Candi Prambanan: Borobudur’s Ugly Sister

During my backpacking of Indonesia, I visited Candi Prambanan – a Hindu temple just outside of Yogyakarta. You can see some footage of my visit in the video above and read about my thoughts below.

Candi Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple; the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and one of the largest in all of south east Asia. In most countries, a temple complex as huge as Prambanan would be considered a national emblem, yet in Indonesia it is somewhat overshadowed by nearby Candi Borobudur. In the 16th century, an earthquake destroyed many of Prambanan’s temples, and thereafter the site was neglected and eventually lost to the Javan jungle until rediscovered by the British (led by Sir Stamford Raffles, who also colonised Singapore) in the 19th century. Restoration of Prambanan’s many temples began in earnest in the 1930s and is still on-going today. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which can be read about HERE.

Entrance guide
Entrance guide
Ruins in front of the main temple
Ruins in front of the main temple

Unlike the hour-long taxi ride from my hotel in Yogyakarta to Borobudur, Prambanan is actually just outside Yogya’s city limits. From my hotel in Malioboro Street, it took only 10 minutes to reach the temple compounds. I asked the taxi driver to wait in the car park for me until I had finished my tour. He was happy to wait as he knew I would be able to pay him a return fare – just make sure you remember where your driver is parked!

As with most tourist sites in Indonesia, upon arrival you are greeted with a market that you must walk through to get to the ticket booth. There can be some fairly aggressive salespeople here trying to sell you batik and the like. The complex is open from 6am to 6pm and the entrance fee per adult is around 160,000 rupiah (£12 or thereabouts). Be aware that the ticket price also entitles you to complimentary water, tea, and coffee, so there is no need to bring your own water with you.

Nice Hindu-inspired architecture
Nice Hindu-inspired architecture

The sharp and sculpted architecture of Hindu Prambanan is in stark contrast to the horizontal bulkiness of Buddhist Borobudur. The style of the temple is one of the reasons people come to Prambanan. There are not many Hindu temples in Indonesia (outside of Bali) so it is an interesting place to understand the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu), and the Destroyer (Shiva). I did not know much about this culture when I visited, but after an hour or so admiring the temples I began to learn much more and began to understand the omnipresent Hindu TRIMURTI dedication.

The amazing view walking up to the main complex
The amazing view walking up to the main complex

Aside from some unrestored ruins just outside of the main gate, the first impressive sight you see upon entering Candi Prambanan is the huge Shiva temple in the distance, accessed by a walking down a long pathway. The Shiva temple is the main part of the entire temple compound and it looks very impressive. Decorated around the walls of the Shiva temple is intricate descriptions of the epic Ramayana which is a story about the Trimurti that can be followed as you walk around the compound.

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Although I did not seem to get any clear pictures of it, the rest of the temple compound is formed with two identical temples either side of the Shiva Temple. On the north side, there is the Vishnu temple, and on the south side is the Brahma temple. In each of these temples there is only one chamber, which contain statues of their respective Gods. There are other, much smaller temples in the complex (Vahana temples), which act as representations of the vehicles that each God used to transport themselves.

Walking away from the complex back to the car park
Walking away from the complex back to the car park

If I am being totally honest, I did not like Candi Prambanan anywhere near as much as I had enjoyed my visit to Candi Borobudur a couple of days earlier. In fact, I could even say that I found Prambanan to be a little underwhelming. However, I was still happy to explore an important Hindu temple site and educate myself not only on the history of the temple, but also the destructive earthquake that occurred in 2006, which left some big damage to the temples. For more information on that earthquake and the restoration that ensued, check out the informative site with photos HERE.

As one of the three main tourist attractions on the Indonesian island of Java (the others being of course Borobudur, and Mount Bromo), I was still glad to cross it off my bucket list!

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9 thoughts on “Candi Prambanan: Borobudur’s Ugly Sister

  1. You can’t compare Borobodur and Prambanan. They are completely different temples designed at different periods for different purposes. Not related at all. Parambanan, in its’ own special way, is incredible. Of course its not as spectacular as Brobodur as it is not quite as large nor has it been as well-preserved. Much of Parambanan was destroyed during the last earthquake, and they have been painstakingly trying to restore it since

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    1. I understand they are different, i.e. one is Hindu and one is Buddhist, but my comparison was due to both being located fairly close to Yogyakarta, and this is why most tourists come to the city…to see both temples. 🙂 I just think that if you see Borobudur first, then Prambanan can be a bit of a let down visually and emotionally.

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  2. I’ll be visiting both Borobodur and Prambanan during the last week of September 2014 and your first person report is excellent. I’ll be travelling solo too and may I know how much you paid the cab driver for the round-trip, Mr Lee? Thanks in advance.

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    1. From Malioboro to Borobudur it was 300k Rupiah return (with the driver waiting at the site ready to take me back to hotel). I cannot remember exactly how much it was to Prambanan, but I guess no more than 150k, as it is only 15 minutes away from downtown, whereas Borobudur is perhaps an hour at least. I hope you have a great time – Borobudur in particular is amazing, make sure you get some great photos from the top levels! 🙂

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  3. Borobodur is the let down because there’s so much hype. I personally felt Prambanan is much better and calling it the ugly sister is unfair.

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