Before I start, for those that don’t know, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It is located in Central Java (Indonesia). Don’t embarrassed or surprised if you don’t know. I didn’t until about 6 weeks before I went there!
As mentioned last week, when coming to visit me in Japan, my mom wanted to see Orangutans in the wild. Even from Japan, it is a long trip for a just a few days. And you can’t get to Borneo direct. You have to go through Jakarta. And if flying through Jakarta, I HAD to stop and spend some time there. Now I had 4 days in Borneo, two days in Jakarta … and only of a week off work. Not really time to go anywhere else – I struggled for months on what to do with my extra two days. Hours of research provided me no help, and we almost spent those days off the coast on one of the thousand islands. However, a random conversation with a colleague led to me hearing about Borobudur Temple for the first time. Plans were changed and tickets were bought within 24 hours!!
Yogyakarta is the nearest city and airport to Borobudur. It is an easy and affordable flight from Jakarta, Bali or Singapore. However, it is a long drive from Yogyakarta to Borobudur. If you just looked up the distance and think I’m crazy – it is the traffic not the mileage. (I will talk more about when I write about Jakarta, I have never seen traffic like Indonesia. It is insane!)
As mentioned, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It was built in the 9th century (and “rediscovered” in 1812). It has 2,672 reliefs and 504 Buddha statues. Reliefs show a variety of scenes from life, nature and even ships which helped prove the role of Java in the early spice trade of cinnamon from Africa to China.
When reading up on Borobudur, sunrise is highlighted as the special time to visit. And the ticket prices are more expensive at sunrise. We did not find the sunrise all that spectacular and it definitely had nothing on Angkor Wat. We then came to realize that all of the spectacular photos that advertise the sunrise tour are actually from sunset! However, all of that said, because of the heat and the crowds, we all agreed we are glad we got up super early and did sunrise instead of sunset.
While in the area, we also saw Selogriyo rice fields. I cannot express how beautiful and green they were. We hired a driver for the one hour drive and it is then an easy 60-90 minute walk. The temple is currently under renovation, but I am glad we didn’t know that as we might not have gone. And it was definitely worth the trip and one of my favorite stops in our 2 weeks. We were there on a Friday night and watched the local men from the town engaged in pigeon racing which was very unique and fun!
Of note, Yogyakarta is also a large city with many spots of interests in its own right. There are also several other noteworthy temples in the area. We didn’t have time to see them and only had about 28 hours in the area (and spent about 5 of them stuck in traffic). You could do Borobudur from Jakarta is a very long day trip. However, if recommending to a friend with time, I would recommend the following 2-3 day trip:
Day 1: Fly into Yogyakarta and hire Klook or a driver to take you out to Borobudur. Hire a driver for an afternoon walk through the Selogriyo rice fields.
Day 2: Get up before sunrise and head to Borobudur temple. Climb to the top for the sunrise and then make your way down slowly. We spent about 4 hours at the temple. On your walk out there is a large shopping bazaar you will need to walk through whether you like it or not. In the afternoon hire a car to take you to the other temples of the area including Prambanan, Ratu Boko, Plaosan complex, Mendut Buddhist Monastery, and Sambisari.
Day 3: See some of the sights in Yogyakarta
Some final notes about Borobudur. Most people stay in Yogyakarta and travel to the temple. We stayed in Borobudur and I recommend it (for at least one night so you can get to the temple early). We stayed at Cempaka Villa which was a small charming local spot. It is very basic but in a fantastic location. The staff was wonderful and helpful. We were the only westerner’s there and you can’t beat the price. Manohara hotel is inside the park itself. When we arrived and I learned about the hotel I was disappointed that I hadn’t booked there. However, after seeing the hotel I am happy with my choices. It is much more expensive than those in town but they do include temple entry so it is not as much as it seems. I am not sure if it includes sunrise tickets which are more. Sarasvati is also a more upscale option in a prime location. Whether you stay here or not, I do recommend it for dinner. It was one of the few places open but they had a large menu with tasty food. The lobby was beautiful and the staff was kind.
Whatever your timeline, Borobudur is definitely a worthwhile stop a little off the tourist track that you can take as a side trip from Bali, Jakarta, or Singapore.