The largest and one of the most sacred Buddhist monuments on earth, Borobudur blew us away.
In all honesty I hadn’t heard of it before. Perhaps I’ve had selective hearing (or reading) but I don’t remember reading about it in the same vain as other spectacular religious sites – Angkor Wat, Bagan, Taj Mahal, etc. However it is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction, so it must just be me!
Located around 30km from Yogyakarta, where we were based, it was easy enough to reach from the city via car. The main downside is the ticket cost – it is a fairly steep 230,000IDR (£11.70) which by Southeast Asian temple standards is huge. But any doubts we had about the cost were soon dispelled.
Upon entering we were all required to be fitted with a sarong. While I understand the need to be decently dressed at temples, the sarong doesn’t really cover anything so it’s slightly strange, but always required in Indonesia.
The walk to the temple looks fairly un-exciting, with manicured gardens all around. However when you get to the last stretch, the majestic complex comes into view at the end of the path.
After climbing a number of steps, we reached the foot of the monument. We learnt that this was added later and is not part of the original design. There is a section in which this has been cut away to reveal some reliefs in the stone underneath. It’s said that it may have been constructed to censor the reliefs or alternatively to simply shore up the temple.
Whatever the reason, the platform has no reliefs of it’s own so everyone quickly ascends to the second level where thousands of beautiful reliefs are visible.
The next ascent leads to the famous part, 72 Buddha statues hidden inside bell shaped stupas. Most are sealed but one has been revealed showing the Buddha sculpture. Sadly many within the stupas are without heads, presumably due to centuries of looting. The Buddhas are sitting in various different positions, which depict various states such as giving, fearlessness and meditation.
After 3 levels of the small stupas you reach the central stupa which is probably the most uninteresting part of the temple. But from here something else catches your eye – the view over the mountains and countryside are stunning, especially with the small stupas in the foreground. Sunrise would be amazing here, sadly we weren’t determined enough – the vastly increased cost and having to get up at 4am put us off!
One bizarre thing is that when exploring the complex, our group was approached by many locals asking for photos or sometimes just taking them without even asking. At the time this was a bit frustrating but we later read that many Indonesian visitors come on a pilgrimage of sorts from remote corners of Java, and that seeing tourists at the complex may be the first time they have ever seen a foreigner. So it is purely curiosity, not rudeness.
Two hours of climbing and exploring later, it was time to leave. On the way back to Yogyakarta we stopped at 2 more temples, much smaller, but similar in style to Borobudur, Candi Mendut and Candi Pawon. The ticket price for these was very cheap – 3,500IDR for both temples.
Overall Borobodur is definitely worth the money, but the ticket cost, coupled with the transport, does make for an expensive day. It also meant we wren’t able to see the other big draw around Yogyakarta – Prambanan temple.
Aside from Borobodur, we didn’t see too much of Yogyakarta. One afternoon we tried to visit the Kraton (Royal Palace) but found that it closes at 1.30pm every day – our dishonest driver neglected to tell us this. Struggling to find something worth doing that was actually open, that didn’t involve being taken to artists shops, we went to Yogyakarta bird market.
It is exactly what it sounds like – a market selling lots of birds. But it also sold rabbits, fish, cats and dogs, so more of a general pet market. As animal loves, we enjoyed looking round (and stroking the puppies).
We were also shown a puppet making factory, which was quite interesting but was the usual tourist trap of being expected to look around a shop afterwards and feeling awkward for not wanting anything.
We stayed on Jalan Prawirotaman, which we really enjoyed – the road and those around it boasted a good mix of local and tourist restaurants, and loads of accommodation. We’d happily go back to Yogyakarta on another trip and spend more time exploring the city.
Aside from the ticket cost, the biggest cost in getting to Borobudur is the transport. One car was 450,000IDR, of which we paid 225,000 – again not cheap! It can be done for slightly less in a shared minivan but had we not been with friends we probably would have hired a scooter for 50,000IDR and rode there ourselves.
In fact a scooter would be an excellent idea for Yogyakarta in general, as it is rather spread out. Taxis are few and far between, leaving you with either pedal or motor trishaws. Both are very expensive for what they are and drivers will want to take you on all sorts of detours – that said they are probably struggling to make a living in the age of meter taxis so you may want to put up with it and help them.
We stayed at Delta Homestay. Unremarkable looking online, this was one of those places that really wows you. For the unbelievable price of 200,000IDR (just over £10) we got an air con room, basic but clean, with large terrace, a lovely swimming pool a few steps away, great breakfast and free afternoon tea and snacks every day. It is fantastic value and we could have easily stayed there a lot, lot longer. 10/10