I am very much interested in temples across Asia and you cannot get much more grand than Candi Borobudur! The complex is situated about an hour’s drive outside of Yogyakarta, near a town called Magelang. It is effectively in the middle of nowhere and if you are not part of an organised tour group then you will need your taxi driver to wait for you in the car park ready to take you back to your hotel, as there is little public transport readily available inside the Borobudur complex (although you can catch a cheap public bus).
At the time of visiting, it cost me as a foreigner IDR190,000, which in comparison to the rate of IDR30,000 for Indonesian citizens is a bit of a rip-off, but that’s the way it is in some countries. India is another country that charges more if you are a foreigner.
Visiting times for the general public is usually between 06.00-17.00hrs, although if you want to see the sunrise from Borobudur you will need to pay extra (IDR380,000) and be part of a tour group. On this occasion, although I still visited fairly early in the morning, around 9am. The place was packed with school children on the day of my visit, so I suspect it was a public holiday in Java at the time.
You must wear a sarong to enter the temple grounds, and of course make sure you are not scantily-dressed in accordance to the local Islamic tradition of Indonesia. One of the main things I loved about Candi Borobudur is the style of architecture in which it is built. It is shaped like a pyramid but with walkable platforms around the entire temple so you can get great views of the surrounding jungle.
There are six square platforms which take you up a level each time, and above them there are three circular platforms. Everything, however, is topped by a giant dome, situated at the top of the highest circular platform. While all this may sound confusing, the results are very pleasing on the eye. Basically, there are nine levels of the temple, with the main dome at the very peak. Each level is intensely decorated with sculptures of Buddha and other reflections of the Buddhist religion, with many stories being told in sculpture as you follow them around the perimeter of the temple.
My favourite part of Candi Borobudur is the bell-shaped stupas on the upper, circular levels of the temple. It is here that you begin to realise that is no ordinary temple. Borobudur really is among the Bagan complex in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia in terms of the grandeur of the place!
One thing I noticed a lot of here was Indonesian school children asking to have their photograph taken with me, as if I was some kind of celebrity! I guess they just love the novelty of having a European guy in their photos! They can’t have too many opportunities to meet and greet the tourists in a quaint old town like Magelang. After a while I found this to be very annoying. I refused a few photos, which made me feel very bad, but I am here to experience the temple, not to pose for somebody else’s photos. When not pestering me for photos, I found all the locals – both adults and children alike – to be very polite and respectful towards me at Borobudur, which further enhances my respect and appreciation for Indonesian people and their culture.
Apparently, there are 504 statues of Buddha on the temple itself, which is an incredible amount. I certainly didn’t see them all. I think I was more interested in the amazing views from the top, and of course getting my dose of photos of the famous Borobudur stupas. That said, it is impossible not to be respectful and impressed the religious significance of places such as Borobudur, and also nearby Candi Prambanan, which is situated the other side of Yogyakarta (they can easily be done in the same day, but it is around 90 minutes driver between the two sites).
I found the stairs up and down from one platform to another to be quite steep, and while not exactly as scary as the ascent up Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, as a vertigo sufferer myself, I did still get a little apprehensive, especially considering the sheer volume of people at the temple on that day. You did not really get a chance to walk steadily down the stairs, you were effectively pushed down unless you walked fast enough! Additionally, it was also difficult to get some nice scenic shots from the top of Borobudur, as with so many school children around it would always spoil the view, but this is usual at the main tourist places across the world. You should try and get a nice empty shot of the Great Wall of China! Never going to happen!
Overall, I was ecstatic to finally have the chance to visit Candi Borobudur. The township of Yogyakarta is not known for its luxury hotels or its nightlife, nor is it a shopping mecca full of international brand names. It does have in Borobudur, however, one of the top 3 temple complexes in Asia, and this is why people like me come in their droves here. Aside from Bali (where incidentally there is a mini version of Borobudur), Yogyakarta is actually the second most visited place in Indonesia for tourism.
You have to visit at least once in your lifetime, the experience will stay with you forever. Pictures may not always do it justice, so in addition please check out this fantastic blog entry by Afastar and finally, my video experience of my unforgettable visit to Candi Borobudur embedded above!