Borobudur is known as the greatest Buddhist monument in the world. It’s not only grand in the literal sense, but also very rich intrinsically.
Borobudur covers a total surface of approximately 2.500 meter2 area. It is built on a natural hill with three tiers, which is a unique combination between Javanese ancestor worshipping faith that often represented with a terraced mountain and Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana.
The first tier of Borobudur is the base, representing Kamadhatu, a sphere in Buddhist Universe where we are bound by our desire. The second tier is the five square terraces representing Rupadhatu, a sphere where we already abandon our desires but are still bound to our form and name.
The third tier is three circular platform and the big stupa in the middle. This top tier represent Arupadhatu, a formlessness sphere where there is no longer name or form.
It’s not only the size that is impressive, the details surrounding Borobudur is also remarkable. Its walls and balustrades are covered with fine relief that covers approximatey 2.500 meter2 area. Apart from Buddhist teaching, it also depicts daily lives of absolutely everyone in 8th century, during the reign of Syailendra Dynasty.
Today, Borobudur is an extremely popular tourist destination. Borobudur is more than just a colossal monument, it has become an important aspect of everyday life in the area.
Hunting for an Emotional Sunrise in Borobudur
The splendor of Borobudur is more than what meets the eye. Sometimes combining two beautiful elements create an even greater effect. That is what happens when you combine Borobudur and a sunrise.
Borobudur means a temple in a high ground, and it literally is. The thing about high ground is that you can get an unobstructed view from it, including when you are trying to catch a beautiful sunrise.
Watching the sun rises is mundane for some, it rises everyday anyways. However, watching it from certain places can give you quite a spectacle. One of the popular one is chasing sunrise on a beach. Borobudur offers different kind of sensation.
Imagine watching the sun rises above a misty rainforest with a backdrop of a volcano. And if that’s not enough, feel the warmth of the sun through the nooks and crannies of stupas and Buddha statues. All creates a grandiose that is so personal and emotional for first timers.
You’ll need a special early ticket to experience this. Borobudur formally open from six in the morning, so you’ll need an early access that let you enter the temple from 04:30. You can easily arrange this as some hotels and agencies offers sunrise packages.
Mendut and Pawon Temples, a Trilogy
Borobudur, as a whole, is actually a compound of temples. The biggest one is obviously Borobudur, but there are also Pawon and Mendut Temple. All three form a straight line axis.
Pawon is in the middle, it’s the smallest one. Pawon means kitchen in Javanese. However, it can also mean a place for ‘awu’ or ashes. Many historians believe that Pawon is actually a mortuary for a king, a place to keep the ashes of a cremated king. However, the identity of the king is still unknown.
Even though Pawon is the smallest among three neighboring temples, its design is considered of highest level in Java. Some experts even consider Pawon is the jewel of Javanese temple architecture. It is slightly older than Borobudur.
Lastly there is also Mendut temple, the oldest of the three. Mendut originally has two chambers but since the stone separators are missing, now it only has one big room. It houses three stone statues of Buddha.
The three temples represents the phases in attaining Nirvana. The journey starts at Mendut, then to Pawon and finished at Borobudur.
Interreligion Praying Shrine at Chicken Church
There is a bizarre building at the top of legendary Menoreh Hill. Locals call it Chicken Church because the building, at a glance, looks like rooster. With elongated ‘body’, it has tail feathers and a head complete with beak and crest.
According to the owner and builder, this is actually a church for all religions, or a praying house where everyone is welcome. It was built to look like a dove, a symbol of peace, but people see it as chicken.
Daniel Alamsjah built this house after having dreams told him to build a praying house in a hill unknown to him. He later found out about the hill when visiting Borobudur. Later, he rename the hill as Rhema Hill.
This building has been used as drug rehabilitation center and mental health center. Nowadays, this unique building is a tourist destination with religious concept. Its popularity shot up after being used as a set of Ada Apa dengan Cinta 2 Movie.
Living the Life of a Local for a Day
There are lots of luxurious and expensive accommodation near Borobudur. You can pretty much get whatever you need in so many suites that hotels offer.
However, there is other way to enjoy the region. You can opt to stay at many homestays in several villages surrounding the temples. All of these homestays belong lo local villagers who are under supervision from the government.
Ngaran II and Candirejo are quite successful homestay villages. A village commonly provide 40-75 rooms for rent, with quite cheap rate, especially if you compare it with hotels.
Not only you can stay in an actual house of a local, you might even try to live like them for a day. Candirejo, for example, offers many packages that let you to tour the village, try your hand at traditional farming, learn how to play gamelan, and many more.
White Water Rafting at Elo River
Borobudur area is not only about culture and history. For more adventurous souls, Elo River offer a different experience than other nearby spots.
Elo offers grade II to III rafting which means it is safe for beginners. You don’t need prior rafting experience to enjoy this. You don’t even need to swimming skills. This is ideal for beginners who want to get into rafting. Needless to say, you will get proper safety equipment and skilled instructors.
The track is about 12,5 km long, and it will take approximately three hours to complete it. Apart from rafting gears, you’ll also get refreshment during break and free meal afterward. You can even get a rafting certificate!
Apart from rafting, there are also camping ground, paintball arena, flying fox, and outbound training service.
Chasing Sunsets at the Top of the Hills
Many people will go one step further to make the most of a common situation. Many people think that sunrises or sunsets are mundane event that happens every day. And yet, people are willing to climb high to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
Near Borobudur, there are several hills that provide just that. You can go to Puthuk Mongkrong and Puthuk Sukmojoyo to enjoy beautiful sunsets as well generally scenic panorama.
Puthuk Sukmojoyo is located approximately 7,7 kilometers from Borobudur Temple, and you need 22 minutes to reach it. The entrance fee is cheap but the hike might be challenging for some. At the top of the hills, the scenery is stunning as is, but it gets even more beautiful at the end of the day.
The other option is Puthuk Mongkrong. This hill is even higher than Sukmojoyo. It offers a view to Borobudur and Merapi Volcano. There are several selfie spots at the top.
Pawon Luwak Coffee, an authentic premium Javanese coffee
The world famous Luwak Coffee is just one of Indonesia’s specialty. This coffee is unique as it’s picked by a wild civet who then digest it and the excrete it.
Pawon Luwak Coffee is a coffee house with Javanese architecture. Located near Pawon Temple, it offers not only very cheap luwak coffee, but also an experience to see how the famous coffe is made.
They have the actual civet that consume the coffee cherries. They also show how the coffee beans are cleaned thoroughly and then processed naturally till it becomes ground coffee.
You can of course enjoy a cup of coffee there, resting while admiring the classical architecture of the building. You can also buy the green bean and powdered coffee to take home. Pawon Luwak Coffee sells thousands of packs every year.
Borobudur International Arts and Performance Festival
Unlike many other festivals held in Borobudur and Prambanan, this is truly has an international feeling about it. Not only Javanese of Indonesian, this festival showcases arts from countries like Hungary, USA, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Poland.
Fireworks, lighting, mass dance, and many other art forms are presented in a spectacular way. The festival is opened with the lighting of a hundred torches while at the same time, there is a huge lighting show at the top of Borobudur.
With a backdrop of Borobudur, the magical atmosphere of this festival is overwhelming. This festival combines classical and contemporary art in the form of dance and music from all across the globe.
This event is also seen as a big chance to present tourist destinations from all part of Indonesia. Previously organized every four year, Borobudur International Arts and Performance Festival will be held annually starting form 2018.
The Inspiring Vesak Day
As the biggest Buddhist Temple in the world, Borobudur also functions as shrine to Buddhists, including for their religious celebrations. The biggest holiday celebrations is definitely the Vesak Day (Waisak or Tri Suci Waisak).
Vesak Day are observed annually, during the full moon in the month of May, an occurrence known as Purnama Sidhi. The ritual conducted to commemorate the three most important events in Buddha Siddharta Gautama’s life.
The first event is the birth of Siddharta the Prince in 623 BC in the Lumbini Gardens. Then there is the enlightenment of Prince Siddharta to become Buddha in Bodhgaya. The last event is the passing of Buddha Gautama in Kusinara. Vesak is truly Buddha’s day.
In Borobudur, Vesak day often accompanied with other events like Buddhist Conference or Borobudur the Mandala of Enlightenment and Word Peace. The festival itself is nothing sort of spectacular.
The ritual starts from Mendhut Temple, with the pilgrims praying there. Then, the pilgrims walk to Borobudur, carrying the flame of eternal fire and holy water. Both of them then carefully placed in an altar in Borobudur.
The pinnacle of the celebration is the release of a thousand Puja Lanterns. This symbolized the enlightenment for the entire universe.
What to Do In Borobudur
For a start, Borobudur is just one of the many tourist destination in its surrounding area. Yogyakarta and Prambanan Temple is nearby and easily accessible, in fact, most of the tour to Borobudur are arranged from Yogyakarta.
Borobudur is surrounded by many ‘smaller’ tourist attractions, natural and man-made ones. You can try so many different things than just admiring the magnificent ancient temple.
For a start, you can visit the other two smaller temples; Pawon and Mendut. These two are older and considered the older brothers of Borobudur. The three temples are forming a straight line axis, with Borobudur as the end point. You can generally walk to explore these temples, even though many agencies offer a package to visit them all.
If you want to fully immerse yourself with Javanese culture, you can stay in a homestay in several homestay villages surrounding the temple. In Ngaran II and Candirejo, you can try living like a local villager. You live in their house, go to the rice field, farming with traditional tools, learn how to batik or how to dance, and many more other activities.
If you like casual hiking, you can try several hills near Borobudur. Puthuk Mongkrong and Sukmojoyo offer light hiking experience and a rewarding scenery at the top. Several Instagrammable areas and spots are built to accommodate that.
For a more extreme experience, you can even go to the infamous volcano; Merapi. There are several agencies that offer jeep tour to the volcano. Several beaches in Yogyakarta are also still accessible from Borobudur. So, the potential is literally unlimited.
Food will not be a problem, you can get pretty much whatever you like around Borobudur. The luxurious hotels provide local to international dishes. For a more authentic taste, you might want to try local foods elsewhere.
How to Get to Borobudur
Borobudur is easily accessible from many big cities in Central Java and Yogyakarta. It is only an hour drive from the downtown Yogyakarta. A little bit more from Solo, and several more from Semarang.
You can rent a car to reach Borobudur, or for an easier process, you can ask your hotel to arrange a trip there. Usually nearly all hotels in the nearby cities has a deal with travel agencies to arrange comprehensive tours.
While in the temple area, you can explore on foot, or alternatively you can chart an andong (a horse-pulled cart).
Best Hotels in Borobudur
- Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa – From IDR 3,690.895 per night
- Plataran heritage Borobudur Hotel – From IDR 1,543,686 per night
- Villa Borobudur Resort – From IDR 2,832,346 per night
- Amata Borobudur Resort – From IDR 1,118,750 per night