Is visiting Borobudur at sunrise worth it?

Working title: that time a temple broke my camera.

In my opinion, rarely is getting up at 3am worth anything you care to offer me. When I organise travel, I will never get an early flight. For me, it’s just not worth it. I might get a few extra hours at my destination, but if I end up napping through them what’s the point?

So when the travel agent in our hotel advised us of the horribly early start to see the sunrise at Borobudur, I was sceptical. I am not my best in the morning as it is, and visions of the sunrise at Angkor Wat swum before my eyes (I got covered in mozzie bites, the crowds ruined the atmosphere, and the sun rose behind clouds anyway), swiftly followed by memories of the sunset on Santorini (see my extended and somewhat controversial thoughts on the whole thing here). I was ready to cancel the whole idea.

However, temples were why we had come, after all. And we were assured the trip would be worth it. We compromised by choosing a shorter tour, meaning we’d be back at the hotel in time to catch the end of breakfast.

Of course, getting up at 3 was miserable. What we hadn’t anticipated were the dreadful road conditions – the road was twisty, traffic was unpredictable at best, and potholes abounded. We arrived a little bleary eyed but still keen. Our helpful guide shepherded us where we needed to go, grabbing us torches and entry stickers. The entrance is via a grand hotel forecourt with nicely paved or gravelled paths the whole way. It turns out Borobudur, significantly restored in the 1970s, is a pretty professional outfit.

We puffed our way up the steep steps to the top of the monument in darkness, still fairly unsure of what we were climbing. All I knew was, it was big.

As we reached the top and scoped vantage points, our guide knew the best places to stand. The sky was beginning to turn from inky black to midnight blue, and we stood in anticipation.

And then the heavens opened.

Once again our guide came to the rescue, taking us to an archway that provided some relief from the rain. We still ended up fairly soaked, although I was more concerned about my poor camera than I was about myself (it was so hot I quite appreciated a cooling shower). A few others arrived to share our dry space, and we smiled across language barriers.

The last photo my camera ever took 🙁

Soon enough it passed, and we cautiously edged back to our previous vantage point. On the way, our guide pointed out an excellent vantage point for photos just as the sky was becoming a shade of sapphire and the beautiful architecture of the monument could be appreciated. He was so excited about the photo, and the fact that the rain had stopped, and I was trying to take it and get out of someone’s way, that when I slung my camera over my arm to reach into my bag to change lenses, I missed my arm.

Yes. I basically just threw my camera on the solid stone floor of a temple.

No, it did not survive. The thing was completely, irreversibly stuffed. Therefore, all pictures after this point are taken by my husband, on his nice camera, while I felt very annoyed with myself.

Me, in perplexed early morning disbelief

Our guide, slightly mystified by my apparent callous disregard for my expensive possessions, waited with us until the sun rose. The earlier rains had left the sky carpeted in clouds, which you’d think would be a bummer. However, it made the most beautiful atmospheric shots.

Each of the stupas houses a statue of Buddha. There are 72 of them!

The clouds soon dispersed, as did the small crowd who had gathered to watch the sunrise, leaving an incredibly peaceful atmosphere behind. Our guide took us around the rest of the site, pointing out the best statues, telling us the stories behind the reliefs.

It’s an absolutely massive site, and we felt like we had the place to ourselves. The temple tells the whole story of the life of Buddha, so it’s quite extensive. You might see some scenes from stories you’ll recognise, or you might just see some beautiful carvings.

So do I think sunrise at Borobudur is worth the 3am start? Actually, I do. The temple is breathtaking in size and beauty, and sunrise was a serene and appropriate way to start the tour.

There weren’t loud or pushy crowds, no hawkers, no mozzies. There were a few folk about, including one man in a high-vis who I daresay ruined a fair few photos that morning, but hey. Safety first.

 

Things to note

> The edges of the temple on the upper levels are unfenced, and there’s a fair drop to the next level. I found out first hand how hard the floors are. If you are mobility impaired, accident prone or a child, I would not recommend climbing to the top levels.

> There aren’t any hawkers in the grounds of the temple, but you’ll go past a few just outside the gate. They seemed pretty un-pushy compared to the usual – maybe because we were with a guide?

> The crowds honestly weren’t so bad. You’ll want to arrive in plenty of time if you absolutely must get your tripod set up in the perfect position. But if you just want to enjoy the sunrise, it’s not so important. Importantly, people were chilled, friendly and happy.

> You will be given a breakfast at the fancy hotel by the entrance. It was a rice cake thingy with maybe palm sugar in the middle that was gluten free… but I didn’t like it ☹ It was too sweet at that time of the morning.

> If you can afford the fancy hotel, I reckon that would be a great way to see Borobudur. You won’t have to get up half as early! The hotel did look very nice.

> There are lots of steps. Goes without saying. They were in fairly good shape, but still. Stairs.

> Your guide will ask you to pose for cheesy photos. Go with it.

> You don’t need a guide to enter, of course. However, ours was so reasonably priced and added so much value with the helpful relief explanations, history of the site, insider knowledge, hawker avoidance and of course pro photoshoot skills, I say it’s well worth it.

Are you generally a fan of sunrise tours? Or not so much?

-Rachel

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9 Comments

  1. Jen
    18th August 2017 / 10:23

    I’ve never done a sunrise tour but I would definitely do it. This looks absolutely amazing!!! I’m so glad you did it.

  2. 18th August 2017 / 12:35

    Oh my gosh I’m so sorry to hear about your camera!! I actually just dropped my own camera onto concrete a few weeks ago. I was so so annoyed at myself – I spent the next hour walking around going “did I seriously just do that?!”

    Camera disasters aside – it looks like a pretty incredible place! I’ve never done a sunrise tour, but I’m actually very much a morning person so it’s something I would probably love!

    Lauren xx

  3. 19th August 2017 / 03:42

    That’s such a bummer about your camera, but I’m glad that you still enjoyed your time at the temple! I’m a sucker for how clouds can transform an area, so I probably would have loved that view too!

  4. 19th August 2017 / 08:52

    I’m so sad about your camera! I would have absolutely lost it over that… I know I would have. lol Your blue hour picture before the death of your camera was gorgeous!! This looks gorgeous!

  5. 21st August 2017 / 21:31

    Ummm, I read the bit about your camera, gasped out loud and THREW my hands over my mouth!!! You poor thing! I would have been devastated!

    I really wanted to do a sunset hike in Bali but we never got a chance to. I’m hoping I can convince Jesse to do one in Hawaii with me!

  6. 21st August 2017 / 22:30

    oh god what trauma about the camera! awful. i have always wanted to do sunrise things but honestly, i am a monster in the mornings and anyone trying to wake me up for things will just be yelled at, probably. this is something that sounds very fun. but again i’m sure it would get down to do it and i’d be like, yeah nah. haha. unless i paid ahead of time and then i feel that whole commitment thing happening and i’d force myself to go 🙂

    xoxo cheshire kat

  7. 24th August 2017 / 17:49

    ahaha sorry, i laughed at you saying that the guides were confused by your carelessness with expensive things! sucks!! i’m sorry about your camera but your man captured some gorgeous photos!! this is so dreamy and it’s on my list to do and i’m glad you said its not overrun with tourists.. 🙂

  8. 7th September 2017 / 06:23

    I managed to drop my camera twice in Cuba (i.e. two days into our Cuban-Mexico 2+ week extravaganza) the second time so badly the flash couldn’t pop out. SO annoying and oh boy the recriminations. Glad you still had the phone camera as this does look absolutely stunning!

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