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.
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.
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.
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.