Photographing Sunrise at Angkor Wat: Is It Worth It?

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One of the ASEAN area's most captivating UNESCO world heritage sites is Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat is not only the gem of Cambodia, but it's also the largest religious monument in the world. One of the most enchanting experiences is waking up early to photograph the sunrise in front of the main temple of Angkor Wat.

Getting up for sunrise at Angkor Wat is a bucket list item for any visitor to Cambodia, but is waking up at 4am worth it? Here's everything you need to know.

The Game Plan

The gates at Angkor Wat officially open at 5am, but in my experience, they open just a few minutes earlier. To make it there in time for sunrise, you don't have to be there as the gates open, however, to get a decent spot for photographing you will need to be there 30 minutes before the gates open. This means if your hotel is in town (near the Pub Street area), you will be leaving your hotel around 4am! 

An early wake-up can be taxing on a jet-lagged body, and fighting crowds can make almost any experience less than desirable. But, those sunrise Angkor Wat photos can definitely be worth it, if you do it the right way. 

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Day Before Preparation

Getting a Ticket

First things first, you will need a ticket to enter the Angkor area and Angkor Wat. To save time, get your ticket the day before. I recommend the 3-day ticket because there is so much to see. The process to get a ticket can be time consuming depending on the time of day and the time of year, so be sure to block out enough time to stand in line for a little while.

The ticket office is open 5am-5:30pm, daily. Ticket prices are as follows:

1 Day Pass– $37 USD

3 Day Pass– $62 USD (Must be used within 7 days)

7 Day Pass– $72 USD (Must be used within 1 month)

Organizing & Gear

Being one of the first to arrive to Angkor Wat is key. Arrange a tuk-tuk the night before with your hotel or a local driver (you can find many tuk-tuks in town, but your hotel may have the best recommendation). Your driver will most likely bring a cooler with cold towels and water, but you will want to be sure this is included because once the sun comes up it will be very hot (over 100 degrees hot)!

For photographing sunrise at Angkor Wat, it's going to be best to bring a tripod. If you have a wide angle lens, you will want to bring that as well. I recommend to set up all of your gear the night before. My set-up was a Sony A7sii, with a tripod and a 16-35mm lens. 

Once You Arrive

Once you arrive you will have to walk in the dark towards the entrance. Be sure that you have your driver's number or a place to meet him after. Once it gets busy, he may be hard to find. 

Getting in front of the crowd is key. This is the best spot to set up your tripod. 

Getting in front of the crowd is key. This is the best spot to set up your tripod. 

Where to Stand

Even if you are the first one in the gate you need to hustle, as there will be a group on your heels trying to catch up to take the prime viewing spots. Once you enter Angkor Wat, you will walk down the long bridge. Take a left onto the grass just before the pond. You will want to set up your tripod and claim your spot at the first area you see that has a bare piece of ground. For a perfect photo, head towards the left corner in front of the pond. The key is to find a place that's as forward as possible to prevent other bystanders from moving in front of your camera, while still getting the reflection from the pond in the photo. 

Pro Tips:

  • It will take a little while after sunrise to see the sun peak above Angkor Wat. Remain patient, it's worth it.
  • There will be plenty of women selling coffee to keep you caffeinated and awake. You don't have to lose your spot as they will come to you to take your order and gladly deliver it to you. 

Is It Worth It?

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If you can manage getting up early enough to beat the crowd, it's definitely worth the experience. When I was editing one of my sunrise photos of Angkor Wat, someone asked me why I would bother to post something that there are a million photos of online. I normally would agree, because I try to make my photos as unique as possible, but experiencing the sunrise at Angkor Wat is extremely special.

However, there are alternative options for less crowds and more unique angles.

The Alternatives

If you can't deal with crowds, there are a few other sunrise temples

If you can't deal with crowds, there are a few other sunrise temples

Ditching the Crowds

If crowds aren't your thing, I would recommend visiting another temple for sunrise in the Angkor Archaeological Park, such as Phnom Bakheng, or Pre Rup, which also open at 5am. This will also give you a more unique sunrise photo.

The little-known back entrance to Angkor Wat

Getting a Unique Perspective

If you don't want to completely miss out on the token Angkor Wat photo, the other option is to visit the backside of Angkor Wat. Few tourists realize there is a back entrance, which is mainly used by locals. There are a ton of beautiful areas to photograph in the early morning light within the temple.

Since most photographers and travelers wait by the pond, there won't be too many people around. This is also a great spot for when the sun is going down at the end of the day.

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Getting up for the good light in the morning is almost always worth it. No matter what temple you decide to visit, I would definitely recommend getting up for at least one sunrise on your visit to Angkor Wat. 

During my most recent trip to Cambodia I was visiting to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the ASEAN alliance. ASEAN consists of 10 separate countries in the South Eastern region of Asia, including both countries I explored, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Each country in the ASEAN region is unique and exciting, and definitely worth a visit! It is quick and easy to travel between all of these unique destinations once you make it to one. Visit this link for a list of festivals going on during the 50th anniversary year in the ASEAN regions.

Check out my adventures from this same trip, where I also visited Vietnam.

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Finding Authentic Thai Food In The US

Asia’s Best Cuisine

In the darkness, on a boat in the middle of the secluded Sekyoner River in Indonesia, I am asked by a fellow traveler what Asian country has the best food. “Thailand, hands down. It’s the best”, I blurt out before remembering the company I am in. I am with local Indonesian guides and members of the Indonesian tourism board in Indonesia. Oops. “Indonesia has the nicest people” I quickly say, trying my best to recover from speaking without thinking. It’s too late, my big mouth has already spoken the truth about Asian cuisine, and no one has bothered to argue otherwise.

Image Courtesy of Border Free Travels

Image Courtesy of Border Free Travels

Underwhelmed By American Thai Restaurants 

Thai cuisine has long been the gold standard for Asian cuisine. Something about it awakens all of the senses, and pleases the tastebuds. I love traveling to Thailand for the culture and the people, but nothing lures me to book a ticket back to Thailand quite as strongly as the food. 

When I am home in Los Angeles, I order in Thai food once a week, as I’m constantly craving the delectable flavors of one of my favorite destinations. Over the years it has taken some trial and error to find authentic restaurants that serve up the same mouthwatering dishes that I am accustomed to eating while traveling throughout Thailand. After you’ve tried the real thing, there is no going back. My craving for authentic Thai food in the US has left me underwhelmed more often than not, due to the plethora of inauthentic Thai restaurants.

How to Find Authenticity

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Authenticity is the key to a delicious Thai meal in the states. Often in the US, traditional Thai foods become Americanized. Flavors are lost, ingredients are substituted and quality is sacrificed. This means more often than not, Americans are dining on inauthentic, water-downed versions of once delicious Thai meals. As a frequent traveler, I have gained the ability to pick up on authentic dishes, but not without trial and error.

Thankfully, there is now a much better way to learn the authenticity of Thai restaurants before you walk in and spend your money. The Thai Trade Center New York and the Royal Thai Government have teamed up to judge and award restaurants with the Thai Select Certificate.  Thai Select is a rating system for authenticity, (not completely unlike Michelin or Zagat), designed to help food-lovers find delicious and authentic Thai restaurants. 

According to the press release issued by TTC:

“The Thai Select certificate is designed to be the official acknowledgement that identifies a restaurant as properly using the correct ingredients in their dishes with no substitutes, preparing the food in the traditional Thai style of cooking and overall taste.”

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Thai Select Ratings & Eligibility

Restaurants are graded on a 5 star scale. Restaurants scoring 85% or higher receive 5 stars, while 3-4 stars are awarded to restaurants with a 75-84% score based on the authenticity of cooking methods, and ingredients, as well as the percentage of authentic dishes on the menu.

According to the Thai Select website, for eligibility, restaurants must meet the following criteria:

  • The restaurant must have been in operation at least six months prior to the date of application
  • At least 60 percent of dishes offered on the menu must be authentic Thai cuisine and the cooking methods must be the same or very similar to those in Thailand
  • Head chefs may be either Thai or other nationalities, and in case of non-Thai head chefs, the chefs must produce proof of at least a 2-year experience in cooking Thai food or possess a Thai cuisine training certificate from an accredited institution

Using Thai Select to locate a restaurant near you is easy, as you are able to search by state. As a traveler that strives for authenticity, I think that this is an excellent tool to not only help travelers relive memories of their favorite dishes while visiting Thailand, but also an excellent way to introduce foodie to the Thai culture in an authentic manner. 

Now, if only there were a rating system like Thai Select for all other ethnic cuisine in the US.


This post and video were created in partnership with Thai Select. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Read Next: This Bangkok Bucket List Will Take You Off-The-Beaten-Path


Vietnam: 10 Experiences to Have in Phu Quoc

Currently it's the 50th Anniversary of the ASEAN alliance. ASEAN consists of 10 separate countries in the South Eastern region of Asia. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, I recently visited Vietnam and Cambodia.

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While most western travelers visiting Vietnam beaches head north towards Halong Bay, most of the Vietnamese travelers are heading West of Ho Chi Minh. Just a stone's throw from Cambodia is the island of Phu Quoc. 

Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam and is only a short 40 minute flight from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

What I love about Phu Quoc is ability to get off the beaten path and have experiences without being inundated with bus loads of tourists. 

Here is my list of the top ten things to do in Phu Quoc. 

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10. Visit Sao Beach

Sao beach is busy with restaurants and tourists, but you can easily escape to a more deserted part of the beach. The hook at the north end of the beach has no restaurants and had no one hanging out. The water was crystal clear and the beach soft white sand. The perfect place for Instagram photos!

The arrow shows the best part of Sao beach, with no restaurants ands almost no tourists

The arrow shows the best part of Sao beach, with no restaurants ands almost no tourists

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9. Trung Truc Temple 

Visiting temples in SE Asia, generally means standing in a crowded area with tourists. Not here! The Trung Truc Temple was one of the most enjoyable temples, because there was almost no one else in sight. The scenery is beautiful, decorated with small ponds filled with lilypads. This temple is unique, because instead of being dedicated to a Buddha, it's dedicated to Nguyễn Trung Trực who was a Vietnamese fisherman and national hero who helped organize a militia to fight against the French colonization of Vietnam in the 1860's.

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8. Visit a Pepper Farm

Phu Quoc is known for the quality of the peppercorns that grow on the island. This unique tourist stop doesn't feel very touristy at all. There are several, but the one I visited was the Hai Dương Pepper Farm. Be sure to taste the peppercorns fresh from the trees!

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7. Island Hopping

Renting a boat from An Thới tiên to island hop is the perfect way to enjoy a day on Phu Quoc. Spend the day fishing for lunch, snorkeling through turquoise waters and soaking up the sun on the top deck of the boat. 

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6. Kayaking

Kayaking on the Cua Can River is a peaceful and memorable experience while visiting Phu Quoc. I did this from the dock at the Phượng vĩ Restaurant

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5. Dinner on the River

After Kayaking at Phượng vĩ Restaurant on the river, stay for dinner. The restaurant's specialty is freshly caught seafood, and the local pepper. I opted for a customized meal of noodles, vegetables and prawns and it was one of the best meals I have had in Vietnam.

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4. Scuba Dive

Scuba diving is one of the most unique ways to experience a destination. If you aren't certified, the clear waters of Phu Quoc make it a perfect place to get acquainted with a discovery dive or get certified!

3. Phu Quoc Night Market

One of my favorite aspects of Asian countries is the tradition of night markets. Although this market is designed for tourists, it's still a great local hangout. The best part is the homemade ice creams made right in front of your eyes!

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2. Bee Farm

I have tasted local honey all over the world, but there had been none as delicious as the honey at the Út Phượng Bee Farm in Phu Quoc. Walking through the picturesque gardens among lychee trees and bee hives was almost as sweet as the honey made here. I'm not one for souvenirs, but a few small jars of honey for my family and myself. 

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1. The Local Market

Duong Dong Market was my favorite part of visiting Phu Quoc, and the best experience for travelers looking to get a taste of local life. This is a market that almost never sees a tourist, which meant that this experience was authentic and unique. Roam the stalls of fresh fish, meat and produce, interact with locals and take a lot of photos!


Where to Stay:

With two infinity pools, the Novotel Phu Quoc is sure to please. The garden bungalows are beautiful, and come equip with a deep soaking tub, perfect for relaxing after a long day exploring the island! 


Visit this link for a list of festivals going on during the 50th anniversary year in the ASEAN regions.

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48 Hour Guide: Summer Adventure in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe boasts some of the most exciting winter activities in the US. With the stunning views of Lake Tahoe from the top of Heavenly, to the steep slopes at Kirkwood, adventures are a given in the winter. What most travelers don’t realize is that summer in Lake Tahoe can be just as exciting, and is possibly even more beautiful than a Tahoe winter.

I recently spent a weekend exploring all of the summer adventures that the Lake Tahoe area had to offer. 

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Getting to South Lake Tahoe:

Although San Francisco is the nearest major airport, it’s best to fly into the Reno-Tahoe airport. With the opening of the new highway 395, it only takes 45 minutes to get to South Lake Tahoe.

Day 1: 

Get Up For Sunrise

Skip the crowds at other marinas and get out on the water at Camp Richardson. Perfect for paddle-boarding or kayaking. As the sun slowly creeps over the mountains, the lake will reflect the yellow, pink and orange colors in the sky. Without the boats out on the lake, the water is glassy and smooth, perfect for beginner paddle-boarders. Be sure to bring a GoPro or waterproof camera to capture the moment!

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Breakfast at Alpina Cafe

When you get off the lake, you will definitely be ready for breakfast. Head across the street to the Alpina Cafe for bold flavored coffee and delicious oversized breakfast sandwiches.

Adventure & Explore at Kirkwood

Kirkwood is a place to get away from it all and get back in touch with nature. With colorful wild flowers growing over 4 feet tall, and snow still covering the top of the mountain like icing on a cupcake, Kirkwood is stunningly beautiful in the summer.

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Hike, mountain bike, or just hitch a ride on the chairlift to take advantage of the spectacular scenery. My suggestion is time your trip to Kirkwood for the Bikes & Brews festival, filled with talented bands, plenty of food, and of course a ton of local brews! 

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Dinner at the West Shore Grill

Head on over to the West Shore Grill for a beachside dinner and rum runners before the sun goes down.

Summertime Concert

After an epic dinner in South Tahoe, head on over to the Outdoor Arena at Harvey's for a summertime jam. On my visit, Jack Johnson was in town playing two nights. As the sun started to go down, the sky turned bright orange with cotton-candy-colored clouds. The venue was walking distance to the main area of town.

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Day 2: 

Breakfast:

Wake up early and have breakfast at Heaven’s Little Cafe at the base of Heavenly Mountain. This place serves up hearty breakfast burritos to fuel an adventure-packed day, as well as a number of other breakfast treats. 

Gondola Ride and Observation Deck

Hop on the Gondola and head up to the first stop, which is the observation deck. The stunning panoramic views of the sapphire lake below will be hard to walk away from, but you won’t want to spend too much time taking in the views, because epic adventures are waiting!

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Epic Discovery

Epic Discovery is an adventure area atop Heavenly, full of thrilling ropes courses and zip lines courses! This is the best place for thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies to get their fix while zipping through the tree-tops of Heavenly Mountain.

Lunch at Tamarack Lodge

Walking into a ski lodge in the summer feels a little strange at first, but Tamarack Lodge is sure to please. The lodge has so many options, including a killer salad bar. Outside is an area for bands to play and entertain guests while they re-fuel for more ropes courses and zip-lines!

Blue Streak: The Ultimate Zip Line

For the ultimate adrenaline rush, reserve a ride on the Blue Streak zip-line at Heavenly. With top speeds of up to 50mph and 3,300 feet to zip across, this ride definitely gets the blood pumping while giving you a birds-eye-view of Lake Tahoe as you zip by. 

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Dinner by the Lake at Riva

Riva Grill was my favorite restaurant in Lake Tahoe. With views of the lake, beautifully plated meals and a stellar wine list, Riva is sure to please your taste buds. Be sure to snag an outside table and try their multiple versions of rum runners, apparently it’s Tahoe's signature drink, you have to try one!

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Where to Stay

The Marriott Grand Residence in South Lake Tahoe never disappoints. Each room is like a small apartment with a refrigerator, oven, dishwasher and dinette area. Staff is always extremely friendly, and eager to help.
 

3 Essential Travel Items to Pack in Your Carry-On

This is a sponsored post written by me, containing affiliate links. All opinions are 100% my own.

Mastering the art of traveling can take years, and mastering the art of packing can take longer. Packing enough without over packing is an art. Over the years I have packed too much, not enough, and eventually I found a system that works perfectly.

No matter where I am traveling to, there are 3 items that I will never leave home without!

Meal Replacement Bars

I cannot say enough about the importance of traveling with snacks, specifically bars! I always travel with a ziplock bag filled with snack bars for long travel days. My favorite new bar that I discovered at my local Whole Foods earlier this year is the RXBAR.

Travel is unpredictable and things don’t always go according to plan. Recently, I took a roadtrip from Estonia to Latvia, and due to traffic, I arrived much later than anticipated. I searched high and low for a restaurant that was still open when I got in, but no one was serving food (just drinks) and I was starving. McDonald’s was open, but I knew the junk food would just make me feel lousy the next day and leave me unsatisfied. Since I carry RXBARS in my carry-on bag, I was able to have one of those to hold me over until breakfast the next day.

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Carrying snack bars is also useful when I’m starting to get hangry or low energy when exploring a city or on a tour and I can’t step away for a meal. Long flights often have no meals, or less than ideal meals and carrying my own snack bars ensures you always have something healthy and won’t go hungry.

I have tried dozens of meal replacement bars over the years for traveling and RXBAR has quickly become my favorite. The texture of the bar is perfect for traveling. Often, my snack bars are squished between my laptops, cameras and whatever else ends up in my carry-on bag. RXBAR’s don’t crumble, fall apart, or turn into a melted mess. They stay in one piece (even when squished into a bag), and are absolutely delicious.

RXBAR has simple and healthy ingredients, such as egg whites and dates, so you know exactly what is going into your body. As someone who has suffered with health issues in the past, what goes into my body is extremely important. Food is fuel, and healthy meals are the best way to fuel long adventurous travel days and help ward off jet lag.

Portable Charger

Portable chargers are a life-saver! Some planes don’t have a place to charge your phone, and batteries can drain quickly when listening to music and keeping yourself occupied on long haul flights. When you are on the go taking a lot of photos or uploading to social media, phone batteries can also drain quickly.

I always carry a portable charger in my day bag or camera bag. It’s also great for charging my GoPro and global hotspot while on the go. Another reason a portable charger is an essential item is emergencies. Having a smartphone is great for using maps or getting in touch with someone if you have an emergency, but if your battery is dead, it's not going to be any use. As a female solo traveler, I need to I always make sure that my portable charger is fully charged in case I should ever need my phone for emergencies. 

Compact Water Bottle

Everyone knows that water is necessary to survival, but staying well hydrated is also essential for any traveler. Drinking plenty of water can help you power through long days of sight-seeing and it can reduce jet lag. Drinking plenty of water is also important when flying. Did you know during a 10 hour flight, you can lose up to two liters of water due to the dry air onboard?

Standard water bottles can be a pain to carry around, and buying water can add up. Reusable, flat water bottles are the perfect way to save money while traveling, and save yourself the hassle of carrying around an awkward water bottle.  Compact bottles can slip right into a purse or small day bag!

When traveling in Europe and the US you can fill up just about anywhere. If you are traveling to a place with low quality water, I recommend buying one large bottle and keeping it at your hotel or Airbnb for refills.

GIVEAWAY!

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I am excited to announce, I have teamed up with one of favorite brands, RXBAR, for an incredible giveaway! This giveaway is complete with some of my favorite travel necessities including a box of RXBARS, a polaroid instax camera, a portable charger, compact water bottle, as well as an amazing coffee table book and more!

Entering is easy, just follow these simple steps:

  • Follow @rxbar and @trustedtravelgirl on instagram
  • Head to my instagram @trustedtravelgirl and look for the post of showing the travel items in this giveaway, and comment below the instagram post
  • Bonus entries if you tag friends in the comments below the instagram post!

Winner will be chosen at random. To be eligible, you must live in the United States. (Apologies to any international followers, some countries will not allow food products to be shipped!)