Our main incentive to visit central Java was Borobudor. This enigmatic Buddhist temple took around 75 years to build, with detailed attention paid to all aspects of the building and design, only to be abandoned soon after it’s completion. Unfortunately, the temple was completed as Buddhism was on a decline, and it wasn’t until it was rediscovered in 1814 that the temple got its moment in the sun.
Borobudor temple is now one of central Java’s main tourist attractions. And when I say main tourist attractions, I mean it gets really, really, really busy. There are two ways to visit Borobudor and we did both. You can either join a sunrise tour, or go as a regular visitor.
The Sunrise Tour
We stayed at a local hotel in order to save on commuting time. Many visitors stay in Yogyakarta and day trip to the temple, but if you want to get there for the sunrise we highly recommend staying in town. We stayed right across the street from the entrance to the temple, and Dan still needed to roll out of bed at 4am to meet up with the 4:30 AM Borobudor sunrise group. The sunrise tour is organized by a local hotel, the Manahara, and you must purchase your tickets there. The group leaves from the hotel at 4:30 AM to go to the temples bright and early before first light. This gives you about two hours of time with the temple before it opens for general admission tickets.
There were about 25 people with Dan for the sunrise tour. More than half of the people set up their tripod in just one spot and didn’t even explore the temple too much, which made it seem like there were even less people to contend with. You are free to roam the temple to explore different photographic angles, or just enjoy the moment. Even though there were not many people, sometimes they did still get in the way, but Dan just employed his photo stacking technique to get rid of them.
Jacob and I got out of bed at a much more respectable 5:30 AM. (When you have a toddler, 5:30 AM doesn’t seem that early). We had a leisurely breakfast and went to meet up with Dan at 7:30 at a designated spot.
It was a good thing we had set up a designated spot to meet. Jacob and I arrived at the temple early, at about 7AM and there were already at least a dozen school groups already there. At first I thought I might stroll towards to temple and try to find Dan. I soon abandoned that idea when I rounded the bend and discovered that there were already, just half an hour after the gates opened, several hundred people at the temple. Dan eventually found us and we set off to explore.
It was hell.
It was hot as anything. Sweat was dripping down my back and Jacob was uncomfortable and wanted to be carried the entire time. School groups and selfie sticks were everywhere. We would only take a couple steps before we would be stopped to get our photo taken. At each stop we would probably have two dozen photos taken of us, with different combinations of strangers posing with us and Jacob. As soon as we escaped one group, we would be set upon by another group. I saw other foreigners strolling by at ease, checking out the intricate carvings on the side of the temple. I was a bit annoyed, they obviously were not sharing the workload here! We probably had two hundred photos taken of us in about a 20 minute period before Jacob and I had had enough. Even leaving was difficult as we were continually ambushed by people wanting their photo with Jacob.
I don’t feel like I got to properly experience Borobudor temple. In fact, most of my discovery and appreciation of the temple happened afterwards as I looked through Dans photos from the sunrise tour.
Our tip: Pay the extra money and get up a few hours earlier to join the sunrise tour. Even if you don’t care about sunrise or are not a photography buff, just do it. Do it so you can actually experience the temple. Do it so you can actually see the temple and not just throngs of people. Do it for the peace and quiet.