The essence of Indonesia

By Korea Herald

Cultural, spiritual and historical heritage draws tourists to Southeast Asian country

  • Published : Dec 13, 2013 - 19:34
  • Updated : Dec 13, 2013 - 19:34
Borobudur, a ninth-century Buddhist monument, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Located 40 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta, the temple offers a glimpse into Indonesia’s past and a culture deeply rooted in Buddhism and Hinduism. (Visit Indonesia Tourism Officer, Korea)
YOGYAKARTA/BALI, INDONESIA ― For many travelers, Indonesia still remains one of the favorite destinations for a vacation, honeymoon or recreational holiday, mainly because of the burgeoning resort industry in Bali.

The world’s fourth-most populous country, with over 238 million and an archipelago comprising about 17,508 islands, however, has recently begun promoting its cultural and historical legacy to travelers coming from around the world. If you are planning on spending a winter vacation in Bali, try making a stop at Yogyakarta, a major Indonesian city that represents the country’s dynamic, rich and multi-faceted culture. Its national carrier Garuda Indonesia offers flights to Yogyakarta via Jakarta, departing from Incheon. The flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta takes about an hour.

Yogyakarta is a gateway to Borobudur, one of the world’s greatest Buddhist monuments.

Although Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Borobudur remains a pilgrimage site for many Indonesians and the temple is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.

Borobudur is a ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple and is said to be the greatest Buddhist stupa. (A stupa is a mound filled with Buddhist relics.)

The temple complex is not as large as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But the monument is unquestionably magnificent when considering the fact that it was built before A.D. 800, presumably more than 300 years before the construction of the Angkor Wat temples began in A.D. 1113.

It remains a mystery why the temple was deserted for nearly 1,000 years until its existence was revealed by the then British ruler of Java in 1814.

The monument was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1970s at the request of the Indonesian government to undertake a restoration project.

The temple is famous for its 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues, delicately and beautifully carved, making people wonder how such an achievement was even possible in the ninth century. Each panel tells the story of the Buddha’s life as well as stories about his previous lives. It consists of three levels that symbolize Buddhist cosmology.

Visitors start their walk at the first level, which signifies Kamadhatu, meaning the world of desire; then on to Rupadhatu, the world of forms, on the second level; and up to Arupadhatu, the world of formlessness, on the third level. It is a path that mirrors the spiritual enlightenment of the Buddha, a local guide said.

Yogyakarta is the center of traditional Indonesian art and the city of elite education. The city gives off an impression of youthfulness as there are tens of thousands of college students moving busily across the town. The city has a number of the most prestigious universities in Indonesia and is the center of traditional arts and crafts. Stop by local factories for batik and silver accessories, which make cheap but exquisite souvenirs for loved ones.

Bali, islands of gods

Bali is known as a paradise for honeymooners and young surfers coming from around the world for the island’s spectacular sea views, lavish resorts and hotels, and fun marketplaces.

Travelers may fall in love with Bali while spending a day at a beach or at the side of a pool. But the island, in fact, is full of religious heritage and people who take their spiritual values seriously.

Bali is commonly referred to as “the Island of Gods” because the island is filled with thousands of temples, both small and big, due to its rich culture based on Hinduism.

Temples are the cultural and spiritual center of Balinese life. Although the island is in the development stage, particularly after the APEC summit in October, people in Bali say it is the spiritual values that they feel proud of and which they must preserve ― “Because it is the essence of Indonesia,” explained a local travel guide. “Without it, there is nothing left here,” he added.

To get a glimpse of Balinese religious and spiritual life, a day trip to Uluwatu sea temple and Tanah Lot is recommended as well as a visit to the royal temple at Ubud.

Travel and shopping tips

It is better to change money to Indonesian rupiah before your departure because many places in the country don’t accept U.S. dollars. Ten thousand rupiah is worth about 1,000 won.

Overall, prices in Indonesia, particularly food and transportation fees, are relatively lower than in Korea. Handcrafted Indonesian batik, traditional fabric with gorgeous prints and silver accessories make good souvenirs. The price depends on the store and on the quality of the fabric, but a three-meter-long batik costs around 350,000 rupiah ($29).

Don’t forget to enjoy a Balinese massage at one of the salons located around the Ubud market in Bali. A full-body massage costs from 100,000 to 200,000 rupiah for one or two hours. Balinese massage is unique as it focuses on both mental and physical relaxation. It doesn’t hurt at all, but leaves you with good feelings all over.

Immigration on board

The flight experience on Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier of the Southeast Asian country, is highly convenient. Not only because the flight offers state-of-the-art audio-video services for each passenger but also because of its “immigration on board” program. The program is an immigration document-handling service on flights connecting Incheon and Jakarta ― a service only available on Garuda flights. Immigration officers conduct passport checks and issue visas on the flight, allowing passengers to walk past the immigration desks upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. Passengers are given a special card that indicates that they have a visa to enter the country. By simply handing the card to the ground immigration officers, travelers are allowed to proceed.

The service, however, requires passengers from Incheon to purchase visa vouchers at Garuda Indonesia’s check-in counters. The visas cost $25 each and allow travelers to stay in the country for as long as 30 days, regardless of age.

The immigration-on-board program is to be expanded for travelers flying to Bali as well, said the carrier’s Seoul office.

As part of its promotional program, the carrier currently offers flight tickets at discounted price for business class travelers. The promotion ends on March 31.

It takes about seven hours from Incheon to Jakarta, or to Bali, on direct flights. The air carrier offers daily flights from Incheon to Jakarta and Bali.

For more information on flight schedules and special offers, call (02) 773-2092 or visit

By Cho Chung-un, Korea Herald correspondent