bromo sunrise at King Kong Hill

With around fifty volcanoes spread across the entire island, Java is literally “the land of volcanoes”. Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, colloquially referred to as Mt. Bromo national park is home to three active volcanoes – Mt. Bromo, Mt. Batok and the highest mountain in Java- Mt. Semeru. The first rays of the sun kissing these mountain peaks is an astounding view making the pre-dawn sunrise jeep tour the most popular tourist activity. The jeep tours start anywhere between 1 A.M.-3 A.M., depending on how far you are staying from the park entrance. The most popular viewpoint is the King Kong hill which is thronged with people, as is usual for the pre-sunrise view time. Narrow roads paired with innumerable jeeps taking tourists to the sunrise point inevitably leads to logjams. To save time, we were asked to walk half a km to the entrance. From there, a 10-15 minute walk will get you to multiple viewpoints. If you are looking for a rather peaceful sunrise experience, hike into undesignated trails to get away from the crowds. For similar reasons, Seruni point is another great choice for sunrise viewing.

Wherever you chose to be, watching the mountains emerge from their dark shadows to the golden hues of the day is a spectacular view. After watching the sunrise, we were driven to the base of the Bromo crater through what the locals call a “sea of sand” which is a road running along the dry, dusty sandy valley of Mt. Bromo. On our way to the rim of the Mt. Bromo caldera from the parking area, we saw a beautiful Hindu temple called Pura Luhur Poten sitting at the base of the crater.

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Bromo Valley

Tenggerese people, an ethnic Hindu group of Java are the major devotees in this temple. A roughly 2 km moderately strenuous hike will offer you an amazing close up of the huffing and puffing caldera. You can walk around the crater but do at your own risk, as there is no designated trail. Savannah and whispering sands are two other destinations worth exploring in the park. The lighter crowd at these two spots will be a welcome relief.

Travel tips:

  • Stay closer to the park. A handful of hostels and home-stays can be found at the park entrance.
  • It’s going to be a sandy experience. Facemasks were a lifesaver!
  • You can rent a horse if you like for the hike up to the caldera. 
  • Mornings are cold and windy. Pack proper warm clothing.
  • Everyone has to pay an entrance fee in the Indonesian currency at the park entrance.

3.  Ijen Crater

Ijen-crater
Ijen Crater

Ijen is a volcanic complex located in the eastern part of Java. Ijen’s iconic turquoise-colored acidic crater lake located inside the caldera is considered the largest highly acidic crater lake in the world. The morning twilight brings out stunning deeper hues of turquoise in the lake, making pre-dawn to early sunrise the best time to visit this crater. Another major attraction of Ijen is the “blue fire”. This blue glow is not lava but the light resulting from the combustion of sulfuric gases. Sulfuric gases emerging from the cracks of the volcano at high pressure and high temperature ignite spontaneously on coming in contact with oxygen with a characteristic “blue flame”. The odor of toxic sulfuric gases makes this a hazardous zone, and taking extreme caution is highly advisable. Filtration masks can be rented from the jeep driver or your tour guide, and they were a life-saver throughout our time inside the sulfur pit. It was, however, ironic to watch the sulfur miners who spend several hours in the sulfur pit work without mask or protective gear of any kind.

Blue-fire-at-Ijen-crater-in-Java
Blue fire at Ijen Crater

We started hiking around midnight to see both blue fire and the crater at twilight. It is a two km hike to the rim of the crater, and then 800 meters descent into the sulfur pit to observe the blue fire. While the hiking path to the rim of the crater is well marked as well as well preserved, climbing down to the sulfur pit was a different story. It’s mostly walking on boulders, loose rocks, and makeshift stairs in the middle of the night towards an unseen light. With no park rangers or administrative staff regulating the flow of traffic, it can get a bit chaotic down there. Keep up with it and you will be rewarded with a once in a lifetime view. In fact, this is the only place you can observe this blue sulfur-burning phenomenon. After viewing the flame, we climbed back up to the rim, watched the lake transition from midnight blue to cyan to turquoise as the sun rose up the mountains and marveled at the grandeur of Ijen. It was indeed an ethereal experience!

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Hiking trail to the rim of the Ijen crater

Travel tips:

  • It is a moderately strenuous hike. A guide is highly recommended for the blue fire section of the trail.
  • Rent a gas filtration mask, the smell of toxic sulfuric acid is unbearable in the blue fire area.
  • Pack a flashlight as hike starts at midnight. 

4.  Villages of Java

Travel tips:

  • Horses can be rented at Licin (Ijen crater is located at Licin) that take you through the rice field, villages, and pine forests. It was an unusual experience for us, but we loved every bit!

Even if you are not a big fan of this rice-athlon, you won’t certainly mind the endless view of green paddy fields, which was so refreshing to our urban eyes accustomed to seeing only concrete. In most places, our accommodation was quaint home-stays or hostels located in small villages. We usually strolled along the surrounding villages taking in the fresh morning air. The paucity of cars maintains the serenity of this idyllic landscape. Though rice fields are a pretty common sight in Southeast Asia, one uniqueness of Java landscape was the juxtaposition of rice fields and volcanoes, co-existing in relative harmony. We also found the villagers to be warm and friendly, eagerly waving at us or wanting to take group pictures with them!

Indonesia is the 3rd largest producer of rice in the world and thus, lush green rice fields dominate the rural landscape of Java. Understandably rice is a staple of Indonesian cuisine. We used to start our day with nasi goreng” (fried rice) followed by “nasi putih” (white rice with chicken and vegetables) for lunch capping the day off with a heapful of “bihun goreng” (stir fry rice vermicelli). This is not to say that there is a dearth of other options- fruits, soups, salads, and sandwiches are available at most eateries.

licin-village-java
Licin Village

5.   Jakarta

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and a bustling city. We flew to Jakarta as the flight tickets were the cheapest. When you first visit a country, it is kind of customary to explore the capital city. We also fell into this touristy sentimental trap and decided to stay in Jakarta for a couple of days. Though we regretted our decision initially, our shopping experience in the city saved the day. If you want to shop for authentic Indonesian clothes, gift items, and souvenirs, Sarinah Mall in Jakarta is the place to go. On the 2nd floor of Sarinah mall is an exclusive boutique shop that offers Indonesian heritage products such as traditional clothes, bags, jewelry, gift items, and java coffee. Prices were a bit on the expensive side, but the quality and variety of items made up for it!

For the non-shoppers, you can find half-day Jakarta city tours from Viator. In my opinion, only two places are really worth a visit- the old port of Sunda Kelapa and the old town of Batavia. Sunda Kelapa was the main port of Java in the past. At present, you will find traditional Bugis Phinisi Schooner ships anchored on the dock. An evening stroll watching the rows of these traditional colorful wooden sailing ships as the sunset behind them was a highlight of our Jakarta city tour.

sunda-kelapa-port-jakarta
Sunda Kelapa Port

Batavia was the capital of the Dutch East Indies during the colonial time. This old town offers a glimpse into the history with its beautiful Dutch-style buildings such as the Jakarta History Museum and the Post Office. Batavia cafe is a nice place to escape the heat and the crowd. Located in an old 19th-century colonial building, it offers delicious food and drinks and is a prime spot to see the Fatahillah square of the old town. A walk down the Kali Besar Canal was very refreshing with the cool evening breeze. We were there on the weekend, and this place was jam-packed with locals enjoying roadside food from mobile food vendors and riding colorful bicycles with matching-hued hats.

Travel tips:

  • Jakarta is notorious for traffic jams. Any weekend is a good time for a city tour. Plan a weekday trip for sightseeing in the outskirts of Jakarta such as Puncak tea garden to avoid the weekend traffic. 

Overall, Java promises and delivers a rich travel and cultural experience. The genuine warmth of Indonesian people makes our Java trip especially memorable! A true gem in the form of Java.


Looking for more Indonesia inspiration?

Check out our videos on Mt. Kinabalu, Part 1 & Part 2 


nomadicnil

Nil Roy, aka Nomadic Nil, is a Travel Photographer who shoots Nature and Landscape Photography all around the world. Follow Nil on Instagram and Subscribe to Nomadic Nil's YouTube Channel. For prints and collaborations, contact Nil by email at nomadiic.nil@gmail.com.

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