I’m the kind of girl who likes climbing around temples. I like it enough that I actually dedicate space in my Tinder profile to mention that I like climbing around temples in Asia – and that’s valuable real estate, so it must be true! So when the Indonesia adventure was being planned, it was MUST DO for me to try to make it to both Prambanan and Borobudur, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites that have been on my short list for quite some time.
We were scheduled to arrive in the port at Semarang at lunchtime on Thursday and depart late on Friday afternoon so there was plenty of time to do a land journey to see both. The only issue was that the driving time made two separate day trips unattractive so staying off the ship for the night made logistical sense, although it would mean missing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But I like doing more exotic things for traditional holidays sometimes so the challenge was tempting.
The ship unfortunately did not offer an overnight trip to Borobudur, a shame given Seabourn’s new focus on UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The best we could do was an all-day bus trip on the second day in port – it would leave early in the morning and arrive back at the ship just in time for departure. The cost of that trip was $194 per person and would also include lunch, a shopping stop, and a puppet show.
I did quite a bit of research on private guides and hotels. The logical places to overnight were either Jogjakarta or at Borobudur itself. Because one of the draws of Borobudur is sunrise, I settled on the Manohara Resort Center for Buddhist Studies on the grounds of Borobudur. I contacted the hotel directly and they had a twin occupancy room available for 1,000,000 IDR per night (roughly $80-$85) but we would still be relying on either a group tour or a private driver to ensure we made it back to the ship on time. Many of the internet reports I read spoke of closed roads, heavy traffic, and high possibility of missing a connection back to the ship, a reason that many passengers felt safer taking the ship’s excursion. But I was not convinced.
A private tour seemed to me like the best option – or at least the only one that would offer some protection from the ship leaving port without us on it. I contacted our travel agent at Cruises Etc. (a Virtuoso agency) for help. She worked with her partner at Abercrombie & Kent to put together a customized two night itinerary. At $450 per person, it was not inexpensive, but it hit all of the places I wanted to visit in the region and allowed adequate time to return to the ship on the second day. Also it would be private so we’d be able to adjust the itinerary to our own interests and pace versus being dependent on a group.
Our original day one itinerary was to leave the ship in Semarang and then make the drive to Jogjakarta to visit the Taman Sari Water Castle. After this, we would visit a batik artisan and then finish the day at the Prambanan temple before making the 90 minute drive to Borobudur for our overnight.
Of course things sometimes go awry. We were delayed almost an hour clearing the ship at the new port terminal in Semarang so we met our guide “Koko” behind schedule. We had no time to dally or explore the small terminal, so it would be our return before we discovered the free WiFi and inexpensive foot reflexology station tucked in a side corner. What we did see was the country band that greeted us (Indonesian men singing Achy Breaky Heart somehow made me giggly) and a handful of local women selling various handicrafts in stalls in the parking lot.
Koko suggested that we drive directly to Prambanan in order to arrive with enough time to explore prior to closing and then visit Jogjakarta on the way to Borobudur. We agreed and suggested we eliminate the batik stop (since we would have other opportunities to view and shop while in Indonesia) and so off we went.
The drive to Prambanan was long – around two hours – but our driver took toll roads to help the journey along. Our driver spent most of the ride turned around talking with us about local history, culture, and sights.
We arrived at Prambanan in the late afternoon and our guide quickly expedited our entry.
We had plenty of time to walk around this 9th century Hindu temple complex and explore several of the various shrines.
The large Shiva temple was particularly beautiful to see.
It had threatened to rain all afternoon and we managed to finish up our time at Prambanan shortly before the afternoon rains began to fall.
We made the drive to Jogjakarta in the rain and arrived at dusk. The busy streets of this hub of higher education were intriguing. Commerce appeared to be thriving with a mix of western chain restaurants nestled near more traditional shops on a mule-cart lined street mingled near boutiques featuring Islamic fashions.
The Water Castle was closed by the time we arrived but we were able to take photos outside and explore the gate area and exterior courtyard.
I would love the opportunity to return to Jogjakarta for a couple of days in the future – it looked to be an intriguing city, particularly along some of the side streets near the Sultanate.
From Jogjakarta, we made the 45 minute drive to the Manohara Resort Center for Buddhist Study where we would spend the night before day two which would begin with sunrise at Borobudur, part II of this report.
To see more of my reports from Indonesia including more about Seabourn Odyssey, our port stops, and the journey itself, visit my Indonesian Adventure page.