After arriving in Yogyakarta, we went back and forth about whether or not it would be worth it to pay extra fee to visit Indonesia’s great Borobudur Temple at sunrise. It wasn’t so much the actual cost as the principle of charging foreigners so much more to see this great historic site. So we turned to the internet for opinions from Trip Advisor reviews and fellow travel bloggers. The results were mixed. In the end, we decided to pay the extra 125,000 IDR (US$10) per person to see the temple pre-park hours and were ultimately happy with our decision. But thinking through our circumstances and reasons for making this decision, we might not necessarily suggest the same to our fellow travelers. Below are the 6 questions we’d suggest you consider if you are wavering on whether to pay for a Borobudur sunrise tour with Manohara Hotel.
Cost to Visit Borobudur Temple at Sunrise
First things first, it is important to note that there is only one OFFICIAL way to see sunrise (and sunset for that matter) from inside the Borobudur temple. And that is by paying the Manohora Hotel, which is located on park grounds, an extra 125,000 IDR (approximately US$10) to gain access to the temple at 4:30am. This makes the total ticket price for a sunrise tour 450,000 IDR (US$34) per person (Prices updated January 2017). Be aware that you do not have to stay at Manohora Hotel (which appears to offer rather average accommodations for the price though it does give you a discount on your sunrise ticket) and you do not need to make reservations in advance.
Compare this ticket price to the 275,000 IDR (officially posted in USD at $20) it would cost any international tourist to visit during regular business hours between 6:00am and 5:00pm.
Borobudur Sunrise Tour Alternatives
There are several alternatives to sunrise at the actual Borobudur temple complex, including from lookout points on Pethuk Setumbu Hill or Dagi Hill. Unfortunately these are several kilometers from the temple complex and only provide one a birds-eye view of the tops of the temple through the early morning haze. Further, we were warned that local hustlers will hide the signs to the lookout points and only help tourists to find them for a fee.
Alternatively, if you are keen to explore some, ahem, back door channels into Borobudur for sunrise apparently there are guards that are willing to play ball. We briefly explored this option through connections at our hotel but the offering price never quite made enough sense for us to pursue since we didn’t want to chance our only morning at Borobudur.
Is Borobudur Sunrise Worth It?
So, now with costs established, here are the 6 questions we’d suggest you ask yourselves in deciding whether or not sunrise at Borobudur is worth it:
#1 – How interested are you in capturing stellar Borobudur photographs?
Borobudur temple is a stunning structure regardless of time of day. However, there is an undeniable ethereal quality to the buddha heads and stupas as the blue light of early morning illuminates the temple.
Adam being a photographer, it was really important for us to maximize our opportunities to take awesome photographs at Borobudur. And while it wasn’t the epic sunrise full of brilliantly illuminated clouds that we were hoping for, the photos we took during those few minutes of sunrise far surpassed the photos we took several hours later in the harsh early morning light. So from a photographer’s perspective, as frustrating as it was to play into this tourist trap, we’d argue that you do have to be there for sunrise.
#2 – What time of year are you visiting?
This one we didn’t think about until we were already on our way to Borobudur, but time of year matters. We visited in mid-October just before Indonesia’s rainy season. The temperatures were quite high and though we could see stars overhead each night a thick muggy haze hung around graying out the sky until about 11am each morning. Apparently during rainy season (and when there isn’t intense slash-and-burn agriculture happening in West Java), this haze is far less and the opportunity for really stunning clouds far greater.
One way to check on the condition of recent sunrises is to look at instagram (#borobudursunrise) to see how other people’s recent photos have come out.
Unfortunately, as with most things in nature, having perfect sunrise conditions often comes down to luck. We met another photographer who had visited for sunrise multiple days and said the conditions on our day of visit weren’t great in comparison.
#3 – What time is sunrise?
Similar to time of year, the time that the sun rises also makes a difference in deciding whether to cough up the extra 125,000 IDR to see sunrise via the Manohara Hotel.
First light in October is around 5:15am with the sun breaking through the low-horizon haze between 5:30 and 5:45am. This means that for those who decided to wait until park opening at 6:00am, by the time they hike from the entrance to the temple the prime photography opportunities have passed.
However, we read another travel blogger who visited during July. During their visit to Borobudur the sun didn’t peak through the low-horizon haze until 5:50am. So by purchasing normal tickets, they were able to enter the park at 6:00am and make it to the top of the temple in time to see enough of the sunrise to make them happy. In their case, it didn’t make sense to pay extra for sunrise tickets.
#4 – Can you make it work with your budget?
As far as entrance fees go, the cost to visit Borobudur is high to start. So adding an additional US$10 per person is a bit of an annoyance for some while budget breaking for others. We are trying to hit a $70/day budget between the two of us so the extra money was something we had to seriously consider. For others on less of a budget this might be less of a concern.
#5 – What kind of experience are you looking for?
A.K.A. Do you want to put up with the crowds?
Gone are the days when the Borobudur sunrise tour was the path less taken. Today, you will be one of hundreds of eager camera-touting tourists crowded around the small east facing side of the temple at 4:30am waiting to capture that perfect shot of the back of Buddha’s head with the sun rays beaming behind it.
I have to say this was far from the relaxing, ethereal, spiritual sunrise I was expecting. In fact quite the opposite, it was so over crowded and frantic capturing a photo without a dozen straining heads in it that it was a bit unnerving. Surprisingly, only 15 minutes after the sun had rose, most of the crowd had departed and we were able to relax again.
#6 – Do you want to wake up at 4am on your holiday?
This will be an early morning. If you are staying in Yogyakarta and visiting for the day, as opposed to sleeping overnight in Borobudur, it will make for an even earlier day. On our self-drive road trip to Borobudur, we stayed overnight in Borobudur and woke up at 3:50am to make it to the Manohara Hotel by 4:20am. Let’s just say early mornings are not Adam’s thing and he had to be nudged multiple times to get up.
So there you have it! The six questions we suggest you consider when deciding whether to see sunrise at Borobudur through the Manohara Hotel. For more, check out our post on our complete Yogyakarta road trip experience to Borobudur.
Have you visited Borobudur at sunrise? What was your Borobudur sunrise experience?
What did you think? We’d love to hear whether you thought Borobudur sunrise was worth it!