Angkor Wat at Sunrise: Worth It?

I am not an early riser. Well, that’s not strictly true. Back home I wake up at 5:30 daily for work and don’t complain about it (Starbucks fuels me), but when traveling, I like my sleep. So, when the alarm went off at 4:30 and I’d only slept for two hours thanks to random tummy pain, I was not super psyched for the day.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

After a quick shower and change we were off to meet our tuk-tuk driver. Soaring down the darkened streets of Siem Reap I really wished that I’d packed a sweater. Hint: just because it’s 30 degrees Celsius during the day does NOT mean it’s toasty in the morning. Regardless, there was a sense of adventure in the air.

We were off to Angkor! After years of dreaming of this epic ruined temple, today we were finally going to see it. Not only were we going to see it, we were also going to be among the few who woke up early to take the sunrise photo.



Angkor Wat at sunrise

Few is not how I would describe the scene that unfolded. Despite getting to Angkor at the ass-crack of dawn, as we used our flashlight to find our way, we could hear the clicking and flashing of test-shots. It is fair to say that the first five rows of pond-side prime photography spots were taken. Ten rows would be more likely. Shoulders hunched and lacking enough caffeine to be optimistic, we edged around the side of the pond and set up the tripod. It’s fine, we told ourselves. We can still get an epic shot from here.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Except that you’re only at the front of the crowd until the next person stands in front of you. And then the next. Dominoes. Abandoning the tripod, we wandered and took shots, trying to keep the camera still while letting in as much light as possible.

By the time the first light broke, I kid you not there were over one thousand people crowded around to take the “perfect shot”. Honestly, it was like a rock concert.

Was it worth it? Urgh. In my humble opinion, unless you’re a really great photographer (don’t kid yourself if you’re not) and you’re willing to be waiting at Angkor for the gates to open, I wouldn’t bother.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Does that mean sunrise isn’t worth it? Why of course not. Sunrise is the best time to go for all the amateur-intermediate photographers. What I’d do differently, were I to do it again, would be to pick the temple (besides Angkor Wat) I’m most excited about seeing and be there for 6:30-7:00 a.m. Imagine getting a temple all to yourself while all the other suckers are at the Angkor Wat pond. That’s what I imagine would be pure magic.

All in all, David got some pretty decent photos so we made the most of the rock crowd.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

For those of you willing to brave it, here’s my advice:

  • Pack a breakfast. Anything you get on-site is pretty gross and grossly overpriced.
  • Water for the day. Lots of water.
  • Bring a flashlight. It’s seriously dark before dawn and the path is uneven.
  • Dress in layers. Freezing in the morning. Toasty mid-day.
  • Apply sunscreen early. Why early? You’ll be too busy staring at the beauty of the temples that you’ll forget about it.
  • Buy your pass the day before. If you’re going for multiple days, buy your pass the night before, then you get to bypass this line in the a.m.

Have you braved Angkor Wat at sunrise? What did you think?

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