Forget the tours & guides – read about the history & design of the world’s largest Buddhist temple & find out how to get to Borobudur by bus from Yogyakarta for as little as 25 cents!
History of Borobudur
Before we get into how to get to Borobudur, let us here at DIY Travel HQ take a look at the history behind this monumental complex:
- When was it built?
- Who built it?
- Why was it built?
There are no written records to answer these questions for certain but evidence suggests that construction of Borobudur began in the 8th century, lasting around 75 years.
This was the era of the Sailendra Dynasty, a maritime empire that not only ruled the seas of Southeast Asia but also pursued agricultural farming in Central Java.
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Borobudur: a Hindu Temple?
The Sailendra are said to have been followers of the Mahayana strain of Buddhism, but they may also have been Hindus.
In fact, there were many royal marriages between Hindu & Buddhist nobles at the time, too.
The Sailendra are believed to be responsible for the religious monuments found across all of Central Java, including Buddhist Borobudur & the nearby Hindu Prambanan – it’s also easy to get to Prambanan by bus from Yogyakarta.
Alongside its Buddhist core, the monument features many Hindu elements, particularly in the carvings & reliefs featuring Hindu gods.
In fact, the world’s largest Buddhist temple was even built on Hindu foundations.
Three stone terraces were already on the site when the Sailendra’s laid eyes on it – he simply decided to build Borobudur over it.
You may find more information in the latest edition of Lonely Planet Indonesia.
Abandonment of Borobudur
The centuries that followed saw a shift of power to the East of the country & the arrival of Islam on Java Island, so that by the 16th century, Borobudur had been mysteriously abandoned.
Again, there’s no written evidence however it is likely that the locals were either driven away by a large volcanic eruption and/or when there were mass conversions to Islam.
In any case, Borobudur laid hidden under layers of volcanic ash & jungle growth for centuries, until it’s discovery by General Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1814.
Recovery of Borobudur
After the Anglo-Dutch Java war in 1811, Java was controlled by the British.
The British governor at the time was Thomas Stamford Raffles (founder of modern-day Singapore), who was particularly interested in the history of Java.
He was informed about a massive, secret monument deep in the jungles near Yogyakarta but unable to attend himself, Raffles sent a Dutch engineer to explore the site.
It took two months to clear the jungle – Borobudur was rediscovered. Excavation continued until 1885 before the entire complex was revealed.
Structure & Style of Borobudur
Borobudur consists of nine raised platforms topped by a central dome.
The square base is 118m in length on each side & the highest point is 35m tall.
The first six levels are square platforms, connected by staircases.
Each level features carved bas-relief panels & sculptures depicting the life story of the Buddha, his teachings & path towards enlightenment.
All together, there are 2,760 reliefs recounting the four key stories:
- The law of karma
- The birth of Buddha
- The stories of Buddha’s previous life
- The journeys of Sudhana search for the Ultimate Truth
The reliefs depict scenes of daily life in ancient Java, from courtly palace traditions to the villagers going to the marketplace.
The nobility & common folk are both depicted: kings, queens & soldiers alongside servants, priests & hermits.
Of course, Buddhist gods & imagery also feature prominently.
The final three levels are open circular terraces, without reliefs.
Instead, they feature 72 lattice-work stupas, domes housing half-hidden & half-headed Buddha statues.
Of the original 504 Buddha statues that featured across all the platforms, over 300 are damaged & 43 are missing.
The Buddha statues in the niches on the circular terraces are arranged in rows, with the number of statues decreasing with each higher level.
Cross-legged Buddha statues seated in the lotus position appear on the square platforms & the top level.
They are almost identical, except for the position of their hands, which represent the 5 cardinal compass points according to Mahayana Buddhism.
How to Get to Borobudur: Tours
Along Jalan Sastrowijayan in Yogyakarta, many vendors offer tours to the Borobudur & Prambanan, top of the list of things to do in Yogyakarta.
We took a “tour” from an agency associated with our accommodation, Hotel Dewa, which was actually just private transportation to Borobudur & Prambanan. This cost 100,000 IDR / $7.50 each.
Entrance fees to both sites is 420,000 IDR or US$30.00.
We recommend Booking.com for the best rates & selection of accommodation in Yogyakarta. Make a booking with our link for 10% off your stay.
Advantages of tours:
- Able to visit both Borobudur & Prambanan on the same day, which would be difficult (but not impossible) to do using public transport
Disadvantages of tours:
- Lack of time at Borobudur… we arrived just before gates opened at 6am & had to leave at 8am. 2 hours was just enough time to explore the temple but not enough to take our time, visit the museum, climb a nearby hill for views or explore the grounds (which included a zoo….)
- More expensive than going by public transport
*** A tour lets you visit Borobudur & Prambanan in 1 day – there’s enough time for Prambanan but not Borobudur & it’s more expensive than going by bus ***
How to Get to Borobudur: Sunrise & Sunset
You can view sunrise & sunset outside opening hours, for an additional fee.
We visited just after sunrise, when the gates opened at 6am. It wasn’t all that spectacular, as the sun rises in the East.
If you’re willing to pay extra, we would recommend staying for Sunset over Sunrise – we’ve seen far more impressive photos of sunset at Borobudur than what we saw at sunrise.
Arriving right at the beginning or staying until the very end of the day will give you the best experience, without the tour groups & far fewer crowds.
In the morning, the tour buses start arriving at 8am.
And in case you were wondering, we often get asked what camera we use. All the photos in this post were taken on a Nikon D3300 DSLR.
You can visit both Borobudur & Prambanan in 1 day with a tour – & even by yourself using public transport. We will tell you exactly how to get to Borobudur later in the post…
But there are enough things to do at Borobudur for a full day trip:
- Borobudur monument
- Borobudur museum
- Climb a hill in the park for views
- Explore the extensive grounds
- Spend time with the animals at the zoo
- Visit the nearby candi’s & temples
Annoyances: many Indonesian students will want to practice English with you. Also, it’ll take at least 30 mins to exit through the never-ending maze of markets.
How to Get to Borobudur & Prambanan: Buses
We took a tour because we researched the bus times & prices incorrectly. Here’s the accurate information you need on how to get to Borobudur by bus (& Prambanan too):
Yogyakarta to Borobudur
- Buses to Borobudur leave from Yogyakarta’s Terminal Jombor bus
- The ride takes 60-90 minutes
- Local bus tickets cost 3,600 IDR / $0.25. The Yogyakarta bus could cost more, we’re not sure
Borobudur to Prambanan
- Take a bus from Borobudur back to Yogyakarta’s Terminal Jombor.
- It will 3 bus changes to get from Yogyakarta to Prambanan
- Route 2B from Terminal Jombor to Terminal Condong
- Route 3B from Terminal Condong to Maguwo (Jalan Solo)
- Route 1A/B from Maguwo to Prambanan
- Local bus tickets cost 3,600 IDR / $0.25.
Know Before You Go
Combined entrance ticket to Borobudur & Prambanan: 420,000 IDR or US$30.00
Borobudur & Prambanan Tour/Private transport: 100,000 IDR / $7.50
Local bus ticket: 3,600 IDR / $0.25
*** The Final Word: Now that you know how to get to Borobudur, set aside a whole day for your visit. Go during the very start or end of the day for fewer crowds ***
Do you think Borobudur is worth the exorbitant entrance fee?
Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport
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Visited in October 2015