Borobudur: World’s largest Buddhist temple to get more expensive

(CNN) — Visiting the world’s largest Buddhist temple is about to get expensive.

Borobudur, one of Indonesia’s most popular attractions, will soon be subjected to a massive price hike by government authorities in an effort to “preserve historic and cultural wealth” in the country.
“We agreed to limit the tourist quota to 1,200 people per day at a cost of $100 for foreign tourists and 750,000 rupiah ($71) for domestic tourists,” Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan announced in a post on his official Instagram page on Saturday, June 4. Tourists entering the site currently pay a flat fee of $25 per person.

According to the new rules, foreigners will need to be accompanied by a local guide at all times while visiting Borobudur. There were also plans to introduce electric shuttle buses for tourists to travel around the temple and neighboring vicinities.

“We do this to create new jobs while growing a sense of belonging in this region so that a sense of responsibility for the historical sites can continue to thrive in the future’s younger generation,” Luhut said.

“We are taking these [steps] solely for the sake of preserving the rich history and culture of the archipelago.”

Sunrise over the ancient Borobudur temple in Indonesia's central Java province.

Sunrise over the ancient Borobudur temple in Indonesia’s central Java province.

GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Located near Yogyakarta city in Indonesia’s Central Java province, Borobudur is believed to have been built in the 9th century and has been preserved through several restorations. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and attracted tens of thousands of visitors daily before the pandemic hit.

With nine stacked platforms topped by a grand central dome surrounded by sitting Buddha statues, the temple is a notable example of Javanese Buddhist architecture.

Borobudur is often compared to another sprawling religious site, Angkor Wat. The Cambodian temple complex has a different style and history, but also requires all foreigners to be accompanied by government-licensed guides and periodically raises the prices of tickets for non-Cambodians.

The Indonesian government’s proposed price hike for Borobudur met a swift backlash online.

Stuart McDonald, co-founder of Travelfish, a travel website about Southeast Asia, highlighted that foreign travelers accounted for only a “tiny minority” of Borobudur’s visitors. “The significance of this price hike has come out of the blue and seems somewhat ill considered,” McDonald said.

“Borobudur is a key attraction in Indonesia and frequently cited as a highlight of Java … so one should be wary of overstating the importance of foreign tourists to the financial viability of Borobudur.

“The more important question might be [whether] foreign travelers will reduce their time in Yogyakarta, or remove the city entirely from their travel plans,” he continued. “I would cautiously say yes. The ripple effect could be significant.”

A Buddhist monk takes a picture of Buddha statue at Borobudur temple during celebrations for Vesak Day.

A Buddhist monk takes a picture of Buddha statue at Borobudur temple during celebrations for Vesak Day.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

Even with price hikes that came into effect in 2017, ticket sales at Angkor Wat still saw a massive jump that year — reaching over $100 million and allaying observers’ fears that increased prices would discourage foreigners from visiting the site.

But will Borobudur see the same effect?

Locals working in the vicinity, like Ade Wijasto, doubt it. “The increase in ticket prices will only deter people from visiting Borobudur,” Ade, a tour guide, told CNN, adding that many Borobudur guides had already lost huge amounts of income due to the lack of tourists during the pandemic.

“Many of us are still recovering,” he said. “We thought that the reopening of Borobudur would be good news, but [the government] has only made things worse.”

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