Sunrise at Borobudur

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.

Stupas at sunrise overlooking misty valley below on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Stairway up Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Buddha and stupas at sunrise on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Awesome wall carvings on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Buddha looking out over the valley below at sunrise on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Stupas at sunrise atop Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

A Buddha at sunrise on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Corridor to myself atop Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Back entrance of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

View from the back of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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.

Cool dog like carving at sunrise on Borobudur in Java, Indonesia

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!

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  1. Very nice pictures Lee.

  2. I would love to visit this place and also to Angkor Wat. Which do you like better?

    • Hi Natasha, Angkor Wat is much bigger so it is hard to adequately compare the two and I don’t want to minimize Borobudur by saying the other is better. They are both fantastic sites and should be viewed independently of one another.

  3. I’m certainly a bit smarter after reading this post. I readily admit that I don’t know much about the Buddhist religion and its temples. The historical significance and the fact that it was covered in ash and rediscovered so recently is fascinating to me. You’re a trooper for getting up that early, but based on your pictures alone, it seems like missing sleep was well worth it.

    • Stick with me Leah and you will be smarter by the minute! Seriously though, the religions in Asia are fascinating and so hard to really understand as an outsider no matter how much you try.

  4. Awesome post, looks so spooky and eerie, I really wanna go!

  5. Hello Lee, thanks for writing about Borobudur, one of the wonders of the world

  6. Looks cool, I’ll have to check it out

  7. I don’t like you because all you make me want to do is quit my job and go travel other places!

  8. how beautiful. after seeing Angkor Wat this summer, now this may need to be next on my list too. it looks to be in better shape than the Angkor Wat complex of temples. your photos are stunning!

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