The first thing I heard coming through the darkness was the eerie sound of monks chanting. Eerie because it was 4:30 am, it was dark and there was a thick fog hanging over my head. The fog wasn’t just literal but also figurative. With a 3 am wake up call and a one hour ride on the back of a motorbike had left my brain feeling clouded. But the chants just added of the moment and I relaxed trying to soak up every moment of the experience.
As I walk beside my guide through the darkness I couldn’t help but get a bit excited and think, I’m finally here! As the mighty Borobudur Temple came into view, lite up by flood lights, it all came together; the chanting, the darkness, the fog and the temple.
Watching The Sunrise
I was traveling solo though Indonesia and had decided to hire a motorbike and driver for the day. My plan was to enjoy the sunrise at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Borobudur Temple, and then continue on to Prambanan Temple. Borobudur had been at the top of my must do list and I was excited to finally experience it in person.
My guide and I had arrived in good time and were leading the small group of tourists up its steep steps. The 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple was imposing, even in the darkness. We had first pick on where to sit to watch the sunrise. I allowed my guide to choose as he had witnessed this stunning event many times before.
After claiming our spot, I wandered around the top of the temple and stared up at the stary night sky that was slowly fading away. As I took my seat, more early birds arrived just as the show started. Through the thick haze, the sky gradually began to lighten up and soon the monks chanting gave way to the snapping of photo’s, as everyone angled for that perfect shot.
Though it wasn’t the grandest of sunrises (due to the haze), it was incredible to experience none the less. As the sunrise show came to a close, everyone began to disperse and explore this ancient temple that had been lost to the jungle for hundreds of years.
Exploring Borobudur Temple
The morning light revealed the thick, low hanging fog over the lush forest surrounding the temple and made for an Indiana Jones-esque atmosphere. I felt as if I was discovering a lost ancient temple, miles away from civilization.
I enjoyed the quiet early morning as I leisurely wandered around this ancient monument. The intricate designs carved into the rock, depicting epic battles and stories of a time long ago, were a testament to the incredible skills of the people who constructed Borobudur.
This huge structure took me awhile to walk, with 3 circular top terraces, 6 square middle terraces and 9 lower stacked platforms. I slowly worked my way down using the 4 staircases (one on each side) leading straight to the bottom, with options to stop at each level below.
The Early Bird Gets The Temple To Themseleves
By the time I reached the ground, it was around 6:30 am and the temple had just opened its doors to the public for the day. Literally bus load after bus load of tourists began flooding the temple, washing their way up the temple steps like a tsunami.
Satisfied with my time at Borobudur, I was overwhelmed with the urge to make a speedy departure from the crowds. Slowly I turned my back and began wandering back towards the entrance.
Stopping a few times along the way to get one last glimpse of mighty Borobudur, I observed this ancient temple through the jungle branches. This was definitely one adventure I’d always remember and one of the highlights of my time in Indonesia.
Tips for Visiting Borobudur
Location: Borobudur is situated approximately 1 hours drive west of Yogyakarta, the closest major city, on the island of Java.
When to go: Timing is everything! I highly recommend arriving at 4:30 am for the sunrise tour like I did. There weren’t that many tourists and you will have the place to yourself until the main gates open to the public at 6:00 am. Most tour groups arrive by 7:30 am but some will show up earlier.
Washrooms: There are western washrooms at the front entrance where you purchase your ticket. This is the last chance for a bathroom break before heading out to the temple.
Food: Those that arrive for sunrise are offered free tea and coffee in the outdoor restaurant at the front entrance. You can help yourself at any time and even return to the temple again if you wish. There is breakfast for purchase here too.
Souvenirs: As always, there are hawkers awaiting you just outside the main temple. As you leave you’ll have to walk through them and whatever trinket they’re trying to sell. If you say a firm “No thank you” and keep walking, they will leave you alone. You can purchase a few souvenirs at the front entrance from the official “gift shop” (a table set up in the hall). Most of what is sold here, the hawkers are also selling so don’t feel pressured to buy from them.