The Borobudur Sunrise and the ATM Boo-boo in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

A very long introduction that talks about Clash of Clans, lamps, and previous attempts at catching the sunrise that may or may not coherently link to the body of this post

Sunrise was never really my thing.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I sit down at some café to brood on what my take on things like sunrise is. I’ve far more important things to think about than that like, say,  the most strategic deployment of troops when raiding in Clash of Clans. (You should see my war base; it’s so impregnable, it could put The Eyrie to shame, and yeah, that’s what’s up with me.)



Taking advantage of the golden hour. Photo by a temple security  guard whom we approached to take our group photo. He turned out to have awesome photography skills and was very keen on taking a lot of photos of us. Of course, given that he spends a lot of time at the temple and presumably takes lots of photos of tourists, he knew exactly how and where the photos should be taken. 


Pre-sunrise. So, this is what refers to as “the accompanying atmospheric effects” of sunrise. 

What I’m saying is, I guess at the back of my head, I thought sunrise is the same everywhere.

Sunrise is sunrise.

Watching the sun rise anywhere equals sunlight creeping in through the window when you’ve been pulling an all-nighter.

Sunrise is that moment your desk lamp, which was on the entire night, suddenly faces an existential crisis. And because you have spent the entire night with this lamp, you are inevitably connected to it, and you sympathize with its feeling of lack of purpose, so you take a break from work to complete a gargantuan task for the lamp – you turn it off.

And all is right with the world for the lamp again.

That experience is nowhere near magical. And unfortunately I had come to associate sunrise with cramming and the dysfunctional sensory functions that come with it.

Photo by the security guard with mad photography skills.

Oddly, I’ve had several trips which included plans to catch the sun rise. Operative word “plans” because they would remain just that.

The spontaneous trip to Tagaytay on New Year ’s Day of 2013 was mainly to watch the first sun of the year rise, but we got there too late.

The first few minutes of our second day in Baler was supposed to be spent admiring the sunrise with the rock formations in Ampere Beach as the foreground, but we were out late the night before, so we consequently woke up late.

Then, there’s the famous Angkor Wat sunrise that we didn’t see, well, because we woke up late  it was rainy season in Cambodia when we went.

Borobudur, sunrise, and Mount Merapi. 

So before the trip to Indonesia, my only successful attempt at catching the sun rise was the one in Kiltepan in Sagada. That one was special, not because of the sun, but because of the sea of clouds that we otherwise would have missed if got there after the sun rose. (Here, one may argue that in that experience, the sun and clouds, do go together. Sure. I guess.

Was I disappointed with all the sunrise plans not panning out?

Well, now that I’ve taken a break from Clash of Clans to actually sit down and ponder on sunrises, I realize that my attitude towards sunrise was apathy mixed with lack of understanding (yes, those two can co-exist) of why people fuss over something so fleeting but is sure, as sure as the sea will continue to rush to the shore (name this song?), to occur the day after, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that … So, my alter-ego must have been sabotaging all those plans all along.

Then, April 19 happened – a Black Saturday.

That’s when my un-affair with sunrise ended.

The temple balustrades are decorated with Buddha statues inside niches. Photo by Marie Lois Begonia C. Lazarte




The actual body of the post which is of reasonable length that finally, finally, talks about the Borobudur Sunrise experience

I dragged myself out of bed a little before 3:00 a.m. to travel from Yogyakarta to Magelang to watch the sun rise from the Borobudur Temple.

Was I excited that I was finally going to see the temple I learned about in a high school history class? No. I was just tired and worried.

The day before, I found out that both my and Jeff’s ATM cards were worthless in Indonesia. We didn’t know that we had to have them enabled for international withdrawal (no pun intended), and we were worried because the cash we had on hand wasn’t enough to fund the Indonesia part of the trip. We had just come from Kuala Lumpur, and our plan all along was to get money from an ATM in Indonesia. So, the night before the trip to Borobudur, I had been anxiously trying to sort things out that I ended up with only  two hours of sleep.

The main dome at the center of the temple. Photo by the security guard with mad photography skills.


The main dome and square-holed stupas. 
During the car ride from Yogyakarta to Magelang, my brain was alternating between “Meh … Hakuna Matata” and “WTF!”

That “WTF!” just got more persistent when we got to Mahonara Hotel where we had to shell out IDR 380,000 (about PhP 1,5000) each for the entrance fee.


Climbing up on stupas is prohibited. This girl, who was being shot for a video (I think) by her companion, was asked to step down by a security guard shortly after this photo was taken.

I was still in that “Meh-WTF!” state when we climbed up the steps of the temple. When my brain wasn’t busy cussing, it was actually able to appreciate how dramatic it all was. We had walked a few meters from Mahonara and had reached the top platform of the temple, yet we had not properly seen Borobudur.

That experience was very much like being in a cinema when everyone waits for the movie to start. The east was the silver screen, the sun was the movie star, and everyone was waiting for the curtains to open.

Everyone had their cameras and phones aimed to the east, and ready to capture.


A rhombus-holed stupa. 

Just as some people had started leaving their chosen vantage points to loiter around the temple in search of other photo-worthy spots, the sun gradually started peeking from behind Mount Merapi.

I don’t know if it was me or time that was different that day.

But unlike other sunrises, this one was not too quick. This sun lingered around Mount Merapi as if it was aware that we had all made the effort to wake up extra early that day and had paid IDR 380,000 just to see it rise.

Buddha statue inside a stupa. They say there’s this one particular statue that you should touch to make a wish come true.



A few more paragraphs that I’m passing off as conclusion

If the sun – which is what we paid extra for- had not shown up that day, I wouldn’t exactly complain. The break of daylight in Borobudur, with or without the sun, was magical.

So magical that it made me look back into all the other sunrises I missed.

So magical that, momentarily, my cash-shortage anxiety went away.

There was just me and this ancient ball of light, and well, the herd of other tourists. And everything was right in the universe.


Travel Notes:


  • You can reach Yogyakarta through the Adisucipto International Airport. The airport charges a IDR 100,000 terminal fee. As of writing, there are no direct trips to Yogyakarta from Manila, so we took the Manila- Kuala Lumpur- Yogkakarta route.
  • Alternatively, from Manila, you can fly to Jakarta then travel by land to Yogyakarta. That’s how Kurtzky, who kindly answered all my pre-trip questions, did it. Check out his posts on other interesting areas near Yogyakarta to explore.
  • Borobudur Temple is about 40 minutes away by car from Yogyakarta City.
  • Our 12-hour Yogyakarta tour, which we arranged with Andelis Homestay, cost us IDR 450,000 (a little higher than the regular rate since our tour started at 3:00 a.m) plus IDR 50,000 for every additional hour.

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