A Quick Visit to Borobudur
The Borobudur temple complex in Indonesia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been on my travel wish list for years, and it moved up a little on that list every time I saw posts from there on Instagram. But Indonesia is a large, spread-out country, and the photos always made it look like it was in a remote jungle location, so I assumed that it wasn’t easy to get to.
When my 10-year-old and I were planning our around-the-world trip this past summer, the initial thought was to travel straight from Dubai to Bali. That’s when I finally did the research and figured out that we could add a day at Borobudur to our itinerary fairly easily. We then extended the overall trip by a day to fit it in.
The closest airport to Borobudur is Yogyakarta. From Dubai we flew to Jakarta, Indonesia, transferred from the international terminal to the domestic terminal via a hard-to-find white shuttlebus (hint: it stops in front of the lounge on the upper level), and then flew roughly an hour on to Yogyakarta.
Borobudur is a little over an hour from Yogyakarta. The standard options are to stay in the city and book a tour to the temple, or stay closer to the temple. There are extremely nice lodging options nearby, including Amanjiwo, but my preference is always to stay where it makes the most sense – especially when traveling with kids. In the case of Borobudur that’s the Manohara Hotel. It’s the only hotel that’s actually on the grounds of the temple, and it’s where the sunrise tours leave from every morning. It’s the most basic hotel that we stayed at on our around-the-world trip, but no complaints at all. The cost? Only 1,300,000 Rupiah ($98), which included breakfast and temple entrance.
We arranged airport transportation through the hotel for 350,000 Rupiah ($26), were picked up at the terminal and had an uneventful ride to the hotel. We were able to check in immediately and…we napped for several hours. We hadn’t slept great on the overnight flight from Dubai, so this refreshed us. We woke up mid-afternoon and went out to walk around the hotel.
The intent wasn’t to visit the temple that afternoon, but we looked up and it was literally right there. So cool! So we made a quick decision to cross the street and head up to the temple. We inadvertently skipped the main entrance and entered through a side path. We got a strange look from a guy trimming a palm tree but no one tried to stop us, and we didn’t feel too bad skipping the main gate – we had tickets after all. Just funny that it was so easy to bypass the ticket line.
This was the highlight. We had the 1200-year-old temple virtually to ourselves all afternoon, up until the sun was setting and the temple closed. We explored every level and walked around all 72 stupas. It’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and following several restorations it’s in excellent shape. As with other major sites around the world, it’s a lot easier to appreciate it when it’s not crowded with tourists.
Dinner at the hotel was surprisingly good, and the entire bill wasn’t more than $15. Plus, I was staring at Borobudur the entire meal. Very cool!
The iPhone alarm woke us up at 4:15am. At 4:25am we assembled in the lobby with other hotel guests (as well as tourists staying at other hotels), we were given flashlights, and we all walked over to the temple. This was NOT a highlight. The early wakeup was fine, and I can appreciate a sunrise from an ancient temple as much as anyone. But there were A LOT of people there. We followed the lead of the others, grabbed seats on the east side of the temple, and waited. But as it got more crowded, the reality of the situation became apparent – waiting with hundreds of others to see the first rays of sun, when really you’re just looking at the backs of everyone’s heads and your photos are going to be mediocre. So we gave up our seats and headed around to the west side of the temple. So much better! As with the previous afternoon there was almost no one there, and we could really appreciate where we were as the jungle surrounding the temple slowly came into daylight. We walked around, and simply relaxed, on that side of the temple until just after the sun appeared. At that point the masses on the other side quickly dissipated, with most people heading straight back to their hotels. We enjoyed the temple a little longer and then walked back to the Manohara for breakfast. Note that the sunrise visit is an additional 250,000 Rupiah ($19). It’s a little more if you’re not staying at the Manohara.
Following breakfast we headed back to the airport (another pre-scheduled $26 ride) and boarded our quick $35 flight to Bali on Air Asia. It occurred to me that Borobudur would be a fairly easy day trip from Bali, except that you would be there at the worst time of day and miss sunrise and sunset. Far better to spend one night at Manohara and do it right.
What about you? Are there other amazing sites around the world that were far easier to reach than you initially thought they would be?