There's More to Indonesia Than Bali; World's Greatest Archipelago Is Full of History and Culture

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BALI is the only Indonesian island most Australians know.

But my first visit to our northerly neighbour involved only a couple of hours at the airport in Denpasar before heading off to explore the culture and history of other parts of the world's biggest archipelago.

YOGYAKARTA

My first stop was Yogyakarta, on the island of Java. Despite getting only three hours of sleep our first task was to take a sunrise tour of the world-famous Borobudur Buddhist monument.

A 3am wake up call and an hour's drive led us to one of the most ancient monuments in Indonesia, situated in the Regency of Magelang.

Tour groups, domestic school students and honeymooners had all gathered at the break of dawn.

With torches in hand, we walked up the steps to the temple, which is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes.

Once we had all caught sight of the breathtaking monument, our sleepiness began to subside.

Built around 800AD and acclaimed by the world as a cultural heritage of mankind, the temple is a kind of stepped pyramid.

The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage.

Borobudur has been called a three-dimensional portrait of the Buddhist conception of the cosmos and the carvings can be read as an instruction manual for attaining enlightenment.

Much of the morning was spent hearing the narratives and the Buddhist ideology behind the thousands of decorative panels.

Yet what everyone seemed to enjoy was getting away from their tour guide and exploring the ancient, giant temple on their own as the sun came out.

Yogyakarta is the only province in Indonesia that is still governed by that area's pre-colonial monarchy, the sultan.

So it was fitting to visit the palace of Sultan Hamengkubuwana X, in the centre of town.

Visitors are guided by volunteer tour guides that explain the portraits of previous sultans, family trees, customs and gifts from foreign dignitaries.

Though we couldn't enter the sultan's actual house or office, we could have a look at his swimming pool and another pool where the water he had bathed in would flow.

Though some western tourists were amused that the sultan's bathing water was considered sacred, it was not surprising considering people's respect for the man. …