Borobudur Temple in Indonesia is one of Southeast Asia’s can’t-miss sights. It’s right up there with Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar. The stunning hilltop stupa is best viewed early in the morning, when the crowds are thin and the light is perfect. But a Borobudur sunrise ticket costs $10 more than regular admission — plus the cost of getting to the temple by 4:30 am.
In this post, I’ll cover how Borobudur sunrise trips work and what to expect. I’ll also go over how to make the most of your visit to Borobudur — at the temple and beyond.
How it works: The Borobudur sunrise ticket monopoly
The Borobudur ticket office — which sells tickets for 325,000 rupiah (about $25) — opens at 6:00 am. That’s about 30 minutes after sunrise, and an hour after the light gets good for photos.
So if you want to visit Borobudur for sunrise, your only choice is to buy a special ticket through the Manohara Hotel. This hotel is located at the east entrance of the Borobudur complex. It has its own entrance gate, which opens at 4:30 am. For the privilege of entering through this special gate, the hotel charges a whopping 450,000 rupiah per ticket (discounts available if you stay at the wildly overpriced hotel).
The Borobudur sunrise ticket includes admission, a torch, snacks and coffee after you visit the temple, and a souvenir. The ticket doesn’t include a guide or a set itinerary, and you can explore the complex for as long as you like after sunrise.
A few pitfalls…
The Borobudur sunrise ticket cannot be combined with the ticket to Prambanan (another popular temple complex in the area). If you purchased a combo ticket at Prambanan the day before, you’ll have to buy a new ticket at Manohara Hotel gate. Nor do discounts from Borobudur village guesthouses apply to the sunrise ticket. If you want to go for sunrise, you have no choice but to pay the full 450,000 rupiah — if anyone tries to tell you it’s cheaper, beware that they may be selling you a sunrise outside the temple complex, or admitting you when the gates open at 6 am instead.
It’s best to book your spot the night before through a tour agency or your guesthouse. That way, you can roll up to the ticket desk at 4:15 am and pick up your ticket — no need to wait in line. If you didn’t book a ticket in advance, plan on at least a 15 minute wait to buy your ticket.
What to expect from your Borobudur sunrise
I arrived at the Manohara Hotel at 4:15 am. I picked up my ticket and torch and joined the small crowd of about two dozen people at the entrance gate, on the east side of the temple complex. It was a short walk — maybe 10 minutes — to the temple itself. Even though it’s at the top of a hill, I couldn’t see the temple until I was directly in front of it. It had a mysterious look to it, in the dark, slightly floodlit.
Borobudur consists of six square platforms, followed by three round ones at the top. After walking around the bottom platform and taking a couple photos, I climbed the steep stairway to the round, stupa-dotted platforms.
While the top was slightly crowded, I had my choice of location to watch the sunrise from. I chose a spot on the second level, where I had a good line of sight over the jungle, toward the magnificent volcanic cone of Mount Merapi. I set up behind the single east-facing open stupa — each stupa houses a Buddha statue, and two of them are open so the statue is visible. As we got closer to sunrise, it started to get crowded, making me glad I’d come early enough to choose the best spot.
The sun crept onto the horizon around 5:30. For five glorious minutes, the clouds and morning haze vanished. The views out over the jungle were incredible. The light was perfect. It didn’t matter at all that I was sharing my Borobudur sunrise with a few hundred strangers — it was still beautiful in that once-in-a-lifetime, make-this-moment-last-forever way.
The pilgrim walk
I was amazed by how many people pay for their Borobudur sunrise ticket, watch the sun come up from the top, and then leave. There is so much more to Borobudur than that!
Four of the lower levels of the temple are decorated with elaborate carvings that tell stories from Buddhist literature. Pilgrims were meant to follow the stories in a spiral as they climbed to higher levels of the temple, until they eventually reached enlightenment at the top.
If you follow the entire pilgrim walk, it’s about 5 kilometers. Start on the east side of the lowest level and look only at the inner wall, at the lower panels. Then, repeat that path with the upper panels. Next, move on to the outer wall, lower panels, followed by the outer wall’s upper panels. After that, climb the stairs to the next level — starting here, each wall only has one set of panels. Start with the inner wall, then check out the outer wall, then climb the stairs again. Repeat until you reach the top.
You’ll see stories of daily life in ancient Java, of Buddha’s life, Buddha’s mother, ships sailing across the sea, and more. Even if you don’t fully understand (many of the illustrations are highly metaphorical), the artistry of the carvings is remarkable. In the golden light of early morning, the colors of the volcanic rock really shine. If you want to learn more about what it all means, pick up a copy of John Miksic’s excellent guide.
Don’t miss the small set of exposed carvings on the so-called “hidden foot.” The original design of Borobudur included 160 additional panels around the base. But those panels couldn’t support the weight of the temple, so a stronger structure now covers them. Today, only a few are visible. They focus on morality tales — the consequences of drinking and partying versus living a pious life, for instance; or what one can expect from hell.
For the best pilgrim walk experience, start as early as possible. I did it immediately after the sun came up and had the galleries to myself. But by the time I left, dozens of tour groups crowded the the lower levels.
Borobudur sunrise logistics
Most visitors plan their Borobudur sunrise as a day trip from Yogyakarta. (And don’t miss spending a couple days in Yogyakarta — more info here.) The cheapest way to the temple is with a motorbike — it should cost around 50,000 rupiah ($3.50) to rent one, plus petrol. Due to rather insane traffic, this is not a good option for first-time motorbike drivers. The drive takes about an hour in the early morning and maybe a bit longer to get back.
If motorbike driving isn’t for you, you can organize transport through a tour agency or your hotel/hostel. This will involve a 3 am pickup, and you’ll be back in Yogyakarta in time for breakfast. Costs are around 100,000 rupiah ($7.50) round-trip. Just make sure you know exactly what the itinerary is — many travelers report feeling rushed to go back to Yogyakarta after the sun comes up and not having time to fully experience the temple.
But the best way to visit the temple is to spend a night in Borobudur village itself. This allows you to take the public bus to the village the day before, see some of the surrounding attractions, wake up later, and take your time.
If you go this route, the first step is to get to the Jombor bus terminal in Yogyakarta. Trans Jogja buses 2A and 2B run there from the city center, taking about an hour and costing 3500 rupiah. (I’m always nervous that I’ll get lost on local buses in foreign countries but this was super easy.) Once you arrive at Jombor, bus station staff will whisk you onto a Borobudur-bound bus (which will have no space for luggage). It costs 25,000 rupiah and takes another hour. The bus station in Borobudur is 200 meters outside the town center — you can walk pretty much everywhere.
There are a handful of budget guesthouses and homestays in town. I highly recommend Efata Homestay — I cannot say enough good things about this family. Welcome drinks, super-clean rooms, great breakfast, lots of information about the temple and surrounding attractions, cheap bike rental, and — best of all — the owner gave me a ride to Borobudur at 4:15 am, brought me into the temple, and showed me the best sunrise spots. Really unbelievable hospitality.
Make the most of your visit to Borobudur
Beyond the temple, Borobudur village and surrounds are worth spending some time in. The area is full of lush, green rice paddies. The views of Mount Merapi are stunning. And locals are almost overwhelmingly friendly. Even though the temple of Borobudur is Indonesia’s most-visited attraction, just 500 meters away, you can feel way off the beaten path.
You’ll see the most if you rent a bicycle to explore the area (free from many guesthouses or around $2 from tour agencies), but you can see a lot by walking, too.
There are two other important Buddhist temples just outside the village: Mendut and Pawon. One joint 3500 rupiah ticket gets you entrance to both. Candi Pawon is very small and near Borobudur. Don’t miss the weasel coffee shop across the street for your caffeine fix. Candi Mendut is more impressive — it’s home to a huge Buddha statue and located in a pretty garden. It’s 3 km outside of town on the main road to Yogyakarta.
Once you’ve checked off the temples, spend some time learning about rural Javanese life. Just 500 meters outside central Borobudur, you can follow an incredibly beautiful walk through rice paddies. Along the way, you’ll encounter workers harvesting, children playing, and the occasional buffalo swimming. Everyone will shout out a friendly “hello” and point you to yet another perfect photo spot, or invite you for tea, or excitedly introduce you to their entire extended family.
Dotted throughout the area are craftsmen and women and traditional agricultural centers. Ask around and locals will bring you to a tofu factory, silversmiths, and weavers. Everyone is eager to explain how they produce their wares, and there is zero pressure to buy.
When all that exploring starts to make you hungry, head back to Borobudur for great food. The locals all recommend the mie goreng (fried noodles with chicken) at a simple warung across the street from Lotus II Guesthouse. You can’t miss it — it feels like the entire village is there in the evenings. Grab a table or stool and watch folks come and go, greeting each other, joking around, breaking out a poker game while they wait for their meals. The sense of community is strong here, and as a bonus, the mie goreng is in fact awesome (for just 15,000 rupiah).
Is the Borobudur sunrise ticket worth it?
Watching the sun come up over one of the world’s most beautiful Buddhist monuments is a bucket-list item for many. But it’s not cheap. And when you can get into the complex for $10 less if you just go a little later, it can be hard to justify on a backpacker budget.
Borobudur was the single biggest reason I went to Indonesia. And I missed out on Angkor Wat at sunrise five years ago because I was too cheap to pay for a tuk tuk ride, which I’ve never really stopped regretting. So I was more than willing to fork over the extra cash.
Ultimately, I’m so glad I did. While the temple was crowded even at the earliest hours, it was easy enough to find a more solitary spot. After 6 am, the crowds increased, and by 7 am (when I was leaving) it was overwhelmingly crowded.
What’s more, the temple is radically more beautiful in the morning, when the light is just right. Even by 7 am, it looked more washed-out. And the haze and clouds tend to pick up immediately after the sun comes up. You may only get a couple minutes of that gorgeous golden light. If you don’t arrive until 6 am, you miss it. If you’re a serious photographer, the Borobudur sunrise ticket is essential. But even if you’re not, you’ll notice the difference in the monument’s appearance.
So in sum: If you like temples, beautiful things, or just the feeling of the jungle in the early morning, don’t miss Borobudur at sunrise.
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