There is no denying it, watching the sun rise over the 9th-century temple of Borobudur is a magical sight. The morning glow of the rising sun covers Borobudur in a blanket of warm fog that makes this beautiful temple feel that much more special.
It was a photo of Borobudur at sunrise that hung on the wall of the travel agency on Jalan Malioboro that sparked our interest in visiting Borobudur during this magical hour.
“Yes, yes good. Borobudur Sunrise Tour – 125,000 IDR per person, you see from Setumbu Hills. Very nice”, said the travel agent with a smile.
“Setumbu Hills? No, we want to see from inside, like that photo”, I said pointing at the frame hanging at the back of the shop.
“Oh, no problem. Inside is 350,000 IDR you go before park open. 4am start. But you must stay at Manohara Hotel. “
350,000 IDR was well above our budget and after our less than amazing tour experience at Prambanan the night before, we didn’t think dishing out another $35/ person was going to be worth it.
“Let’s try to figure out how to do this on our own”, I suggested to Max
Back at our hotel the receptionist was happy to organise a scooter rental for us, but her comment was a bit concerning. “You take scooter to Manohara Hotel and then join tour there”
“No, we don’t want to join tour, we just want to go on our own”, I clarified
“Oh no, Borobudur opens at 6am, so you miss sunrise. If you go with tour, you go at 4:30am. Special access with Manohara Hotel”
We couldn’t find any information online as to where or how we could catch sunrise without a tour, so we figured we would just go and figure out the details upon arrival.
We woke up at 4:30am the next morning and hopped on our scooter with google map directions in hand. Surprised by how busy the city streets were at such an early hour, we carefully navigated our way out of Jogjakarta and onto Jalan Magelang Yogyakarta, that would lead us to Borobudur.
It was roughly an hour later when we arrived at the gates to the complex. The gate was closed. There were no other tourists in sight.
“Hello, Borobudur sunrise”, yelled out a middle-aged man on a scooter pointing in the direction away from the gate.
“No thank you. We go inside”
“I take you to Setumbu Hills”
We shook our heads sticking to our original plan. It was 5:40am. The sun would be rising in 10 mins.
All of a sudden the boom gate opened. We drove straight in, parked our scooter and made our way to the temple park entrance where a handful of other tourists were eagerly awaiting for the doors to open. As the clock struck 6:00, we were welcomed inside and made our way to the ticket collection office where complimentary tea and coffee awaited us. We downed our welcome drinks and scurried to the main temple.
The first light of dawn had already hit the temple, awakening the birds in the trees leading up to Borobudur.
As our eyes caught the first glimpse of the Borobudur Temple through the morning mist, we noticed a crowd of tourists eagerly awaiting their chance to snap the first sun rays. This group of people, easily identified by the bright yellow “Sunrise Tour” stickers adorning their shirts, were the “lucky few” that were happy to pay 350,000 IDR to join the Manohara Hotel Sunrise Tour. They had been there since 5am, yet were still awaiting the sun to breach the horizon through the morning fog.
Minutes later, the birds scattered as the loud noise of camera shutters engulfed the temple. Selfie sticks and tripods were abound and guards were forced to turn into photographers as everyone jostled for the perfect Borobudur shot.
It was crowded and practically impossible to take a clean shot without another group ruining your photo. So we waited…
The benefit of traveling to Borobudur on a scooter, other than the fact that we saved 700,000 IDR (well technically it was 620,000 IDR or AUD $62 if you subtract $8 for the scooter hire) was that we had the luxury of time. And it didn’t take long for the crowds to disperse. The majority of them rushed back to their minivans, leaving us to enjoy the beautiful temple of Borobudur on our own. We lingered for another hour or so, taking the time to walk around the temple, snap some great photos/videos and depart shortly before the morning crowds rolled in.
We took a scenic route on the way back to Jogjakarta, riding through the Central Java countryside exploring small villages and no name towns located just outside of the city. We watched locals go about their daily lives with many waving their hands and yelling their hellos as we passed by their humble homes.
We returned to Jogjakarta shortly after 10am overjoyed with our decisions to forgo the touristy route and explore on our own.
Essential Travel Tips and Advice
Want to follow our footsteps and experience Sunrise at Borobudur on your own terms? Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind.
1. Hire your scooter the night before and make sure that you are comfortable riding it in heavy traffic before setting off on a trip to Borobudur. Getting to Borobudur was easy, as the roads weren’t that busy at 4-5am, but driving into Jogjakarta in heavy morning traffic on the way back was rather hectic.
2. Make sure your scooter comes with a helmet or two. While you may see locals riding around without a helmet, we don’t recommend that you follow their lead and take that risk! Safety first!
3. Hook up to wifi back in your hotel and route yourself to Borobudur using Google Maps. As long as the route loads before you leave you’ll be able to follow it even after you lose wifi/have no data/cell reception. It was helpful to work as team with Max driving and me navigating the way, so if you are riding on you own make frequent stops to check your whereabouts and don’t drive while looking at the map.
4. Plan your visit to Prambanan the day before and purchase a combo ticket for $30 that will allow you access to both temples. This will allow you to not waste time waiting in line at the ticket office at Borobudur and get to the temple faster.
5. Be patient once you get to the temple. The crowds will eventually disperse allowing you to take plenty of beautiful of the stunning Borobudur!
6. Don’t forget to sit back and enjoy the views!
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Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.
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