Borobudur Buddha

Borobudur Photo Essay, or Some Things are Worth Waking Up Early For

Indonesia, Photo Essay

Buddhas of Borobudur

As we were leaving the Borobudur Temple, we saw a lady crawl up on a buddha statue that was 1000-years-old, give or take a century. She then proceeded to take a selfie.

“We have to get out of here,” my wife said.

As we walked past a raging river or tourists and noisy Javanese school children, I began to sweat profusely in the sweltering heat. It was 7am.

Reader, you may be thinking that we had a terrible experience at Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple which is located in central Java. Nothing could be further from the truth. We were smart. We woke up at 3am, which at the time was very painful, and we paid extra money to be allowed in at sunrise. That too, stung a little. But getting to enjoy the temple at sunrise with a small group of likeminded tourists was well worth the effort. We even saw Mark Zuckerberg there. That guy is really smart and has 3 billion friends, so we were in good company.

As a result of my efforts to get up early and take these photos, you can see photos of Borobudur without the crowds.

I Like Big Buddhas and I Cannot Lie

Like barnacles on a ship, the temple is encrusted with 504 Buddha statues. The pyramid-like temple consists of nine levels, the first six are square, with the top three being circular. On the top levels, there are 72 perforated stupas concealing Buddha statues. See photos below.

Sunrise at Borobudur

Sunrise at Borobudur

Borobudur Buddha

You have no idea the luck and patience required to get this photo sans other tourists.

Borobudur Stupas

Inside these stupas are buddha statues. It is really cool.

Every square inch is art

All around the lower six levels are stone carvings of Buddhas, naked women, elephants, and things I don’t understand.

Carvings on Borobudur

Carvings on Borobudur

Borobudur Carvings

Practically every square inch of the pyramid is art.

Posing like Buddha

The obligatory posing like Buddha photo.

Sunrise, Peace and Dangdut

At sunrise, naturally everyone is clustered on the east side waiting for the light. This gave me a chance to shoot photos and walk around in peace. Peace, except that someone was playing some dangdut music really noisily in the distance. Otherwise, it was tourist free in most areas and totally enjoyable.

Borobudur at sunrise

Tip: Make sure and pay the extra money and wake up early to be there at sunrise. Shortly after this photo was taken, hordes descended on the temple. Think thousands of Javanese school children and noisy locals.

Buddha, just kickin it

Chillin out Buddha entranced by dangdut music.

Borobudur Lions

Lions? Dog lions? I’m not sure on this one.

Sunrise from Penthuk Setumbu Hill

The next morning, we took motorcycle taxis to Punthuk Setumbu Hill and watched the sunrise below. Borobudur is a little hard to see silhouetted in the bottom left of the top photos. Mt. Merepi rises nearly 10,000 feet, or 3000 meters behind it to the left. Stunning.

Sunrise over Borobudur from a nearby hill.

Sunrise over Borobudur from a nearby hill.

Punthuk Setumbu Hill at sunrise

Borobudur, Merapi and Sunrise

Borobudur, Merapi and sunrise

I hope you enjoyed these photos and appreciate that I woke up in the middle of the night not only once, but TWICE, so that I could photograph it for you. You are welcome.


Have you been to Borobudur or any other ancient wonders of the world? 

Posted by

Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

28 thoughts on “Borobudur Photo Essay, or Some Things are Worth Waking Up Early For”

  1. Steve C says:

    Yes, I’ve been to Borobudur and you did a good job capturing it’s beauty. As I’m kind of a “Ruin Freak”, I’ve been to many of the more popular sites over the years all over the world. I love sitting on a site, close my eyes and get the feeling of what it must have been like in it’s day. That is, before the arrival of the tour buses and after they leave. I like to stay in an adjacent village, within walking distance, and be the first one on site and the last to leave. At Tikal, Guatemala, we slipped a few bucks to the guards and they let us in before sunrise. Borobudur is great at sunrise too. The cool mist is very refreshing, compared with the rest of the day when things heat up.

    • Hi Steve. We are ruin freaks also and I absolutely agree that being the first person there, or staying after the crowds are gone, is essential to enjoying the place. I plan to write a post about that in the future. In Egypt, we were often the first people to many of the ruins in the morning and got to explore many in peace. You have to love a place like Tikal where a few bucks will get you in early 🙂

  2. I appreciate the sacrifice very much! Gorgeous images and am delighted you were not them swallowed up by a volcano or other death defying adventures. 🙂

  3. The loss of a few hours of sleep was a small price to pay for such lovely images. I can’t imagine how much work went into all of those carvings.

    • Hi Laura, When I see those carvings I think the same thing. It took generations to do. I can only imagine the effort and sacrifice it took to get it done with such precision.

  4. Good Morning
    Thank you for all the details of the temple, a place of prayer and tranquility
    I’appreciate the last three photos, which show that cloud, pollution, condensation! the result is magnificent
    Beautiful end of year celebrations

    • Thanks for the comment Pat. Those last photos were nice because we didn’t think we’d see the sun then suddenly it burst through the clouds and we had a nice sunrise. Many people had already given up and left!

  5. I’ve been to Borobudur more than five times, but never been there for sunrise. The last time was only one month after the deadly eruption of Merapi — in fact some parts of the ancient temple were still covered by acidic volcanic ashes. Looking out to the valley from the upper level of Borobudur was a surreal landscape of partially burned palm tress with the fronts all pointing to one direction — away from where the pyroclastic flow came. Did you notice that on the first level all reliefs were hidden behind big andesite bricks? Curiously the builder or the architect of Borobudur decided to cover the entire reliefs of the first floor altogether.

    Glad you woke up that early, Jeff. Not just once, but twice! 🙂

    • Hey Bama, That would be a cool experience to see it after the eruption. Merepi is really close – I bet it has covered it in ash many times over the years. I did not notice that the reliefs were covered on the first floor. We started at the top and moved down so we probably lost focus by that time 🙂

  6. To be able to navigate this amazing place without the feeling of being elbow to elbow with hoards of tourists was well worth the effort of dragging your butt out of bed! Fabulous!

    • Yes Lynn, it is always worth it to arrive first and avoid the crowds. We had breakfast and chilled out afterwards and laughed at those flooding in to the temple.

  7. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    That’s the kind of place I would normally love to spend many hours at. But crowds like that would probably drive me off.

    • Kevin, I think we had a solid 1.5 hours before the crowds. If you pay for a sunrise ticket, you get in early before the rest are allowed in. We had plenty of time though because as the sun rose, it got hot and the light too intense for photos anyway.

      • Adventures in Kevin's World says:

        Excellent. Getting up early is (almost) always worth it. Though I don’t always think that when the alarm goes off at Oh dark thirty.

  8. Doing whatever it takes – that’s the standard i expect from now on to get those wonderful photos. By the way, the longer I look at that photo of you the harder iti is to tell you and the Buddha apart. I don’t know how you did that.

  9. We visited Borobudur Jeff, and agree that it’s an amazing and mysterious place. When we were there the crowds weren’t too bad. I think that we did the dumb tourist routine and visited in the p.m., which any sane person knows is the hottest part of the day. But it did cut down on the crowds. ~James

    • I think in the evening, after the crowds have gone, might be just as good. We try to outflank the crowds by arriving first or staying until they kick us out. It all depends on the weather and the light.

  10. i came to borobudur 3 times, including when i was at school, but never succeeded waking early in the morning to see the sunrise. so yeah, i really appreciate your effort with the pictures and the story 😉

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