Indonesia Travel

Chasing the sun in Yogyakarta: Borobudur Sunrise to Ratu Boko Sunset

borobudur stupas in the morning light

Sleep deprived and with a flashlight in hand, we made our way to the foot of Borobudur temple in Yogyakarta. With the earliest call time yet of 2:30 am, our bus dropped us off at Manohara Hotel to meet our guides. Around 4:30 AM, we navigated carefully in the dark, with only the dim silhouette of the biggest Buddhist monument in the world to guide us. We were ready to catch the sunrise in Borobudur.

Candi Borobudur was one of three temples in Southeast Asia that I wanted to experience sunrise in. Carried over from years of watching National Geographic and History channels. The other two, Angkor Wat (Cambodia) and Shwesandaw Pagoda (Bagan, Myanmar), I already had the privilege of seeing last year. So when by a stroke of luck, Borobudur was included in our #TripOfWonders itinerary, I was overjoyed. I couldn’t contain my excitement.

Borobudur: One of Yogyakarta’s Historical and UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Even older than Angkor Wat by 300 years, this archaeological marvel was hidden for centuries beneath the solidified volcanic ash. It was assembled from interlocked volcanic rocks with no cement or mortar used, making it all the more amazing. From afar, it may look like a giant stupa. But seen from above, it resembles a mandala, Buddhist symbolism of the entire universe.

Located in the plains of Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, the temple dated from 8th-9th century is one of the most visited places in the country, with the last year raking in around 250,000 foreign visitors and more than a million local visitors.

mount merapi borobudur sunrise

Borobudur Sunrise

Trying to ignore the morning chill, I climbed as fast as I could along the wooden planks built on top of the old stone stairs. Like the other temples in Asia, one is sure to find a crowd gathered on top (even during the low season) especially if you’re not early enough. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. As you go on up the uppermost stupa, the crowd thins.

I descended once again, choosing to wait beside one of the buddhas not enclosed inside a stupa. Facing the cloud-covered Mt. Merapi, I waited with bated breath the much-anticipated sunrise.

Slowly, the clouds shifted as the mist on the grounds rolled in. I zoned out, worrying about the uncertain future and thoughts of unrequited love.

borobudur sunrise buddha

As the first golden rays of the morning sun pierced the skyline, I was filled with hope. It had been a while since I’ve seen a sunrise. The plains, stupas and buddhas, lush vegetation, and the surrounding buildings were slowly illuminated as the sun revealed itself.

The brilliant rays shaking me out of my trance and headlong into the moment. I drew a deep breath and clicked to my heart’s content. My camera may not have captured it perfectly, but I will forever cherish it as a remembrance of another day to be thankful for.

With the sun fully risen, we only had a few moments to explore more around the terraces. I had hardly taken notice of the bas-reliefs depicting the life of Buddha. Yet another reason for me to come back.


stupas borobudur sunrise

bas reliefs borobudur

Borobudur’s bas-reliefs

borobudur entrance

@sartorialpanda ready to explore Borobudur

Despite the numerous No Climbing signs placed around, a lot of tourists still wouldn’t heed this warning. Although they say that if you touched the Buddha enclosed in the perforated stupa, your wish will be granted, tourists are now highly encouraged not to touch the stupas and statues to help preserve Borobudur. I was also surprised by the lack of dress code, unlike other famous temples in Asia.


Borobudur Breakfast, Cycling and Andong Tour, and Pottery and Batik-Making

Around seven in the morning, we went back to Manohara Hotel to have our snacks. At first, I thought it was our breakfast already but later learned that the real breakfast was yet to come. We also exchanged our tickets for a red scarf with a stupa on it. One of my favorite souvenirs from the trip!

We headed to Stupa Restaurant by Plataran, which is actually part of Plataran Borobudur Resort & Spa. With a view of the rice fields, we feasted on Javanese cuisine in an open terrace style dining area.

Next up was the Cycling tour, also offered by the hotel. But since a handful of us didn’t know how to bike, we had to follow the rest of the gang in horse carriages (Andong). Not a bad alternative! 🙂

We passed by rice paddies, lush sceneries, villages, and even locals preparing for the Feast of Sacrifice. The tour ended in Warung Kopi Borobudur where we had the chance to indulge our artistic side and try pottery and batik making. It may look easy, but I guarantee that you’ll certainly be challenged if you’re new at this. It was certainly a good way to spend our morning in the plains of Borobudur, Yogyakarta.

Cultural lunch in Wanurejo village, Magelang, Yogyakarta

Welcomed by the melodious sounds of saron, we walked towards our lunch venue where a local Javanese performance was also waiting for us. I chose the dance over food this time. Because even though we didn’t know the history of the dance, music, and art are at least universal. In the end, we at least got the gist of the story the dance portrayed. Kudos to the locals for performing with their best efforts in spite of the heat and their heavy costumes.

local performane yogyakarta

Ratu Boko Sunset

After the afternoon Hi-Tea ceremony in Royal Ambarrukmo Hotel, we were again on the road. This time, to head towards another archaeological site in Yogyakarta to witness the sunset.

sunset ratu boko

What makes Kraton (Palace) Ratu Boko mysterious is that no one knows what is the real name of the site and that its history remains unclear. Its present name (Ratu Boko) is derived from a legendary king in a local folklore.

Although not as famous as Borobudur and Prambanan, Ratu Boko is another significant reminder that religions coexisted peacefully in Yogyakarta, for the complex have both Buddhist and Hindu structures on site.

Standing in one of the stone gates, looking around the ruins made me imagine how grand the ancient Javanese kingdoms must have been. Walking further afield, one could get a glimpse of Prambanan and Mt. Merapi in the distance. This is also a favorite local destination so better head early if you want to have time to explore around before the sunset.

ratu boko sunset

As I watch the sky transform its colors to make way for sunset, I tuned out the gathering crowd and said a simple prayer of thanks. The brilliant hues of red and orange with the yellow threads of light symbolizing our journey of chasing the sun in Yogyakarta, gave way to the night. Indeed, it was another wonderful day spent in Indonesia.

And I’ll surely come back for Prambanan and more of Borobudur. 🙂



Borobudur Bike Tour

Package: IDR 450,000 per pax (minimum 4 pax; excludes transportation from Jogja to Borobudur)
Bike rental
Drinks and snacks
Make your own pottery or batik

Stupa Restaurant by Plataran

Dusun Kretek, Karangrejo, Borobudur, Magelang, Central Java 56553, Indonesia
E: [email protected]
P : +62 293 788 888

Borobudur Sunrise package (Manohara)

Ticket: IDR 400,000
Starts at 4:30 AM (Note that this is the only way you can enter Borobudur before sunrise)

>>>You can also book Borobudur Sunrise Tour here!

Ratu Boko sunset
Ticket office: 3 PM – 5:30 PM
Ticket Price: IDR 110,000

For more info on the ticket prices: Borobudur Park Website

Other tours to choose from:

  • Borobudur Sunrise + Prambanan Temple Tour
  • Prambanan Sunset Tour
  • Borobudur Temple Tour
  • Borobudur & Prambanan Temple Tour
  • Jomblang Cave & Prambanan Temple Tour

Disclosure: This is part of the Wonderful Indonesia series, and I was invited to be one of the Southeast Asian influencers to the Trip of Wonders September batch. As always, opinions and comments are my own. 

Where else to go in Indonesia?

Check the rest of Indonesia stories and guides here!

Have you been to Yogyakarta? How was your experience?

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  • Lydia@LifeUntraveled
    February 1, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Indonesia is at the top of my travel list and hopefully I’ll get to visit Borobudur soon! It looks so magical from the architecture to the panoramic views from the top – just beautiful!

  • Chrysoula
    February 1, 2017 at 5:58 am

    I am not a morning person and I usually miss sunrises but I would definitely wake up for this one. It is on my bucket list for a long time. You had a great day exploring the area and I think too that the horse carriage is not a bad alternative at all

  • Ibazela
    February 1, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Wow! You said it was crowded, but I still was surprised when I saw all that people waiting for the sunrise in the movie. I even don’t want to think how it looks during the peak of the season. Batik making and the dance was fun. I really like traditional crafts and culture, so I’m sure I would enjoy it 🙂

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    January 31, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    The sunrise in Borobudur is pure magic. Hope to get there some day. I loved your video, it brings alive the vibrant and colourful life of Indonesia.

  • Megan Jerrard
    January 29, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    You got in some spectacular sunsets here! I’m usually NOT a morning person lol but this definitely warrants getting up at the crack of dawn! Borobudur is really high on my bucket list; I had no idea it was 300 years older than Angkor yet. Hopefully will have the chance to get to Yogyakarta within the next year, we’re in Australia so reasonably close by in terms of organizing a flight.

    Sad to hear though that tourists were’nt respectful of the no touching / climbing signs. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site for petes sake!!

    So glad you had an amazing time, your photos look incredible!

  • Venkat Ganesh
    January 29, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    That is so great that you’ve been able to watch sunrise from Angkor Wat, Bagan and now Borobodor. I’ve been able to do only one – Bagan. (But going to Angkor Wat in a few weeks. Excited)

    That’s quite an exciting day you had. Those are some great photos you got there and loved the video. Thanks for the detailed info on the tour.

  • Anne
    January 29, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Oh wow your pictures are amazing, I didn’t make it for sunrise but was blown away by this temple. It has such a lovely feeling of serenity and it’s hard to believe they uncovered it in the jungle not so long ago. Beautiful place

  • Kavey at Kavey Eats
    January 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    I’ve not yet been to Indonesia but it’s very high on my list. We are slowly visiting more of East Asia, and loving it. I love your photos of the sunrise, and your notes about your thoughts in the moment, even if unrequited love did fleetingly enter your thoughts!

  • Debra Schroeder
    January 29, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Gorgeous photos. The fourth one with the mist settling in just after sunrise is my favorite. I’m surprised you made it to sunset especially after having gotten up to see the sunrise. I’d be wiped out. I haven’t been to Indonesia yet but am hoping to get there this year.

  • Teesh
    October 17, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Borobodur and Yogyakarta is actually higher up on my travel bucket list than Bali (for Indonesia) – now the urge to get there is getting stronger!

  • Stephanie Langlet
    October 10, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Indonesia was my first trip to Asia. I’ll keep a wonderful souvenir of Java and Borobudur. I was in a lovely small guesthouse where we were like friends. They took us around, showing the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the trance dance in a remote village. After that, we have enjoyed the magnificent sunrise on Bromo and the beauty of the culture of Bali <3

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  • Northern Peru Travel
    October 3, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Very nice Photos!! beautiful place.