Borobudur at Sunrise

Diwali long weekend = another opportunity to explore the region around us. Our aim this year – and the next – is to visit as many South East Asian cities and historical sites as possible while we live here.

So that’s how we (Jeff and my old primary school mate Kate) found ourselves in Yogyakarta last Saturday. The main focus of our trip was Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple in Central Java. Given that we’d landed in the morning and couldn’t make the 11 hour day tour to the other highlight in the area, Jomblang Caves, we decided to wander around locally.

Where we visited Saturday:

  1. The Kraton Royal Palace – Very underwhelming. Most of the palace is private and can’t be toured, and the only open areas we could wander around were really rundown and basic. We were left honestly very confused if we had gone to the right place. Our hotel and malls were in much better condition
  2. Taman Sari Water Castle – We had a local volunteer to bring us around and give us the history of this compact grounds, and so could appreciate the history of the 18th century bath house a little better. As bath houses go, we enjoyed our visit to the better preserved ancient Roman Baths in Bath more, but this visit was a huge step up from the palace.
  3. Ratu Boko – This archaeological site is a 45 min taxi ride out of Yogyakarta, but given that we’d completed both the palace and water castle visits in 2 hours and had the entire afternoon wide open, we jumped into the cab after a gelato lunch. Our recommendations? Skip this one too, especially because of the US$25 foreign tourist price we were forced to cough up (the local price was less than half that!). The 8th century site has not quite been properly restored; just yawning stretches of land broken up with old piles of rocks. The few signs scattered around the park did nothing to help inform the history, but just listed the dimensions of the site. The tourism board needs to be overhauled.

So our expectations were very low Sunday morning when we roused out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3am, so we could make the hour drive to catch the sun rise over Borobudur.

But our fears were unfounded. Borobudur itself is worth the trip to Yogyakarta (along with Prambanan temple, which we visited after). The air was crisp and cool when we walked up the steps of the temple in the dark. There were other tourists milling around, but everyone was quiet, just silently soaking in the meditative atmosphere.

I brought along my nifty little Fujifilm X100F for the trip. It takes great photos in light, but personally I feel its low light performance is quite wanting. I can’t quite bring out the shadow details like I can with my Canon 6D, or even my tiny Sony RX100! Or, maybe it’s photographer error. I’ve found that it still takes me a few seconds to adjust the settings in this camera to take photos, whereas I can make the same adjustments on my Canon in a fraction of the time.
The morning mist slowly dissipated as the sun rose, lending an impressionist feel to the landscape
Some of the stupas still had sitting buddhas in them; but a lot were either empty, or had headless ones
The grounds of Borobudur were large enough that we could find empty stretches of corridors to wander around in

We’d signed up to visit Borobudur under a day tour, with the second leg The next part of our tour, we visited Mt Merapi. Or tried to get close to it at any rate, on these old school open top jeeps. Honestly, the jeep ride up the rocky trail was much more fun than walking a couple hundred meters up a dusty track to stare at the live volcano in the distance. Its top was obscured by clouds.

For the last leg of the tour, we visited Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. It’s in the similar style as the temples we visited of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The main compound was crowded, but as soon as we ventured to the other temples, the crowds dwindled to nothing, and we had a very enjoyable couple of hours wandering around and soaking in the sights.

Good weekend excursion. šŸ™‚