If you are staying in Ubud or visiting it on a day trip, you should add Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave, to your itinerary – it’s an unusual site and only 5 km from town, so you can easily fit it into your schedule! And it’s in a very pleasant setting, so you can have a walk through the cool forest.
We arrived early in the morning, on our way to Pura Besakih and Lake Batur, and the rays of sunshine cutting through the mist rising from the damp forest floor added to the atmosphere of the temple. We walked down a long set of stairs to the main temple area. You enter past the welcoming hall with some stone carvings to view and reach the bathing pools, dug into the ground and decorated with stone statues, holding vessels through which the water flows into the pool. Past the pool, you can see the main sight of the temple: the cave, decorated with a large head around the entrance and demons all around it. Inside the cave you can see some stone statues, but the entrance was blocked during our visit and we were not able to explore further. The carvings have both Hindu and Buddhist influence and date back as far as the 11th century, some say even further… There are some more recent temple structures added and incent is being burned in front of the cave entrance – leaving much more modern marks… what happened with the Elephants, you might ask: nobody knows! there are plenty of stories to explain the name and the most frequent one is that when the cave was discovered in 1954, the head around the entrance was mistaken for an elephant… There are walkways leading from the temple to the river and a small lake – with few tourists around this early, it made for a pleasant, quiet walk – I’d recommend it!
The elephant cave is open to visitors from 8:00-16:00 and there is an entrance fee of IDR15,000 per adult. A sarong is required to enter and it is available for free – no need to purchase one from the pushy vendors… I’d recommend to come early to enjoy the atmosphere and avoid the crowds. Even if you are “templed out” from all the other temples you have already seen, the unique features and special setting make it worth a visit. It’ll take you less than 1h and it’s time well spent!