Ever considered going to Indonesia? If you haven’t, you should. It is a fantastic country that welcomes you with open arms. Whether looking for cultural immersion, party or simply to rest in an exotic spot, this place has it all. I just visited Indonesia and had an amazing experience on a pirate ship then spent another fantastic week in Bali, but my only regret was that I didn’t get to see any Indonesian Buddhist temples.

Luckily, my friend Georgiana Nicoara was there as well just a few weeks before me, and she offered to write this guest blog post about traveling around Indonesia and visiting the world’s largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur. Plus many other breathtaking sites (see all the pictures below).

She was there to study the Borobudur Temple Compounds, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Java. Here is Georgiana, introducing you to the best places to visit in Indonesia, her day-by-day itinerary, and a couple of must-know tips if you’re traveling to this beautiful country:

monks praying at borobudur temple compounds

Borobudur Temple Compounds: An Indonesian Tour

I gotta start by saying that an ideal visit to Indonesia should be about a month. For anything beyond that, their government requires you to obtain a different visa that you must pay for. For the one month stay, you do not need to get any visa, though you should check with the airport officials upon arrival.

The exit fee is also usually included in the ticket price, but you should ensure to have the equivalent of $10 with you, just in case (currency info below). Whenever you depart from an Indonesian airport (Jakarta, Denpasar, etc.), you must have your printed ticket or flight schedule with you on hand to show security for them to allow you to enter the airport (I was there with my mom, for the first part of the trip).

two women one man at borobudur buddhist temple in indonesia

Carrying on, you go through a quick bag screening upon entry in the airport then continue as per usual. The check-in booths for your flight open only two hours before departure. The check-in areas lack chairs depending on the airport. Do not arrive excessively ahead of time or you will be standing for a long time.

Taxis in Indonesia

If you consider taking a cab from the airport to your hotel make sure that the taxi is called Blue Bird. It has a black band above the windshield. The ones without the band are fake taxis.

Before starting the trip, ask the driver if his taxi is metered, by saying “Argo?”. Also, show the driver the address, as pronunciation is difficult in Bahasa Indonesia and you may end up at a completely different hotel. Classic taxi trick.

Ask the driver to lock the doors when you are driving, as some people have had issues with random people jumping in the taxi, or trying to rob them.

Cars drive on the left side of the road in Indonesia.

Indonesian Currency

The country of Indonesia uses Rupees (IDR). The conversion is about $7US for 100 IDR. Everything is relatively cheap, and a lot of places do not accept large sums, so carry smaller bills with you, such as 100s and 50s.

Religious Visits and Customs

As in many other places, to visit a temple, you must be decently dressed. Most temples and sacred sites give out sarongs (shawls) for free. Do not be scammed by the people selling them in parking lots. You may be required to wear a sarong tied around your waist even if you have long pants on, depending on the place. Your best bet is to carry around your own just in case they don’t provide them.

mendut temple monks in indonesia

In Indonesia, there is quite the mix of religions. Java is mainly Muslim, and you will hear their call to prayer five times a day at 4 AM, noon, 3 PM, 5 PM, 7 PM.

Bali is mainly Hindu, and they observe prayers three times a day, 6 AM, noon, and 6 PM. At this time, they place their offerings in the temples.

buddha statue at borobudur temple compounds

The temples in Java are mainly Buddhist, as the land used to be a Buddhist Dynasty several hundred years ago, and the temples in Bali are mostly Hindu. The Buddhist temples usually require a small entry fee unless you go to a more massive temple such as Borobudur, where the entry fee is more significant.

The Buddhist temples you can walk through freely, and into the offering rooms, and take photos, though stay away from taking pictures of the offerings themselves.

monks at the borobudur buddhist temple

In Hindu temples, you have to pay as well, and you can usually walk around the temple grounds but not inside the temple area itself, as it is only open to the people who are praying. This situation became very frustrating after having made long trips to visit famous temples in Bali, and we were not allowed close to them. This was the case at Tanah Lot and the Uluwatu Temple.

Borobudur Housing

For our stay in Borobudur, we chose a homestay at the Nurudin House. He is a travel guide who has contacts for drivers and guides around Indonesia, along with his own home being open to guests.

He asked us a few questions and made our itinerary for us based on our preferences. As I was there for research on the Borobudur Temple, he arranged for us to meet with the Director of Conservation and was able to get us Special Guest passes which let us into various sights for free, with extended access to the temples.

borobudur accommodation hosts and guests

Any tours you would like to partake in, I recommend booking them through Nurudin, as you will be paying significantly less, and you will have a familiar guide, whether it be Nurudin or his drivers. Our favorite was Saiful Ecko. He speaks English and has a very friendly and funny personality. He even had us over at his home for dinner.

Nurudin’s driver picked us up from the airport and took us to his house, which was about an hour and a half away. His wife provided us with dinner and lunch daily for 3 IDR per person, per meal. The breakfast was included in the homestay price.

Gili Trawangan, An Island Without Police Or Cars

This is one of the three little sister islands off of Lombok, along with Gili Air and Gili Meno. It is so tiny that it does not have any police on the island, or street lights when it gets dark. The island circumference is usually lit in the core entertainment area, but beyond that, it is pitch black.

There is also no motorized transportation, so bike and horse carriage are the primary modes of transportation.

gili trawangan palm forest

The traditional alcohol of the area is called Arak. This drink is usually supplemented with methanol to make it stronger and has caused several deaths. Avoid.

I found a lot of other drinks are a lot stronger than usual, to the point where you feel drunk off half a drink. Follow the crowds and stick to bottled drinks only such as beer.

Indonesia Itinerary: Overview

Each of the tours was done with Saiful, our driver, and guide. The cost per day included the fee for the car rental, gas, and his driving services, which usually came out to 450 IDR ($35US) per day – this was for two people.

The cost per day also sometimes had to include the entry into the specific sites which we were visiting. There were days we spent about $100US/person.

monks walking and praying


NOTE: Marked with ( *** ) are the most recommended places to visit.

Java, Indonesia

Day 1: *** Borobudur Temple Sunrise Tour

Day 2: Chicken Church, Karang Rego, Karang Anyar, Jawa Moah Sakeng Ndene, Punto Kendil, Wanu Rego

Day 3: *** Rice Fields

Day 4: Borobudur, Mendut, Pawon

Day 5: Waisak Festival

Day 6: Bicycle Tour

Day 7: Kotagede, Imogiri, Dafam Hotel

Day 8: *** Jomblang Cave

Day 9: Malioboro Mall

Day 10: *** Merapi Volcano

Day 11: *** Prambanan Temple, Sewu Temple, Plaosan Temples

Day 12-13: Malioboro Markets

royal family temple indonesia

Bali, Indonesia

Day 14: In transit to Bali

Day 15: *** Uluwatu Temple, Tanah Lot, GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana)

Day 16: *** Nungnung Waterfall, Barong Dance, Mengwi Temple

Day 17: Transit to Gili Trawangan

Day 18: *** Snorkeling, Reggae Bar

Day 19: Transfer to Ubud, Monkey Forest Markets

Day 20: *** Batur Volcano, Hiking Trip, Ubud Shopping

Day 21: *** Pura Tirtha Empul, Elephant Cave, Candi Tebing Gunung Kawi, Pengumuman

Day 22: Ubud Shops

Day 23: Flight Home.

Borobudur Monk Circumambulating

Indonesia: Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Borobudur Temple Sunrise Tour***


We did an amazing Borobudur Temple Sunrise tour at 4 AM, accompanied by Nurudin. It was followed by a small breakfast included in the price, plus Nurudin packs an extra little breakfast for his guests.

After a break and breakfast, we went back to the Borobudur Temple to take a closer look during daylight at the galleries and the platforms of the temple.

We started the day at 4 AM, and we finished visiting the temple at 6 PM. As this was my research site, we tried to make the most of our time there.

Borobudur stupas and sunrise

It usually costs about 450IDR ($35US) for one visit per person.

Borobudur is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple located in Magelang, Central Java. According to Wikipedia, it is the world’s largest temple, consisting of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome.

The monument is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa (see image below), which is a hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.

Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction.

Borobudur Buddhist temple Compounds Indonesia

Day 2: Chicken Church, Karang Rego, Karang Anyar, Jawa Moah Sakeng Ndene, Punto Kendil, Wanu Rego

We took a quick visit to the Chicken Church, which had a small snack included with it. It’s quite a steep walk uphill to get to it from the parking lot.

There isn’t too much to see besides a church shaped like a chicken with a beautiful love story behind it, and the view of the Borobudur Valley from the top of it.

We continued to Karang Rego, which is a covered outdoor cafe, lounging area. The Indonesian government requires each little town to have one of these along with a series of homestays to improve their economy. We visited a series of these throughout our trips.

girl sitting on rocky steps

We went on to the village of Karang Anyar, which is a town known for its pottery. We stopped by a house and partook in some pottery making.

Next, we went to Jawa Moah Sakeng Ndene, a family who opens up their home to teach foreigners about Javanese music. They have a large room of instruments, which they show you how to play and sing with you. They are very open and pleasant, offering us tea and treats, and a beautiful view of the rice fields.

rice fields indonesia

*** Punto Kendil was our next stop. This is the highest point from which you can see the entire valley. They have a series of treehouse like structures which you can climb on and take photos or just relax. This was a personal favorite stop.

We continued to Wanu Rego, another outdoor cafe, where we watched the sunset over the rice fields.

Day 3: Rice Fields***

What an experience. We visited the rice fields and climbed all the way up to the top of the mountain, to find Candi Selogriyo, a Buddhist temple overlooking the grounds.

working on Rice Fields Indonesia

We walked through the rice fields for about two hours on our way us and took the bike path on the way down. This was a beautiful sight, and one of my personal favorites.

Day 4: Borobudur, Mendut, Pawon

This was another research day at the Borobudur Temple. It was also the day where we received the Special Guest Passes. After a private tour with the Director of Conservation, we went to the Mendut Temple, which is one of a series of three temples usually experienced together (Mendut, Pawon, and Borobudur).

group of Mendut Monks Indonesia

As this was the day before the big Waisak Festival, we participated in the preparation ceremony including the circumambulation around the temple and chanting inside the offering room.

We then went on to visit the Pawon temple in the middle of a little village.

Day 5: Waisak Festival

We arrived at Mendut at 1 PM to join the festival. It began with a series of chants and rituals. We then lined up with the monks to start the 3km procession from Mendut to Borobudur.

Once we arrived at Borobudur, we were picked up by Saiful, and taken to the Nurudin house for dinner then dropped off again at the temple for the lantern release for the ending of the Waisak Festival.

Borobudur Waisak festival Lanterns

Day 6: Bicycle Tour

We went on a bicycle tour of the surrounding villages around Borobudur. This included a plantation, some pottery villages, and the bamboo forest.

Day 7: Kotagede, Imogiri, Dafam Hotel

This day we visited Kotagede, the Muslim compounds, saw the prayers, visited the bathing pools, and just experienced a usual day in the compound. We went on to visit Imogiri, the Javanese King’s burial grounds. To be able to enter, you must let them dress you in the traditional Javanese wear.

We also took part in a Javanese chant and meditation around the King’s grave and were able to enter in the intimate room where a lot of Javanese come to feel the spirit of the King and make wishes.

We left Borobudur and went on to the Hotel Yogyakarta Dafam. Saiful drove us here.

Day 8: Jomblang Cave***

Another one of my favorites. We took a day trip to the Jomblang Cave. They give you rubber boots and rappel you down into the cave in groups of two. Their mechanisms for rappelling are very makeshift but seem to last through the years.

Jomblang Cave Java Indonesia

Once you get down, you go with a group of people underground towards another cave where you explore for about an hour. I recommend bringing an ash light as it is pitch black there and it becomes a hassle to rely on other for light. It is very muddy there so don’t wear any clothes that you can’t get dirty.

In the end, you walk back to the first cave, and then they bring you back up two by two. The wait is a bit long but worth it to get out.

Day 9:  Malioboro Mall

Yay, shopping!! This was a day to relax, we walked to the mall and shopped around for a bit.

Day 10: Merapi Volcano

At the Merapi Volcano, we rented a Jeep and a driver to take us around the base of the volcano, and to the town which was overtaken by lava several years before.

We had stopped at a few sights along the way. It gets very windy, and dusty along the way and it is an extremely bumpy ride. Be warned! Very fun!

merapi volcano jeep indonesia two ladies

Day 11: Prambanan Temple, Sewu Temple, Plaosan Temples***

The Prambanan Temple is one of the only Hindu temples in Java, and it’s very well known. There are a series of different temples to be visited, and each has interior rooms for different gods.

After the main grounds, we visited the Sewu Temple (see image below) in the Prambanan Grounds, the only Buddhist temple there. This was a very beautiful experience, and has a good energy about it.

Sewu Temple Indonesia

We drove a bit further towards the Plaosan Twin Temples and continued to a restaurant overlooking a river, hidden away in a tourist village. Didn’t catch the name but all the guides bring their guests here after the Prambanan Tours.

Day 12-13 Malioboro Markets

These were two relaxing days checking out the Malioboro Markets, which is a great place to practice haggling.

Day 14: In Transit to Bali

This day, I departed with my mom as she went on her flight back home to Canada. I continued my journey towards Bali.

Day 15: *** Uluwatu Temple, Tanah Lot, GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana)

We took a trip to the temple on the water, Tanah Lot. Here you can walk around the temple grounds, which is a rocky beach. And you can receive a blessing with holy water and rice under the temple, though you cannot enter it.

We continued to GWK (see image below), which is a park with oversized Balinese character sculptures. The entry fee is a lot higher than other places, 110 IDR ($7US) and doesn’t seem worth it to see 3 sculptures. But it is kinda cool to see.

GWK Garuda Wisnu Kencana Indonesia

The last stop of the day was the Uluwatu Temple, which was another one of my favorites. This is also a temple on the cliff overlooking the water. Though you cannot access the temple, the views are spectacular.

The monkeys in this area tend to be aggressive so make sure to hide all small objects such as sunglasses and food.

Day 16: *** Nungnung Waterfall, Barong Dance, Mengwi Temple

We arrived to see the Barong Dance; it is a long dance narrative of the traditional Balinese story. We continued to the Mengwi Royal Family Temple, which I loved.

Nungnung Waterfall indonesia

After driving quite a bit, we arrived at the Nungnung Waterfall. To arrive at the waterfall from the parking lot, there are several hundred steps down, but it is worth it.

You can bathe in the waterfall, with a beautiful view. The walk back up is exhausting.

Day 17: Transit To Gili Trawangan***

It was the time we transferred to Gili Trawangan, to the Eden Cottages. The transfer is by speedboat and costs 800IDR ($60US) per person for a return trip if booked through Nurudin.

It also includes transport from the hotel to the boat, and from the return boat to the hotel.

Day 18: Snorkeling, Reggae Bar***

We had a beautiful day snorkeling around the 3 Gili islands with our guide Jas Wadi (He can be contacted through Facebook for tours, though I do not remember where we booked this trip).

Reggae Club Sama Sama Gili Trawangan

We started at Gili Trawangan, then Gili Meno, and finally Gili Air. These are three sister islands. We stopped on Gili Air for lunch overlooking the black sands.

In the evening, we decided to explore the nightlife and it seemed like everyone was at the Sama-Sama Reggae Bar. Pleasant atmosphere and one of the most excellent and most entertaining reggae bands I’ve ever heard.

Day 19: Transfer To Ubud, Monkey Forest Markets

We transferred to our new hotel in Ubud, the Warji House 1. Then we took off an explored the markets of the Monkey Forest Road.

Though we did not explore the Monkey Forest itself, it is a recommended visit.

Day 20: Batur Volcano Hiking Trip, Ubid Shopping***

We had booked the Batur Volcano Hike ahead of time and highly recommend it. Our guide was Gede Ngarti and he made the hike doable and enjoyable.

two people at Batur Volcano Indonesia

Hiking up 6km of the volcano at 2 AM to watch the sunrise was one of the most dif cult things I’ve done, but it was worth it to feel on top of the world.

This tour is called the Bali Morning Trekking Tour and can be found here: http://balimorn- ingtrekkingtour.com/ There’s also quite a few monkeys you can play around with once you arrive at the top, and several areas of hot springs you can visit.

Included in the Batur trip, is a trip to a coffee plantation, where you can sample many types of coffee including the “poop coffee” called Luwak Coffee.

Day 21: *** Pura Tirtha Empul, Elephant Cave, Candi Tebing Gunung Kawi, Pengumuman

Here we began at the elephant cave, which was a cave with elephant sculptures and prayer rooms inside, and a series of small temple grounds surrounding it.

The next stop was at Candi Tebing Gungung Kawi which has a series of temples sculpted into gigantic walls of stone.

***We went on to Pura Tirtha Empul, the Water Temple. This was a personal favorite. Along with elaborate temple grounds, the main attraction is a long pool with spouts where people pray and bathe themselves in the holy water. They must start at one end, and pray towards each of the sculpted spouts. For this, they provide traditional Balinese outfits.

***Next, we stopped at a beautiful and relaxing restaurant overlooking the rice fields, called Boni Bali Restaurant. Highly recommended. We made a quick stop at the community temple called Pengumuman and walked around the temple grounds.

Day 22: Ubud Shops Visit

We took it easy this day, walked around and visited the shops in Ubud. Also went to Ibu Rai Restaurant for dinner. Highly recommended.

Day 23: Flight Back Home

Flew back to Edmonton, Alberta.

Overall Impressions

Java and Bali are very different places. Java feels more culturally appropriate to Indonesia; it is an excellent place to be to engage with the people and the traditions.

Meanwhile, Bali is a good place to go on vacation if you want to visit beautiful sites and sit on the beach, though they do seem more commercially focused. Ubud especially has very high-end shops and several streets that look more developed that the majority of the country.

nungnung waterfall bali

For the vacation feel, I would recommend staying in Kuta or one of the Gili Islands.

The people are incredibly friendly, and you will feel the human connection here more than anywhere else. Though many people do not speak English, they try as best they can to communicate and make you feel welcome.

If you have any questions or need clarification on anything, don’t hesitate to contact me via Facebook or at [email protected].

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