For many people Borobudur is the main highlight of their trip to Java. It’s the biggest Buddhist temple built around 750-850, about 40 km from Yogyakarta. The temple can be visited anywhere between sunset and sunrise, but watching the sunrise is what most people do. The entrance fee of 350 000 IDR is already pretty hefty for Indonesian standards, but be prepared to pay an extra 125 000 just to see the sunset (which does include a pretty big breakfast buffet).
So, you might be wondering: to go or not to go for sunrise? I have long pondered on this question myself and came for myself to the conclusion that it was best to just do it.
First of all, if you want to get to Borobudur as a solo traveler who can’t drive a scooter it’s easiest to book a tour. You can either book the sunrise tour at 4am for 110 000 IDR or the normal tour at 5am for 90 000. So, doing the normal tour would have only given me one hour of extra sleep and would have only saved me a bit more than a euro. It is possible to go independently by bus, but combining the moto-taxi to the station and back and the bus ticket I probably would have only saved some 20-30 000 but would have lost a lot more time.
The tour bus comes to pick you up at 4 and somewhere between 9 and 10 you’ll be back at your hostel. And then you still have an entire day to explore more of Yogya or (like I did) escape from Yogya by getting yourself a truly wonderful 3-hour spa treatment for only 140 000 IDR (Flaurent Salon Kota Baru, women only!). The treatment includes a massage, a body scrub, a steam bath, a facial massage and a hair treatment. Afterwards, you feel like born again!
Ok back to Borobudur. Once you arrive, you’ll be given your ticket and a torch and asked to come back at a specific time. The time range you get to visit the temple is very reasonable (about 2-3 hours), so you neither have to hurry through the temple, nor do you have to wait too long for the transport back.
The temple is made out of 9 levels which you’ll have to climb to the top in order to see the famous sunset. From here the sun majestically rises from behind the many stupas. Not only do the silhouettes of the stupas create a beautiful effect but also the surroundings around the temple.
The temple is built in the midst of some beautiful nature, surrounded by trees, volcanoes and mountains. I loved the visual effect of the low hanging clouds which seemed to be stuck in the trees and gently caressed the mountains.
Even though you’re watching the sunrise together with hundreds of other tourists, the scene is still really magical. In the end, I’m really happy I did the sunrise tour, I think it was well worth the money as you won’t get to see this kind of sunrise many more times in your life.
Once the sun was up, I slowly moved down the stupa, exploring one level after the other. Every level represents a different realm in the Buddhist cosmos. The lower level, the base of the stupa, represent the Kamadhatu (world of desire) which is the world most ordinary people with worldly desires are in; the middle levels (the five square platforms) represent the realm of Rapudhatu (the world of forms) which is the realm for the people who have burnt their desires and only see the forms of the world but are not steered by their desires anymore; the upper levels (the three round platforms and the large stupa) represent the highest realm, the Aruphadatu (the formless world) which is the world of the true Buddhas.
If you’re interested in getting to know more about the history of the temple and the different reliefs you might consider getting a guide. Even though I’m highly interested in Buddhism and I would have loved to know more, I decided to do it all by myself. The magnitude and the beauty of the temple are impressive which is something I’d rather enjoy in solitude. Even though the temple is so wildly popular, you’ll be surprised how quiet it gets in the narrow corridors of the different levels. It’s truly delightful to just soak in the beautiful reliefs and watching the Buddha’s overlooking their surroundings fills you with tranquility and peace almost instantly.