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Photograph of the week: Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest Buddhist Temple in the world containing more Buddha sculptures than any other site in the world; 504 Buddhas to be exact. There is a lot of mystery and uncertainty about exactly when and why the temple was built. One thing is certain though; Borobudur is the most visited tourist site in all of Indonesia. This site isn’t on the popular Indonesian island of Bali. You’ll have to go to the province of Yogyakarta in central Java for this adventure. If you’re vacationing in Bali or Jakarta, a flight of less than 1.5 hours to Yogyakarta International (YIA airport code) will get you here from either location. Upon arriving, it is possible to rent a car and drive yourself. If you’re not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, Indonesia is probably not the best place to learn. There are plenty of enterprising, honest and safe local drivers eager to serve you. On a map, it may look like a short distance from the airport to Borobudur, but the local traffic and maze of streets are best navigated by a local. If you have other adventures in mind, it’s best not to set your heart on a local guide just yet. After you’re comfortable in a hotel; your hosts there will be able to recommend reputable guides and services to take you anywhere you want to go. Close to Borobudur Temple you’ll find dozens of dozens of places to stay ranging from modest comfortable homestays to three and four star villas and resorts. Many of these are within 1 km (1/2 mile) walking distance of the entrance to the temple. Some of these hotels can arrange to take you to the front gate of the temple at opening time; which can be quite early depending on the time of year. If you’re eager to ascend the stairs and find a perch to watch the sunrise, you won’t need to wait in line at the front gate but do get there about an hour before sunrise. I recommend an app called Photopills to check the sunrise and sunset times anywhere in the world for current dates or any date in the future. The dry season from May to October will give you the best chance to see a spectacular sunrise around 5:00 – 5:30 am. There are fewer tourists in the rainy season from November to April but you can expect more clouds as well, so the sun may or may not peak through the clouds at sunrise and sunset. In addition to the sunrise, look for Mount Sumbing and Mount Merapi rising from the rainforest in the north and the east. Most mornings you will see monks from the nearby Mendut Buddhist Monastery visiting Borobudur to do their prayers and rituals. They don’t seem to pay any mind to the tourists and photographers. If you’re keen to summit one of the mountains, do some day hikes or take a guided trip into the jungle; and you haven’t booked a guide ahead of time, ask the host at your hotel. I find they usually know the best local guides (read most trustworthy and safe) but as always use your best judgement. If your adventures do take you further into the Indonesian rainforest, look for one of the largest flowers in the world, the Rafflesia Arnoldi. While Borobudur is an impressive site and will take some time to explore and fully appreciate; you probably won’t spend more than half a day here. The temple complex of Prambanan is another restored Buddhist complex in Yogyakarta that is well worth a visit. You may want to stay on Java between seven to ten days if you’re curious to visit the popular volcanoes Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen further east on the island of Java. Java Indonesia has a lot to offer for the adventure and photography minded traveler. Thank you to Kevin Wenning from Intentionally Lost for permission to share the photograph. If you have a really special photograph you would like to share with A Luxury Travel Blog‘s readers, please contact us.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Intentionally Lost is such a great name for a travel business. If you are going to make the most of travel there often comes a point where you have to be brave enough to let go and allow yourself to get lost. In many places it’s counter-intuitive as you always know that your phone’s GPS is there to save you – but sometimes it’s worth switching it off.

    1. Thanks Lorraine. That’s the idea behind the name exactly and you put it so perfectly. I confess I do try to have cellular connection pretty much anywhere I travel just in case. Good ol’ paper maps are still quite useful too for those times you really want to disconnect. Then I usually have to find someone to help me translate the language printed on the local maps, and that’s a whole adventure in itself too.

  2. And I’d almost forgotten that black and white photography existed. There are times like with this picture when it is really atmospheric and works very well.

    1. I often use black and white when there’s little or no dynamic light. The morning when I made this photo I was hoping for a bright orange sunrise, but a blanket of low clouds kept the sun from shining on the temple so I was looking for depth and shapes in my compositions to create a sense of space and size.

  3. I’ve had similar adventures in Cambodia. From the picture, I can see that Borobudur exudes the same kind of mystical, spiritual vibe as Angkor Wat. Very rural and rough, but very spiritual. It’s the kind of place that visitors would immediately keep quiet and talk in hush tones without even told to. It immediately commands reverence even if you are from a different religion. Beautiful photo. Makes me want to take my analog film camera to do some old school photography.

  4. I’ve not been to the temple complexes in Cambodia. That’s on my travel list for sure. I waited a long time to make this frame with nobody in the photo. I can assure you there were crowds of people everywhere, but for the most part everyone was in reverent awe as you say. I saw several people around the temple who found their own quiet spot and were doing their private prayers.

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