Borobudur, Indonesia

Borobudur vs Angkor Wat: Battle of the Great Temples

As a child grew up in Indonesia, I learned that Borobudur was one of the Seven Wonders of the World [1]. I always thought this as a fact. Only many years later, after I left the country and learned about more awesome things in the world, that I found out that, oh wait… most people outside Indonesia never even heard of Borobudur!

The shock. The realization! The national treasure is apparently just one of the many treasures of the world, and a mild one at that.

Moreover, these days after the restoration of Angkor Wat in Cambodia — mainly finished in the late 90s and early 2000s, it has become the more popular destination for people going for the Great Temple in South East Asia region. Angkor Wat stole the spotlight as a “newer” bigger temple, while Borobudur sank into modest obscurity.

In year 2007, just a year after Siem Reap opened its international airport (Siem Reap being the city where Angkor Wat is, and before the international airport opened, people had to go to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh and continued by bus — a long and inconvenient journey), I went there for a few days from Singapore — my country of residence at the time.

Surely I found Siem Reap to be amazing! Angkor Wat is a giant temple, but not just that, the whole complex is a city of temples. It took us 3 days to explore the temples, and that wasn’t even all of them. We missed the far ones.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Giant tree, Angkor Thom

Giant tree, Angkor Thom

tree supporting Angkor Thom

Temple and tree support each other and become inseparable

Bayon, Angkor Thom

Bayon, Angkor Thom

Going all Tomb Rider in Angkor Thom

Lots of opportunities to go all Tomb Rider

Crowd at Angkor Wat

Though prepare for a crowd at certain temples at certain time. Look at all those people. You’d think there’s gold at the top!

After that visit to Angkor, I was curious to revisit Borobudur. Siem Reap and Angkor was thriving, the city was rising. The crowd of people proved that. At the time I had only visited Borobudur once as a child, and remembered it as being majestic. Whatever happens to Borobudur? Is it still the Great Temple I knew it to be?

I got the chance to go a year after that.

Borobudur is located in Central Java near the city of Jogjakarta, and you do need to make an effort to go there. Indonesia is not the easiest country to travel around in. Apart from Bali, to go to most cities you need to fly via Jakarta, the capital.

It was early morning when we went. The air was chilly and there weren’t many people.

the road to Borobudur

the road to Borobudur

Borobudur, Indonesia

Sorry I don’t have a better wide picture. I had a stomach ache caused by food poisoning — I always get food poisoning after spending 2 weeks in Indonesia, it was hard to even stand.

Borobudur, Indonesia

There’s Buddha in each stupa

Stupas at Borobudur

Stupas everywhere

touching the Buddha statue at Borobudur

As a child I believe that your wish would come true if you could touch the Buddha statue through those stupa holes. (I still couldn’t do it!)

It surprised me to find Borobudur to be much smaller than what I remembered, especially after I went to Angkor city. You can easily explore the temple in a couple of hours (me and my stomach ache, ouch).

There’s a tinge of sadness to find your Wonder of the World to be less wondrous than what you believed it to be for a long time. This used to be THE Temple. People move on so fast.

contemplating at Borobudur

But there was tranquility in that quietness. Borobudur is still majestic in its own way. The hundreds of stupas and Buddha statues against the backdrop of the sky and the sun has not changed. The temple has stood there since the 9th century and has continued to be around. In its discovery in 1800s people were so fascinated by it that a lot of parts were looted. You can find a couple of the Buddha’s heads in British museum (I saw them).

When you go to South East Asia region, and think to visit Angkor Wat, deservedly, hope you also make a little detour to go to this corner of Indonesia. Borobudur is listed as UNESCO World Heritage, as well as Prambanan Temples which is not far from Borobudur. The temples are listed as separate listing, so you get to tick off two sites off your list :) [2]


[1] The fixed list of Seven Wonders of the World is really Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, of which only the Pyramid of Giza has remained to this day. They are: Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (also known as the Mausoleum of Mausolus), Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The New Seven Wonders of the World is no fixed list and remains to (fun) debates and discussions to this day.

 [2] Angkor is also listed as UNESCO World Heritage (1992)

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The Traveling Reader
I left home when I was 17 and never stop exploring the world since. Most days I'm a digital technician at one of the London's biggest visual effects studio. My alternate persona writes and travels and dreams of doing these as a living. I alternately call myself Indonesian or Australian whichever is more beneficial at the time, and I've been a Londoner since 2011.