Ever since I first laid eyes on Angkor Wat, back in 2004, I wanted to also visit Borobudur. Each time I have been in Southeast Asia since 2004 it hasn’t worked out where I could get to see it. Well this time it did. I flew from Singapore to Yogyakarta and based myself there to drive the 42km to Borobudur.
Borobudur is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world and it is a poignant epitaph to Java’s Buddhist heyday. Built in the 9th century, it was then abandoned after a volcanic eruption covered it in 1006 AD. It wasn’t until the early 19th century when Raffles governed Java that it is rediscovered.
It was then unearthed in a series of excavations. The largest; between 1975-1982, was done by the Indonesian Government and UNESCO. The site was then designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and remains to this day a beautiful place to visit.
Borobudur is the single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia and it can get very crowded. They say best time to visit is for sunrise when there is a morning mist surrounding the complex and the hills behind it.
If you arrive at 5am, you are allowed to enter the complex for a steep fee of about $40. If you go later it is cheaper but by 7am the place is packed with tourists. It is also apparently a huge spot for school trips so then you’ll have a ton of local kids too. Get there early.
At 5am, there will still be tourists. In fact, I was the only western tourist there at 5am on the day I went. It was only Asian tourists that early. So it was pretty nice because it felt like I was there alone and on some parts of the temple I was.
The temple itself consists of six square bases topped by three circular ones. It has a number of stupas on the top and is very cool to look at. It also has a ton of Buddha statues all over the top and sides of the temple.
There are also corridors filled with carvings all along the temple along the outside at different height levels. As you climb up the steep entryway to the top make sure to stop off at the different levels to see the carvings around the sides. You will likely be alone here, especially if you go early in the morning. It may have been my favorite part of my visit.
The temple itself is very cool. The surrounding valley and distant hills aren’t as breathtaking as I had heard they were. Getting there for the sunrise was good because there were much less tourists but I think that is over-romanticized about how amazing it is with the mist although again-it is still cool.
Also make sure to walk around the temple on the ground and see it from different angles. It changes as you walk around it and can be cooler around each curve. Plus you can take nice pictures from the backside without any tourists cluttering up the shot.
Borobudur along with Prambanan makes for a great reason to visit Java and the Yogyakarta region. These two World Heritage temple sites are well worth a visit and are different from each other. Prambanan is Hindu and Borobudur is Buddhist and the layouts are totally different.
You can actually easily visit them together in one day if you wanted. I would suggest doing Borobudur first thing in the morning (5am) for a few hours. Have a meal and then visit Prambanan in the late morning or early afternoon. That’s a hell of a day!