Borobudur has been at the top of my must-visit list for as long as I can remember. If you have seen a photo of this great 8th century Indonesian Buddhist temple at sunrise then you know why. There is an out-of-this-world ethereal quality to Borobudur as the first rays of purple, pink, red and orange light hit the latticed stupas of its upper platform that kept calling to me. So on our recent visit to Yogyakarta, Central Java we set out on a mini moto road trip to experience the great Borobudur sunrise for ourselves.
A Moto Road Trip Through Yogyakarta’s Countryside
While staying at Aloha Hotel (highly recommend if you are visiting Jogja), we met some locals who insisted we skip the bus tour and hire a moto to visit Borobudur temple. The idea immediately appealed to us as large group tours are typically not our style and cost two to three times the price of doing it ourselves.
Since it was a priority of ours to see sunrise at Borobudur, we left Yogyakarta the afternoon prior. With our 60,000 IDR (US$4.30) per day moto rental and a sketchily drawn map from our new friends in hand (along with the ever so trusty Maps To Go to navigate us out of the busy city) we set off to see the lesser touristed Javanese countryside on our way to Borobudur.
When following the main roads to Borobudur, the drive should only take between 1.5 and 2 hours. But somewhere along the way we turned off at a canal, weaving us over dirt roads and through rice paddies remote enough that the locals looked genuinely surprised to see us. The drive gave us a nice taste of agrarian Indonesian life and only sidetracked us by an extra 30 minutes or so.
Once we arrived to the town of Borobudur, we checked into our guesthouse and went in search for food. There really isn’t much to Borobudur (besides a few fancy hotels and low-key guesthouses) but again it was nice to experience life outside the big city.
Our Borobudur Sunrise
After asking around about our options for sunrise at Borobudur, we decided to pay for the official Borobudur Sunrise Tour through Manohara Hotel which let us enter the temple grounds as early as 4:30am (new 2016 admission fee is 400,000 IDR per person). We woke up and were on the road to Borobudur by 4:15am. By 5:00am we had found a perch on the highest platform from which to view the sunrise. Unfortunately so had hundreds of other early risers.
Sadly, I can’t say our Borobudur sunrise was the om-evoking, life-affirming moment I expected it to be. The incessant click-click-clicking of cameras and scurrying of hundreds of eager tourists from one vantage point in an attempt to crop everyone else out of their shot was more than a little overwhelming. Not that I can fault anyone there; I was only adding to the pandemonium myself. But all this commotion didn’t add to the otherwise ethereal ambiance.
Nevertheless, Adam and I were ultimately glad that we paid into the tourist racket that is the Manohara Hotel Borobudur Sunrise Tour to see this world wonder at dawn. Borobudur is an undeniably beautiful sight to behold, especially at first light, and Adam as usual captured some spectacular photos. If this is something you are wavering on check out our post on how to decide if Borobudur at sunrise is worth it.
Luckily the crowds dissipated after only 30 minutes and we had the rest of the morning to explore this magnificent temple mostly in solitude.
About Borobudur Temple
It is no coincidence that most who visit Borobudur feel like they’ve been transported to another world. The monument was erected as a way of bringing to life the Buddhist vision of the cosmos in stone, starting with the everyday life at the bottom and spiraling to nirvana or enlightenment at the top. Borobudur, located on the island of Central Java in Indonesia, is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. It was constructed during the 8th and 9th centuries and left abandoned after the 14th. Rediscovered in 1814, Borobudur has since served as a pilgrimage for Buddhists from around the world.
Interesting Borobudur Facts
- Borobudur is built atop a hill using two million stone blocks.
- The temple is composed of six square terraces topped by three circular ones the highest representing enlightenment or nirvana.
- These platforms are decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.
- Borobudur should be walked in a clockwise direction starting at the main eastern gateway. The entire pilgrimage is 5 kilometers long.
- The temple is 300 years older than Angkor Wat in Cambodia and 400 years older than the European Cathedrals.
The Borobudur Sunrise Tour with Manohara Hotel
There only official way to see sunrise (and sunset for that matter) from inside the Borobudur temple is through the Manohara Hotel Borobudur Sunrise Tour. The Borobudur Sunrise Tour gives you access to the temple grounds starting at 4:30am and includes a flashlight and coffee and snacks after your visit.
This makes the total ticket price for a sunrise tour 380,000 IDR (US$27.67) per person, an additional 95,000 IDR above the normal ticket price. (UPDATE: the Manohara Sunrise ticket price as of January 2016 is up to 400,000 IDR per person.) Be aware that you do not have to stay at Manohora Hotel (which appears to offer rather average accommodations for the price although the cost of the Sunrise Tour is reduced to 250,000 IDR) 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.
If You Go: Essential Travel Tips and Advice for a Borobudur Sunrise
If you are planning your own road trip for Borobudur sunrise, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Download the offline version of Maps 2Go for Central Java so you can navigate yourself to Borobudur. You’ll be surprised to find the map even has the small dirt roads and canals so you can get lost for a while and easily find your way back to the town of Borobudur.
2. Ask the moto company for helmets. Traffic especially inside of Jogja can be heavy and its not worth the risk.
3. Arrive to Borobudur early enough that you can make your way to the top platform and secure your own space. (Hopefully you will be better than me at keeping your calm as the masses file in.)
4. Bring water and snacks with you. After the crowds dissapate and you have the temple to yourself you have supplies to tide you over while you explore. Then when you are finished coffee and a very small pastry await you, complements of the Manohara.