Borobudur Temple – Must-See. Borobudur is a Buddhist Temple located in central Java, Indonesia and is considered the largest Buddhist structure in the world. Its sheer size is striking.
Today, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation, but back in the 8th century, the island of Java, was a melting pot of Hindus and Buddhists. In fact, Hindu Prambanan temple complex rests near Borobudur. During these times there were many mixed marriage between royal Buddhist and Hindu families.
For centuries, time forgot Borobudur and it was covered by thick jungle and volcanic ash. It was “discovered” again in 1814 under the guidance of British Governor Raffles of Singapore. Borobudur sits in a green jungle in the Kedu Plain. The temple dates back to the 8th century and it is estimated it took 75 years to complete. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
In South East Asia, there are three must-see monuments. Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Bagan Temples in Myanmar. And this stupendous temple of Borobudur in Indonesia.
I had first come to Borobudur back in 2009 on a very early morning trip from one-hour-away Jogjakarta. I left in darkness and caught the tail end of a spectacular sunrise. I had briefly read about it in my Lonely Planet guide, but had no real expectations. After my quick visit ended, I knew I had to return once more. That morning had not been sufficient.
In 2016, I found myself at the PATA Travel Mart conference in Jakarta. While the conference was beneficial I am not a giant fan of the over-populated capital. When the conference ended I flew directly to Jogjakarta and proceeded to Borobudur. My goal was to maximize my time at the temple catching both sunrise and sunset.
I positioned myself at the Ceremak Villa Hotel. It was walking distance to Borobudur, I grabbed my flashlight and awoke at 4 am in thick darkness. The nearby Manohar Hotel has an exclusive sunrise and sunset tours for a 400,000. This price gets you access to Borobudur prior to the tourist buses dumping hundreds of tourists for the 6 am open. Unfortunately, this strategy was not a personal success since it was an Indonesian long weekend and the temple was overflowing with tons of people, making it very difficult to take photos which were not stuffed with selfie-snapping tourists.
I perched myself on the top of the temple with my tripod attempting to position myself for the colors of sunrise. The temple is constructed with local dark grey andesite stone. Borobudur is layered like a wedding cake. The first five layers are square in shape, with an additional three more circular layers. The square base is 118 meter/387 feet long on each side, and the highest point 35 meter/ 114 feet above ground level. Over 500 Buddhas call Borobudur their home with over 2,500 relief panels accompanying them. A central stupa adorns the structure like a lone candle. The structure stands at 35 meters/114 feet tall. The square foundation is 118 meters/387 feet long on each side. Borobudur at heart, is a storybook, sharing Buddha’s life journey through the reliefs.
As the sun rose, throngs filed into the complex. The heat rose. I took my final photos of the stupas with the luscious greens of the jungle and the mist colored mountains in the background. At 9:30 am, I made my way back to the hotel to charge batteries, rest, and got ready for my return at sunset.
At 4 pm, I returned back to the Manohar Hotel to purchase a special sunset ticket for another 400,000 rupees. This allowed me special access to Borobudur for 80 minutes. Upon climbing up to the top of the stupa, I was very disappointed. The monument was overwhelmed with visitors. Crowds squatted like it was a neighborhood local park eating food, littering, smoking and sitting and climbing over the structure. I waited for 5 pm, hoping the crowd would thin out. The security guards pushed out the crowds and by 5:15 pm I was with less than two dozen people on top of Borobudur luxuriating in my near solitude. I gazed as the sun dipped under the mountains. I was witness to perfection. In pitch darkness, with my flashlight, I descended and exited the park. I was the last person at Borobudur.
Stay at Manohar which is the closest hotel near Borobudur. Other option is Cempaka Villa which is a 5 minute walk to Manohar.
Staying at Manohar gets you access to sunrise/sunset tickets at a discount. Tickets are normally 400,000 but are discounted for hotel guests who will pay 250,000. Normal foreigner tickets are 280,000. If curious, locals pay 30,000 Rupees.
My advice, it is work paying the extra money for either/and the sunrise/sunset tour.
Borobudur Temple – Must-See
Borobudur Temple – Must-See
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Interesting read and very nice photos. My first visit to Borobudur was in 1991. I slept near the temple in a small guesthouse (there was nothing as smart as the Manohar Hotel in those days) and had to bribe the security guard to get into the complex in time for sunrise the following morning. I had reservations when Kirsty and I re-visited in December 2015 but the crowds weren’t too bad. We did, however, deliberately not visit at sunrise but an hour or so later. I appreciate you miss out on the ‘sunrise’ aspect of the visit but the light is still good at that time in the morning and from experience I find that most people disperse straight after witnessing it – Angkor Wat is the same. These days I find it’s one of the only ways to avoid the crowds at popular spots!
Wow, would have loved to seen the place in 91!
It was pretty bad and crowded the whole time. I think it was the misfortune of being a long weekend in Indonesia. Unfortunately, it did not really thin out, since I was there from around 445-915am. Still worth it…until next time!
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