Magnificent temples, persistent hassle and discriminatory foreigner pricing (Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia)

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August 13th 2009
Published: August 20th 2009
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(Day 496 on the road)After crazy Jakarta, Yogyakarta, a pleasant eight-hour train ride east and sporting some great views of the green countryside, was a welcome change. Despite the unbelievable hassle as I stepped out of the train station (I stopped counting at the thirtieth "Transport, boss?", "Hello Mister, taxi?"), the small alleys of the city were quiet and offered a welcome respite from the constant attention of taxi drivers, hawkers and salesmen found elsewhere across Indonesia. I soon found a small losmen with a clean room and a nice balcony overlooking the alley below, and settled in for a couple of days of taking it easy.

The main reason to come to Yogyakarta, (or Yogya, as everyone calls it), however is to visit the nearby ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. I started with Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex constructed between the 8th and the 10th century. The main temple, Shiva Mahadeva, still shows very intricate and detailed carvings. All in all, however, I was not too awestruck - I guess after having visited the absolutely awesome temples of Bagan (read my blog entry about Bagan here: Birthday and New Year amidst 2500 temples (Bagan, Central Myanmar)) in Myanmar all other temples somehow pale in comparison. I also checked out the much hyped Ramayana ballet performance, but was rather disappointed. The advertisement had called it a spectacular show with over a hundred performers, but the most I saw was about 15 or 20 people or so on the stage. The setting however was spectacular, with the lit-up temples of Prambanan providing the magical background for the performance.

The next day I went to see the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. Though there is only one temple here, this time I was thoroughly impressed. The temple was constructed around the year 750, and today, some 1200 years later, remains in amazingly good shape, despite the hordes of tourists and the bombs set of on top of the temple in 1985 by Islamic fundamentalists. Borobudur was built from two million individual stone blocks and features some exquisite sculptures and carvings, as well as about 500 Buddha statues and more than 2500 panels showing the Buddhist doctrines of the time. Exactly 118 metres squared, the temple sits on a small hill and features six terraces linked by steep staircases on all four sides, which one is allowed to climb all the way to the top. From there, the views are sublime, as the temple is surrounded by imposing mountains.

The only regrettable thing about this all was the army of super-persistent hawkers, constantly trying to sell me fake sunglasses, postcards and whatelsenot, making it impossible to enjoy this wonderful temple in peace. Plus, when you try to exit, they channel you through about a literally one kilometer long row of souvenir stall after souvenir stall, and one is not allowed to exit on the direct line (50 meters instead of the one kilometer). Very annoying, and it didn't leave a very good impression on me.

On top of that was the fact that foreigners pay more than twenty times than locals for the entrance to the temple. I am not a fan of foreigner pricing at all, which I believe to be counterproductive in the long run and which is unfortunately very prevailing here in Indonesia. The common argument is that if foreign tourists are rich enough to come here in the first place, they can also be charged more. But this argument is thoroughly flawed of course, as most people that are able to travel abroad, be they from whatever country, tend to have more money than people who are not affluent enough to be able to travel. By that logic an Indonesian tourists travelling to Europe for instance should also be charged significantly more for entrance fees into museums, parks or other attractions than locals. Taken to the extreme, this practice would mean that all tourists are charged more for things than locals in any given country, effectively stifling and possibly ending tourism. I guess this cannot be the desired effect. It would be interesting to see what effect these discriminatory practices have on the overall tourism industry of a given country, in particular how it affects the overall experience of visitors and their desire to return to that country in the future, or if they tend to prefer countries with more equal practices and policies.

Next stop: Gunung Bromo (Java, Indonesia).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


20th August 2009

Indonesien und so
Hallo Ben, schön, dass du wieder fit bist! Und schön, dass du dich derzeit in Gegenden herumtreibst, in denen ich auch schon einmal mit dem Rucksack unterwegs war. Ich bin gespannt was du vom Bromo schreibst. Wir haben es damals nicht geschafft zum Sonnenaufgang da zu sein, sondern haben ihn während des Tages erwandert. Schön fand ich deinen Eindruck in Yogya und am Tempel, uns ist es genauso gegange. Das was wir glaube ich am meisten gehört haben war: "special price only for you and only today..." Lass es dir gutgehen Silke
20th August 2009

Similar Yogya experience
Interesting read as I type this in a Yogya internet cafe waiting for our 01.18 train to get us part way to Mt Bromo... We too were dismayed to learn the difference in pricing for the locals vs us foreigners. We have the same argument that if these people came to the UK there would be uproar that we were discriminating against them being able to enjoy the attractions, it's very frustrating but we either have to like it or lump it and obviously tend to head towards liking it :o(
21st August 2009

Welcome to my Indonesia
I hope Bromo leaves you feel a bit better...haha. Also like I said, if you're heading back to Bali, maybe go to Lombok, the next island across. Much more civilised although it is getting rather touristy, maybe because I've been telling people to go to Lombok and not Bali for AGES hahaha. Spewing that I am not there while you're there, would've LOVED to show you Lampung area in Sumatra where I grew up. Of course if you were travelling with me it would be a bit 'clinical' as I have a strong dislike of public transport in Indonesia, for reasons I am sure you'd appreciate. But in all, I think we are a very friendly, courteous (except when driving), helpful people, and much as there are to improve upon, the beautiful nature of the Indonesian people occassionaly shines through.
6th December 2010
Holding watch for a thousand years

Awesome picture!

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