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For those following my travels around the world know by now that one of my goals is to see all of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are sites that I would not recommend the regular traveler to go to but the Borobudur Temple and Compounds were high on my list and I recommend everyone to see. My annual trip with one of my kids took me to Java. It was my first trip to Indonesia (check my wonderfull Indonesia itinerary).
The best way to see the Borobudur is to take a sunrise tour. This means getting up early so the best is to stay at a hotel nearby. I love luxury but I wanted also an authentic Javanese experience. So when I saw that Villa Borobudur (review), member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, offers that in an authentic Javanese way I booked direct. Join me on this sunrise tour to the Borobudur arranged by Villa Borobudur as one of the signature tours. It’s magical!
Sunrise at the Borobudur
Sunrise at the Borobudur temple is magical. Words are not enough so I will just describe it a bit and for the rest just see the pictures. It’s an emotional spectacle.
Borobudur day trip at sunrise
I’ll get to the history further down this post and some other things you should see in the area. It was 04:00 when the staff of the Villa Borobudur knocked on the door of my private villa. Make sure you read my review of the Villa Borobudur; it’s a tranquil luxury retreat with a view on the Borobudur. They transferred me in 10 minutes to the Borobudur VIP entrance and after a short security check I was at the top shortly after. It was a Saturday so a bit croweded. I recommend if you go for photography or time-lapses to go on another day. It was pretty dark until 05:30 when it started to become purple-orange-blueish in the sky.
I don’t like to carry tripods so I was shooting all photos by hand (read about my camera gear). Especially in the early hours when it was pretty dark this had as consequence that I had to take a higher ISO. This got some noise in the pictures; sorry for that. The sunrise starts behind the Merapi volcano so the first 45 minutes you won’t actually see the sun. One important thing to remember is that while the sun rises behind the Merapi there will be a period of about 20-25 minutes where the sky turns back to boring colors. Then, when it rises from behind the Merapi you have again beautiful colors while you look straight into the sun. I think this moment is even better as the first to take photos. It lightens up the area around the Borobudur in a magical way. You will see treetops through dense morning haze while the towns wake up. The magical views disappear quick while the sunrises. Arriving at the Borobudur at the regular opening time is not an option to catch these views. You really have to do the sunrise tour.
Best Borobudur photo spots
Once the sun is fully visible above the Merapi I suggest you to walk around the level with the stupas with Buddhas inside. If you are into photography I recommend doing that pretty quick and shoot first what you want to shoot to get still some fairy tale like orange-magenta look on your photos. It gets light very quick and then everything turns blueish. The following photos are, if I may say so, a nice example. More photos in the gallery below. Now let’s continue to explore the Borobudur more and learn a bit about its history.
INDONESIA – A wonderful 2-3 week Indonesia itinerary: Jakarta to Bali across Java
History of the Borobudur
There are many uncertainties about the history of the Borobudur. We do know it was built in the 9th century; it got forgotten and rediscovered. It’s the largest Buddhist monument in the world.
It has a total of nine platforms of which the top three are round and the first six are square. These levels represent the three steps in evolution as per Buddhist beliefs. They are from bottom to top the world of desire, forms and formlessness. Decorated with over 3000 Buddhist reliefs and statues it’s amongst the most impressing buildings I have ever seen. The decorations are a blend between the Buddhist ways of expression and traditional Javanese elements.
There are people who say that Candi Borobudur (a Candi is the local name for a temple or monument) was built on elevated ground in the middle of a lake. Others say that there is no evidence for this theory. As there are no written texts available from the time the Borobudur was constructed it still remains a bit of a mystery why it was built. Archeological excavations do reveal that in the mid of the 14th century it got abandoned and covered by a thick layer of ashes from the eruption of the Merapi volcano. It was in the year 1814 when it was rediscovered by the British. During the following two centuries the Borobudur was restored and inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the possible eruptions of nearby volcanos, earthquakes and the many tourist are a threat to its existency.
Borobudur stone relief carvings
The reliefs as you can see in the above photo are simply amazing. I walked down circling each level admiring the beauty of the reliefs. The best is to see them while the sun shines on them as otherwise they are a bit greyish. My private guide, arranged through Villa Borobudur as part of the sunrise tour, carefully explained the history of the Borobudur. He also was eager to answer any question I had about the reliefs; each relief represents a story. After we finished exploring the Borobudur we went back to Villa Borobudur for breakfast. Later that day we would explore more in the area, but first time for the swimming pools.
The area around the Borobudur
After a delicious lunch at Villa Borobudur it was time for my daughter to choose what we would do. I left this part of the day unplanned in my 2 – 3 week Indonesia itinerary.
Horse carriage & pottery making
She wanted to go on a horse carriage tour and visit the pottery making. I love staying at hotels where they take care of you. Villa Borobudur can arrange anything in the local area and beyond. Our trip with the horse carriage to the pottery making was a few hours of quality time with my daughter. I highly recommend doing this.
In the afternoon it was time to explore the other two temples which together with the Borobudur are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mendut & Pawon temples visit
These other two temples, Mendut and Pawon, are much smaller and stand in a straight line with the Borobudur. It’s said that worshippers would first go to these temples before continuing to the Borobudur. Pawon is the smaller of the two. Both temples have a square base with one room above. At the Mendut temple there are three Buddhist statues inside. Both temples have beautiful decorated reliefs on the outside walls. It’s for sure worth to visit them, but you won’t spend hours there.
Luwak coffee tasting
Near the Pawon temple you can taste the local produced Luwak coffee. It’s coffee made from beans that are eaten and defecated by civets (kind of cats). The droppings are gathered and then processed. It’s expensive coffee, but affordable of bought locally.
After a delicious Luwak coffee I returned to Villa Borobudur for dinner and evening entertainment. The next day I would continue to Yogyakarta where I would stay two days. I already visited Jakarta and Bandung before and would visit Bali after. This trip through Indonesia together with my daughter was nearing its end, but we still had some time to go.
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Did you visit Borobudur too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!
Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.