Gedong Songo Itinerary: A Guide to Java's Hidden Gem

Nine Buildings

On the slopes of Mount Ungaran in the temperate climate of Java’s hilly terrain, perches several small ancient temples amid verdant hills, lush vegetable fields, and pine forest trees. It was a beautiful day, the sky was clear, the sun shone brightly and my horse 'Zen' was calm and steady. Finally, I was at Candi Gedong Songo—the hidden gem of Central Java, Indonesia.

Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Vegetable terraces

In Javanese, Candi means temple, Gedong means building, and Songo is the number nine. But Although Candi Gedong Songo directly translates to “Nine Temples”, only five temples remain intact and standing today, the rest are merely ruins.

Built between 730 and 780, the temples are one of the oldest in Java. As a matter of fact, the humble Gedong Songo predates and pioneered the way for the bigger and more popular Borobudur and Prambanan temples of Yogyakarta.

Getting Around

The five temples were built on different levels of the naturally formed terraces of the mountain with a distance of 100 to 200 meters from each other. During a clear day, the topmost temple on the highest hill is seen clearly, and one can easily assume that it is several hundred meters away from the entrance. 

But fret not! as the complex can be explored in 2 ways: on foot following the stone path trail, or through a comfortable horseback ride tour. I recommend the latter, because it is easier, faster and way way more fun. The horses are calm and well trained, plus the local guides will be maneuvering them and accompany you all the way through. So you don’t have to worry about your horse going cuckoo. 

Prior to mounting my horse Zen, the guide gave me only 2 tips: lean forward—close to the horse—on a steep climb, and lean back when going downhill. Those 2 things, turned out to be the only lessons I needed. I actually felt like an expert balancing myself on the difficult paths.

Horse ride at Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
A horse ride tour is the best way to explore Gedong Songo 
Gedong I at Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Gedong I

Spectacular View in Every Direction

Instead of going to the nearest temple, the guide brought us to the furthest and highest temple right away. I thought for a second that he was trying to fast track the tour and cheat me but it turned out that we were doing the reverse circuit--we start up top and then explore the sites as we made our way down. Most tourists do the regular route. Either way, the combination of the beautiful scenery, cool weather and the horse ride was so surreal. I felt like I was having a magical lucid dream. 

Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
breathtaking landscape

We passed through verdant hills and lush vegetable fields before stopping at a wide grass field where the horses took some rest while the tourists explore the temples on the hill above. 

Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
horses' parking field?

Gedong V is the highest of all the temples, erected gloriously against the ravine separating the two sides of the hill. 

Gedong V - Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Gedong V

Although the temples of Gedong Songo is quite modest and simple, it is still very distinct and memorable. The spires on top remarkably display the Classical Javanese design of the mid 8th century period. It is truly unfortunate that of the some temples are already ruined and the statues inside are also gone.

Gedong IV - Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Gedong IV

More Temples and A Hot Spring

Not long afterwards, we continue the horseback ride to the sulphuric hot water springs. The locals believe that the water from the spring is therapeutic, that it can cure many diseases.  Hence, there are several bathrooms available for bathing.

Hot Spring at Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
the hot  spring emitting sulphuric gas

Wandering further, we continued downhill passing by the remaining temples. I didn't go down to explore each temple anymore as I've already spent a lot of time at the top and my 1 hour horse ride tour was nearly over.

On the other hand though, the added elevation from riding the horse afforded me a picturesque view of the temples and the landscape below. 

Gedong III - Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Gedong III
Gedong II - Candi Gedong Songo Java Indonesia
Gedong II

I can't say it enough, but I really enjoyed every second of the horse ride, and even more so as we got closer to end. I wanted Zen to walk as slow as possible just so I can have a few more minutes to wallow in the glory of Candi Gedong Songo--which come to think of it, is his own playground.

still amazing landscapes towards the end

Java's Best Kept Secret

Since the location of Candi Gedong Songo is quite secluded. One does not merely stumble upon it by accident. It is a little known attraction of Java that is nearly devoid of foreign tourists. I wasn’t the least bit surprised that when I was there, only a few group of people—mostly locals—are there exploring. 

Well getting there can be quite daunting and it doesn't help that information about it online is rather limited. Because of this, I tend to believe that visitors of Gedong Songo are there for a reason. And that like me, they made plans, done their research, and went the extra mile just to get there. 

I myself was so impressed by another blogger's story and photos that I adjusted my plans and itinerary just to get there. And also, because of my desire to see Candi Gedong Songo, I discovered a relatively unknown city in Northern Java called Semarang.

And there, I believe, is where the magic of Candi Gedong Songo lies. It sparks people’s curiosity and call them to action. You won’t go there because thousands of tourists deemed it worthy nor because it is an important world heritage. You go there because you felt the need to.

How to Get There

Address: Candi, Bandungan, Semarang, Central Java, Indonesia

The temples of Candi Gedong Songo is located on the slope of Mount Ungaran, about 900 meters above sea level. Hence, it is very difficult to find any public transportation that go there. And although there are plenty of cheap join-in tour packages in Yogyakarta there aren't any that offers a trip there.

The best way and perhaps the only way for foreigners to reach the temple complex is to rent a car and hire a driver. The standard rate is between IDR 500,000 to IDR 700,00 (35 to 50 USD) for a full day tour around Central Java. It'll depend on where you'll be coming from. The drive is usually 2.5 hours from Yogyakarta and only 1.5 hours from Semarang city.

I know renting a car is not at all backpacker friendly, but there are plenty of nearby attractions you can also visit for the duration of the trip, such as Prambanan and Borobudur. So if you're having second thoughts, I guarantee you, a day exploring Java's iconic temples is absolutely worth it.

Entrance Fees

Entrance to the Gedong Songo Complex
     Domestic tourist: IDR 5,000
     International tourist: IDR 50,000

Horse ride with guide
     Domestic tourist: IDR 50,000
     International tourist: IDR 70,000

My driver and guide, Fauzi, bought the tickets and got the local price for the both of us. Score!

with my tour guide Fauzi

Well, I am a Southeast Asian so it wasn't really hard to pass as a local. Its a neat trick in Indonesia if you're an Asian. Just ask your guide/driver to buy the ticket for you, otherwise you'll get busted if they know you can't speak Bahasa.

Check this site: for samples of Yogyakarta Itineraries

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