Unusual Place of the Month: Borobudur

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 24th, 2011

borobudur templesBorobudur is an 8th-century Buddhist monument in Indonesia. There’s nothing “unusual” about this place (at least, not like the Island of Dolls) except that it is unique in the world for the type of temple it is. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

I’ve always been fascinated by this place since the first time I heard about it on National Geographic television. When I was in university, I became a Buddhist. I liked the religion’s outlook on life and the universe, and ever since then, I’ve always had an affinity with Buddhist temples. And when I found out about this place, I knew I had to see it before I died.

I’ve read books about Borobudur and watched programs on it. What makes this place special is that the temple itself is a giant allegory for enlightenment.

borobudur temples

The journey begins at the base of the temple and follows a path through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely K?madh?tu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The Buddhist pilgrim starts at the bottom and moves up when they have deciphered each relief. Each relief tells a teaching from the Buddha, and when you figure it out, you move on to the next. They progressively get harder and by the time you finish the last one, you are on the top and enlightened.

borobudur temples

This site is the most popular tourist attraction in Indonesia, and there are many ways to get here. Public buses to Borobudur from Yogyakarta are aimed mostly at Indonesian visitors, and only a few tourists venture aboard. If you are adventurous though, the Trans-Jogya service runs from central Yogyakarta to the Jombor bus terminal in northern Yogyakarta (Rp 3,000), where you can change to another bus to get to Borobudur.

Travel agents in Yogyakarta also sell door-to-door minibus tour packages for around Rp 75,000, which is a good deal and the easiest way to get to and from the monument. Entry into Borobudur costs $15 USD or $8 USD. The site is open to the public from 6AM to 5PM daily. There is a daily Borobudur Sunrise Tour for Rp 320,000 for foreigners, which gets you a flashlight and a lift up to the temple gate at 4:30AM, in time to see the sunrise and explore the site before the hordes arrive. You should also hire a guide who can explain the reliefs so you can understand the temple a bit better.

Borobudur is one of the most amazing historical sites in the world, and also one of the most unique. I’m fascinated by it. A lot of travelers visit Indonesia and simply stay on Bali, but if you make your way off Bali and into Java, be sure to visit this site. You won’t be disappointed.

comments 17 Comments

Try to visit borobudur on vesak day…and attending pradaksingha ceremonyi. Really amazing…

Sarah

So, have you actually been there??

NomadicMatt

No, I haven’t. Am finally going to get to it at the end of the year. However, this temple is a huge obsession of mine. I devour books on it!

The sunrise tour and a guide to explain the reliefs sounds like the ticket. Thanks for the interesting story and the info on how best to enjoy this historical site.

~ Milli

Lovely! I’m obsessed with the temples of all kinds!

I was obsessed with Borobudur after studying about it in my Southeast Asian art history class in college. It was on my list of must-visits. Years later, my father got married in Jakarta, and we all went to Jogjakarta and Borobudur. I have to say that I was a bit turned off by all the people trying to sell us stuff as we approached the temple and by the massive crowds all over the temple. I know it’s normal to see both of those at such important sights, but it was still disappointing. The temple was so packed with people that we could barely walk around. But it was still amazing and something I’ll never forget.

NomadicMatt

Did you get a guided tour? I want to spend a few days learning about the reliefs.

No, I didn’t get a guided tour, and I don’t remember seeing other people getting one. I wonder if there are some really good ones available there. I went to Prambanan the same day, and the combination was overwhelming, especially because both sights are full of symbolism and stories. You might be able to get all the information from a good guidebook that covers the art and symbolism (or a book about SE Asian art), but I’m sure a guided tour would be wonderful.

This is a great article about one of the most beautiful places of my ancestral home country. Matt, I hope that you do get to hit Indonesia this year, and I guarantee that you will love the place! Selamat jalan!

Debra

Jogyjakarta left me with a bad taste. I could not go three meters outside where I was staying in backpacker alleyway without having someone tout. Once I got out of backpacker alleyway, the becak drivers would not take a no for an answer and would follow me for twenty meters asking for my patronage. It was very annoying.

It is definitely worth it to leave early in the morning to see Borobudur and to avoid the field tripping students.

Be sure to visit Prambanan as well. You can take the public bus to Prambanan.

NomadicMatt

Not as actively as I used to be. I still believe in the philosophy though.

I agree that people need to venture out of Bali and visit this site. I’ve been there once and will be going back a second time in a month. Return flights from Bali are very cheap and accommodation/transportation in Yogyakarta is very affordable.

I’ve read recently that the corrosive ash from volcanoes is causing some damage at the site, and Indonesia is asking for some assistance dealing with this. Hopefully they get the help they need.

Jogyjakarta left me with a bad taste. I could not go three meters outside where I was staying in backpacker alleyway without having someone tout. Once I got out of backpacker alleyway, the becak drivers would not take a no for an answer and would follow me for twenty meters asking for my patronage. It was very annoying.

It is definitely worth it to leave early in the morning to see Borobudur and to avoid the field tripping students.

Be sure to visit Prambanan as well. You can take the public bus to Prambanan.

Shinta

as an indonesian i have some tips for you if you want to visit Borobudur :
1. dont go there on public holidays, especially during eid al fitr holidays. it’s goddamn crowded, better to visit it on weekdays
2. if you have money, you can go on a tour to avoid the people trying to sell things you, which is pretty annoying for some people. but if you dont, keep on walking with straight face.

if you plan to visit Prambanan temple, you can buy package-ticket (including shuttle bus) to Ratu Boko temple, it is located on a hill around 2 km from Prambanan. you can see sunset from its beautiful yard.
around Ratu Boko temple there are also several temples (no required entry ticket, some up-to-you donation) that more quiet.

well,,there are also beautiful beaches in Gunung Kidul, 1.5hour drive from the city. maybe you’ve heard about Parangtritis beach, but the beaches in Gunung Kidul is less crowded. those beaches are Baron (black sand), Kukup, Krakal, Drini, Sundak, Wedi Ombo, Siung. first five beaches that i mention can be visited in 1 day because it lies consecutively. but the best one for me is Pantai Siung, it has black cliffs that gives a mysterious feel.

Hana Novita

Hi:)

Thankyou for showing the world how beautiful is Candi Borobudur.
I’m an Indonesian college student and now I’m currently doing a mini research for one of the College final assignments here. I read your blog about the trip to Candi Borobudur :)…
And your writing makes me even interested to ask you about some of your experience from the Candi Borobudur trip further more. If you allow me to do a short interview, would you mind to share any media that possible to have a short conversation? :) Such as yahoo messenger, email, or any chat media? Or can I interview you via email?
If you don’t mind to reply my comment, it would be such a honor for me. :)
Thankyou…

Definitely agree with you Matt, Borobudur temple is one of the most amazing and unique sites in this world, it’s a beautiful gift for Indonesia and also the world.

hey matt, nice post about Borobudur. You have visited the site of the most amazing and unique in this world. It was only in my country. by the way I’m an Indonesian, and you visit Candi Borobudur earlier than me.

Leave a comment