It`s still dark outside as we stumble out of our hotel room and head out into the beautiful garden surrounding the hotel. The colorful flowers look greyish in the morning mist that surrounds us.
We cross the garden and climb the stairs up the small hill in front of us. Everything and everyone is still sleeping, the birds, the people, and the jungle.
There is a sense of tension and expectation in the air – we are about to witness one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, and one of the absolute finest and most intact temples in South-East Asia! This has been high up on our bucket list for so long, and now we are finally here….just a few more steps up the hill…..
A spectacular view materializes in front of us as we reach the top of the hill above the hotel. The morning mist makes the temple look even more impressive and mysterious. The sun all of a sudden breaks through the clouds and lights up the temples six square bases with three circular ones on top.
We stop for a moment to take it all in, hardly daring to speak, listening to the morning sounds of the jungle waking up. The chilled morning air together with this impressive sight gives us goosebumps.
What Is Borobudur?
Borobudur temple is one of the most famous and finest Buddhist historical sites in the world, dating back to Java`s Buddhist time in the 9th century AD.
Scientists believe that the name Borobudur comes from the Sanskrit words “Vihara Buddha Uhr”, meaning “Buddhist Monastery on the Hill”. Very suitable for this temple as it sits on a hill. 🙂
The temple is a symmetrical stupa, consisting of nine stacked platforms: six square bases, three circular ones, with a central dome at the top. Four stairways are leading up to the top.
The stones are beautifully decorated by 2672 relief panels that illustrate Buddhist teachings and tales.
Scientists believe that the carved stones were originally painted to catch the sun, but this is of course long gone due to the wind and weather.
It must have been an even more impressive sight when it had colorful paintings.
Borobudur consists of 504 Buddha statues altogether.
Borobudur was built as an impression of the cosmos with the everyday world as the lowest base up to Nirvana at the highest base.
The lowest base consists of reliefs representing daily life consisting of passion and desire, where those who are good get rewarded with reincarnation as a higher form of life. The evil ones are on the other hand reincarnated as a lower form of life as a punishment.
The History Of Borobudur
The ruling Sailendra dynasty built Borobudur between 750 and 850 AD. It must have been a harsh and challenging job building the temple as it consists of 60 000 cubic meters of stone and 2 million stone blocks! No wonder the construction took 75 years to complete!
Soon after completion, Borobudur was abandoned as the power of East Java shifted away from the Hindu kingdoms and Buddhism was in decline as the Javanese converted to Islam. Borobudur lay hidden for centuries covered by layers of volcanic ash and jungle.
The reason behind its abandonment remains a mystery, although old Javanese chronicles from the 18th century indicate that folk stories gradually shifted from glory into more superstitious beliefs associated with bad luck and misery.
Borobudur was abandoned and overgrown by jungle until 1815 when British Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles governed Java and cleared the site. Java was under British administration from 1811 to 1816. Since then there have been several restoration projects of Borobudur, both by the Dutch and Unesco.
Borobudur was declared a World Heritage Site in 1991.
The temple is still in use for pilgrimage, and once a year Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak (Buddha`s birthday) at the monument.
How To Explore Borobudur
Since Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction, it can be quite crowded and noisy, especially on weekends.
The temple can also be packed with school kids since most schools in Java visit Borobudur, and they really loooooove to take photos of tourists! It seems like they are more eager to take selfies with tourists than to look at Borobudur itself. 😉
These schools come from remote areas of Java and have not often never seen a foreigner before. So be prepared to get photographed a lot! At some point, we felt like movie stars, hehe. Some schools even give the students an assignment to interview tourists while visiting Borobudur as a way to practise their English, so we answered a lot of questions too.
The key thing is to arrive early, ideally when the gate opens at 06 a.m., or buy a sunrise ticket which allows you into Borobudur at 4:30 a.m.
We stayed at the closest hotel to Borobudur, the Manohara Hotel. It is located at the foot of Borobudur hill, with a cafe/restaurant that has views across to Borobudur. Included in the price of our stay was the entrance ticket (entrance at 06:00 a.m.), and we could come and go as we wanted throughout the day. A great deal!
We bought the Sunrise ticket (250 000 IDR = 19 us$ since we stayed at Manohara Hotel) and entered Borobudur at sunset around 4:30 a.m. We walked around in the temple until noon, then went down to the hotel to get something to eat and had a nap while it was at its hottest.
We then re-entered the temple in the afternoon. It worked out perfectly for us! We got to see and photograph Borobudur when it was least crowded, coolest and most photogenic light wise.
Another little tip is to start from the main gateway to the East and walk around the galleries of the stupa clockwise as you should at every Buddhist monument, to understand the stories told.
Start at the bottom and make your way to top exploring one gallery level at a time.
You will pass around 1460 beautifully decorated narrative stone panels as well as 1212 panels telling the story of Buddha and different aspects of Javanese daily life over 1000 years ago.
Here you will see ships, elephants, dancing girls, musicians, kings, and warriors delicately carved into the stones. Borobudur has the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.
When you reach the third level, you will see the story of a dream of Queen Maya where white elephants with six tusks played a major part. Monks interpreted this dream to be a sign that her son would become Buddha.
The rest of the panels at this level continue to tell the story of the birth of Maya`s son Prince Siddhartha and his journey to become Buddha, as well as stories of reaching karma.
Above the galleries, the three top terraces consist of 432 Buddha face images that stare out from open chambers.
Seated inside stupas are 72 additional Buddha statues surrounding the central dome. One is considered the lucky Buddha.
The top platform is circular and shows the never-ending Nirvana – the ultimate state of salvation, the release and liberation from rebirths.
We spent the whole day climbing the stairs of Borobudur temple, from early dawn till dusk, with only a break at noon when it became so hot that we decided to break for a big lunch and a nap in our room.
It was super-convenient to stay at the Manohara hotel since it`s on the temple ground, that way we could reenter the temple whenever we wanted.
What makes Borobudur in some ways even more impressive than Angkor Wat is that it is so intact. As you walk around in the temple, you get blown away by its beauty very much as it must have been 1200 years ago.
We were pretty exhausted after this full day at Borobudur, but it was totally worth it. It is one of the top highlights of Indonesia, and a must-see when visiting this beautiful country!
Although we were inspired by the Quentin Tarantino/ Robert Rodriguez movie “From Dusk Till Dawn” when titling this article, there is another movie that got filmed at Borobudur. Part of the movie “Action Heat” from 2013 was shot at the temple grounds of Borobudur.
Wandering around this ancient temple, one can easily see that it is the perfect film location.
If you want to visit another amazing temple nearby, then you should stop at Prambanan temple on your way back to Yogyakarta like we did.
Prambanan temple is spectacular! It is the biggest and most complete remains of Java`s period of Hindu culture, built in the middle of the 9th century AD, around 50 years later than Borobudur.
How To Get There
Borobudur is located 41 km outside of Yogyakarta city, in the middle of the island Java in Indonesia. From Yogyakarta, you can cycle, take the bus or a taxi. We took a taxi from Yogyakarta, it took about 1,5 hours.
Borobudur is open from 06 a.m. till 5 p.m. (17:00), seven days a week. You can buy a Sunrise ticket and get in at 4:30 am (the normal ticket is included in your room rate if you stay at Manohara Hotel, and the Sunrise ticket is 250 000 IDR = 19 US$ extra). We highly recommend you to get there at 4:30 a.m. or 06:00 a.m. (although it is super tiring to get up this early!) to avoid the big crowds.
How Much Does It Cost
- 22 us$/ Rp 280,000 for adult non-Indonesians
- 10 us$/ Rp 110,000 for non-Indonesian students (proof, e.g. ISIC or university card is required)
- Rp 30,000 for Indonesian adults or foreign holders of an Indonesian work permit
What To Wear
Being a religious temple, you should wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. If you are wearing shorts, for instance, they will lend you a sarong at the ticket office at the entrance. It is very hot and humid in this area, though, so wear light breathable clothes.
Wear comfortable shoes or sandals as it is a bit of walking to get up and down the different levels of the temple.
Bring mosquito repellent and sunscreen!
Where To Stay In Borobudur
Being Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction, the Borobudur area offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay.
You can also choose to stay in Yogyakarta city, and just head out to Borobudur on a day trip. We stayed at Gallery Prawirotaman Hotel, and loved it! It is the best hotel we have stayed at in Indonesia. The swimming pool, location, the stunning rooms, awesome service and not to mention the excellent breakfast buffet! Everything is just perfect about this hotel. Click here for the latest prices at Gallery Prawirotaman Hotel
We stayed at Manohara Hotel
This hotel is our number one recommended hotel in Borobudur, as it is located on the temple ground just next to Borobudur temple. When staying at this hotel, you get the entrance ticket to the temple included in the room rate, and you can reenter the temple whenever you want. It is a short and easy walk from the hotel to the temple through a green and lush garden.
When we stayed here, we took a break from walking around the temple at noon, went back down to our hotel room and had lunch and a siesta nap, before going up to the temple again in the afternoon. Super convenient and very nice to have a break when the sun was at it`s hottest!
The rooms are clean and comfortable, with private bathroom, balcony, free wifi, and air condition. The rate includes a breakfast buffet. In the evening we had dinner in the beautiful hotel restaurant in the garden while enjoying a dance show with traditional Indonesian dance and music.
- Address: Jl. Badrawati – Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
- Price range: about 80 us$ (two persons, one room)
- Click here for the latest prices
If you are looking for something unique and top-notch, then this is it! Villa Borobudur looks awesome (ranked #1 on TripAdvisor), located on a hillside with stunning views over the valley of Borobudur. Each room is unique and beautifully decorated in Indonesian style. The swimming pool looks awesome!
- Address: Dusun Menoreh Villas Dusun Pete RT/RW 003, Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
- Price range: about 167 us$ (two persons, one room)
- Click here for the latest prices
Amata Borobudur Resort
Who doesn`t like staying at a private bungalow? We sure do, and at Amata Borobudur Resort you can. The bungalows look lovely, located in a beautiful garden.
- Address: Jl. Mendut -Sendang Sono, Progowati, Mungkid Magelang, Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
- Price range: about 60 us$ (two persons, a private bungalow)
- Click here for the latest prices
Everyone seems to adore this place (ranked as #1 under Specialty lodging on TripAdvisor). It is peacefully and beautifully located amongst rice fields only a 5-minute bike ride away from Borobudur Temple. The guesthouse rents out bikes for free, yay! Everyone says positive things about the service and the food at this place. Will definitely consider staying here next time!
- Address: Jowahan, Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
- Price range: about 45 us$
- Click here for the latest prices
Travel Guides to Indonesia
We used Lonely Planet`s Indonesia book on our travels around Indonesia and Bali. It was great! Click on the pictures below to read more about each book on Amazon (affiliate links):
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