Our flight landed in the central Java city of Semarang. Java is the world’s most populated island and is home to nearly 60% of Indonesia’s 238 million people. Consequently, it is one of the most densely populated places on earth. It’s like squeezing 138 million people into an area the size of Greece.
When I hear facts like this, it makes me even more curious to visit a place. What is it like? Is it really that crowded? As we drove an hour and a half to the Temple of Borobudur, I would see for myself. Much of the trip was along a traffic-choked road skirting through suburban areas. Then we crested a hill and the road traced a path through agricultural land.
Despite the rainy season having not fully arrived, the paddy fields were a fierce shade of green. Like the green of the rice paddies I remember from Cambodia.
Our destination was the temple at Borobudur. Set in a valley near the base of volcanoes, it is a striking location. Borobudur is a 9th-century Buddhist monument consisting of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. At the top is the main dome, surrounded by another 72 Buddha statues, but these are seated inside stupas.
A traveler could make vague comparisons of Borobudur to the temples at Angkor Wat, but each is unique. While Angkor is an intimidatingly huge complex spread out over several square miles, Borobudur can be enjoyed in a couple of hours. It opens for dawn (you should be there for 5:30 am) but costs ten times the price ($50 US). Visiting in the afternoon, although more crowded, is a better value ($5 US). You still see the temple, but your pictures may be filled with other tourists.
We woke at 4:45 am hoping to catch a cloud-less sunrise. By 5am, as we grabbed a flashlight and tightened a sarong around our waist, the prospects weren’t looking good. The sky was dark. We waited. I wandered around the top couple layers of the tall monument taking photos out in the different directions. Trees lined the silhouette of the nearby mountain ridges. Palm trees covered the hazy, valley below. The whole experience was serene, but we never quite caught the sun.
Visiting Borobudur at sunrise was part of an international blogger trip hosted by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy to promote tourism to the islands of Indonesia.