We’ve had an amazing time so far in Indonesia and visited some beautiful places. However, to be perfectly honest – nothing has quite made our jaw drop as of yet. Nothing we have seen has been particularly ‘unique’ or new – the beaches back at home in beautiful Perth rival everything we’ve seen so far. That’s why we have been so excited to visit Java, where there is no shortage of incredible monuments and natural phenomena that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Today we were lucky enough to experience our first ‘jaw-dropping’ moment in our travels, when we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur – Indonesia’s most famous attraction and also the largest Buddhist temple in the world.
We escaped the urban sprawl of Yogyakarta by local bus yesterday and headed for the region of Magelang in central Java, where we were stoked to discover that our accommodation was a leisurely five minute stroll to the gates of Candi Borobudur (Candi is an Indonesian word used for ancient temples). There is only one hotel in the region that exists inside the actual grounds of the monument – Hotel Manohara – which offers sunrise entry to the temple at 4.30AM – ahead of the general public entry time of 6.00AM. Knowing that we definitely wanted to experience this and capture some amazing shots, we signed up for the sunrise entry – at 380.00 Rp per person ($38 AUD), this is the most expensive activity on our travels so far, but we figured it was worth it!
Well… the early start almost didn’t happen… Figuring we had to be up before 4.00AM, we decided to go to bed early – knackered after a few nights of broken sleep. All was well until just prior to nodding off, an entire bus load of local people arrived at the accommodation – men, women, children – who proceeded to talk, laugh, sing and play music outside our room. For hours. No kind of ear plugs could drown the noise out. We swore, we grumbled and cursed, but we couldn’t really do anything to stop them. Statements like ‘screw this, I’m not getting up at 4.00AM’ may or may not have been uttered…
The alarm went off at 3.45AM regardless, and tired and cranky we still dragged ourselves out of bed, got dressed and plodded down the road to the temple site. We managed to be the first two in the grounds and headed up the steps (all 148 of them) to the top of the monument – this meant we were able to nab the ‘best spot’ to watch the sunrise, and we set up our camera and GoPro ready to go.
Part of the appeal of forking out the extra money to visit at sunrise was the fact that we would ‘have the grounds almost to yourselves’ – or so we had read. It turns out that this sunrise ticket – sold only by Hotel Manohara – has gained quite a bit of popularity. We couldn’t believe it as several HUNDRED people poured through the gates in that one hour, everyone cramming in the eastern part of the monument to watch the sunrise. We had to fend off our ‘turf’ more than once as people pushed in and plonked themselves in front of us – something we felt justified in doing, especially as we’d made an effort to be the first ones in. The sky began to lighten and the sun did indeed rise however we definitely didn’t get the ‘money shots’ we had been hoping for, or that flawless time-lapse with perhaps a few people here and there – the amount of people inside the grounds (and in my time-lapse!) was actually insane.
Fortunately the crowds dispersed as soon as the sun was up, spreading out around the monument over the various levels and we were able to get some breathing space to actually explore and take some great photos. Borobudur really is an incredible structure. It has been restored several times to improve the structural integrity and also after suffering damage from natural disasters, but you’d never know it as all the original stones were used each time it was pulled apart and rebuilt. Each of the stupas on the various levels house a sitting Buddha – however, not all of them have their heads . In it’s early days of being first discovered, the heads of the Buddha’s were often lopped off as a ‘souvenir’. Even today, ‘authentic’ Buddha heads from Candi Borobudur are still being sold!
Despite our lack of sleep and the overwhelming amount of other tourists at the site, there was still something very magical about hearing the Call to Prayer echoing from the different mosques, seeing the outline of the stupas come into focus as the sky lightened and the mist rolling in. We loved the few hours that followed to be able to explore this incredible structure, and it was so exciting to finally have that moment of “Wow – this is why we’re doing this. To experience these moments and see things that most people never have the opportunity to do…”
- Getting to Borobudur
Many visitors day trip from Yogyakarta, leaving at 4.30AM and arriving at Borobudur for the official 6.00AM opening. However, it’s great to get out of the city for a day or so. Take a bus from Jombor terminal in the north of Yogyakarta to Borobudur – these run every hour or so, and cost 30.00 Rp ($3 AUD) per person. At the bus terminal in Borobudur, there are becaks (motorised carts) or andungs (horse drawn carriage) that can take you to your accommodation for a few dollars.
Options abound for accommodation in the region, from guest houses to grand resorts priced at over $1000.00 a night. We like cheap and cheerful, and stayed at Hotel Rajasa. It was a basic room, and despite the noise we experienced it was a comfortable stay. Anything along Jalan Badrawati is walking distance to the temple.
- Was the sunrise entry worth it?
As mentioned above, we paid 380.00 Rp ($38 AUD) per person to enter the park at 4.30AM prior to the official opening time of 6.00AM. We did this under the impression that there might be 40 or 50 other tourists… the reality is there were several hundred. Considering how crowded it was – and the fact the sun actually didn’t come out until more like 6.30AM – we wouldn’t recommend paying this extra cost. Visiting the park at 6.00AM on the dot would be the better option – the crowds have begun to spread out, you still might get to see sunrise and get those beautiful photos with the morning sun. The regular price for a foreigner for 6.00AM is only $20 USD.
- Temple tips
There are 148 stairs to the top of the temple – these vary in height, so watch your step! Start at the top level, and then work your way back down. Always remember to walk around the monument in a clockwise direction.