With stunning temples and unique wildlife, Indonesia is a captivating destination for travelers

While planning a trip to Indonesia several months ago, I interviewed Susan Ruddy, who splits her time between Bali and Alaska.

Over the years, Ruddy has visited many of the best sites around the country to see wildlife both on land and under the sea. She recommended a visit to see the Komodo dragons on an island near Bali, as well as orangutans in Borneo. Finally, she recommended a visit to the Raja Ampat area near West Paupua for diving and snorkeling.

“It’s one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet,” she claimed.

After returning from Indonesia earlier this week, I can confirm Ruddy’s recommendations are top-shelf for any explorer. That said, we didn’t follow a single one.

Instead, we were immersed in the history, sights, sounds and tastes of a land that’s as wild and diverse as any country on earth. We spent three weeks with a short list of things to see and do. But along the way, we hit all the buttons on why it’s important to travel internationally.

Specifically, a trip to a foreign country like Indonesia changes your perspective about your place in the world. All at once, we were in a land where people looked different, ate different food, spoke a foreign language, worshipped differently and drove completely differently.

Add to this a local currency that trades around 15,000 for $1.


We spent about a week in Central Java, near the city of Yogyakarta. On our list were two giant temples: Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and Prambanan, one of the world’s largest Hindu temples.

Both of these temples were built in the ninth century C.E. Over the centuries, the temples had succumbed to earthquakes and were covered with ash after explosions from many of the volcanoes on the island.

Borobudur was later uncovered in 1814 by Thomas Raffles, the British ruler of Java. Since then, the temple has undergone several renovations and now is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a huge structure with dozens of Buddha statues seated inside large stupas, domes that are placed around nine stacked platforms.

Borobudur is Indonesia’s most-visited site. It’s expensive if you want to climb up to the top for a great view, 500,000 rupiahs ($35) per person. Visitors are grouped with a guide who speaks their language.

Prambanan is the second-largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia, after Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This temple is dedicated to the three faces of God: the creator (Brahma), the preserver (Vishnu) and the destroyer (Shiva). The huge central temple is 154 feet high, surrounded several major temples that are not quite as high. But the entire complex includes more than 200 temples, most of which have not yet been reconstructed.

Prambanan also is a UNESCO World Heritage site, which helps to protect and renovate the temple. After construction in the eighth and ninth century C.E., the temple was abandoned around 930 C.E., probably due to an explosion of the nearby Merapi volcano. In 1733, Dutch traders first reported the temples, which by then had collapsed due to an earthquake. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the Dutch undertook the first renovation efforts.

[This Indonesian park is tough to reach, but for scuba divers and snorkelers it’s worth the trip]

If you’re going to Indonesia, don’t miss the chance to visit these temples. They are remarkable. But you’ll likely take home many other memories, including:

1. The early-morning call to prayer from local mosques. There are mosques everywhere in Indonesia, the world’s most-populous Muslim nation. And all of them issue a call to prayer at 4:30 a.m., in addition to other parts of the day. There are prayer rooms in restaurants, in airports and in many other places for the faithful to gather.

2. Driving. First, you’d be wise not to drive in Indonesia. In addition to being a right-hand-drive nation (like the English and Australians), Indonesian drivers have their own rules when it comes to traffic and lanes. Although I wasn’t driving, I spent some time in the front seat and witnessed a remarkable ballet between drivers and they swerved in and out of lanes, around slower cars while using their horns frequently.

3. The food. Indonesians love spicy food. Many of their dishes are served with red sauce that looks just like ketchup. Don’t be fooled. Go ahead and dip the tip of your fork in the sauce and taste it. Often I invited our hosts (or any willing local) to order for us. Thankfully, many restaurants have pictures of the dishes. You won’t find any bacon or pork products on the menu, but the fried rice and veggie fritters are pretty good. One of our hosts ordered a local special, beef lung. One “no thank you bite” was enough for me.

4. The language. Even though many signs are in English and the letters are familiar, I never did pick up many words, aside from “entry,” “exit” and “toilet.” Google Translate on my cellphone was handy for rudimentary questions.

One recommendation that Ruddy made struck a chord. She had found a resort up in the hills outside of Yogyakarta that used to be a coffee plantation called “Mesa Stila.”

“Treat yourself to a couple of days here,” said Ruddy. “You’ll need a rest.”

Each guest stays in a villa decorated with local art. Many of the buildings were moved from elsewhere on the island. That includes the reception area, which used to be a train station. There’s an open-air clubhouse with a pool table. It’s next to a reflexology labyrinth for your feet.

Each of the villas is decorated with antiques and local art. Many of the villas have huge sunken tubs with floor-to-ceiling windows to check out the expansive view of the mountains.

The resort still grows coffee. Be sure and take a tour through the plantation. There’s also a big plot where they grow their own produce.


Because it’s several thousand feet high, it’s much cooler than the city. That’s a relief. If you want to relax, seek out the on-site Hammam Spa, featuring steam bathing. By western standards, the prices are cheap.

Yoga classes were included in the price — so I signed up each day at 8 a.m. in the open-air studio.

Even though it’s cool, it’s still warm enough for a dip in the pool, which also affords a panoramic view of the nearby mountains.

By all means, visit the island of Java for its ancient temples and the beautiful batik garments they sell in the shops. But be open to new thoughts, different ideas, faith traditions and gracious hospitality of the Indonesian people.

These are the reasons we travel internationally: to see how the rest of the world lives!

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at Subscribe to his e-newsletter at For more information, visit