Cambodia

A Magical Sunrise in SE Asia: Angkor Wat at Dawn

TIPS FOR SUNRISE AT ANGKOR WAT IN CAMBODIA

Admittedly, sunrise at Angkor Wat was the main reason I was interested in visiting Cambodia.

I knew there was more to the country, and even Siem Reap, than a beautiful sunrise over an ancient temple, but still, seeing a gorgeous sunrise was the number one priority during my time in Siem Reap.

So much so that I even considered going both mornings I had in Siem Reap to ensure I didn’t miss an available opportunity.

In the end, I decided to only go one day and hoped for the best. The week I visited in early April was rain free with clear skies, so I felt good about my chances.

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I’d long dreamed of sitting in front of Angkor Wat, watching the sun peak its way over the top of the temple spikes for so long. When the moment came, it was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

If Siem Reap is on your ‘must do’ travel list, these are my top tips for sunrise at Angkor Wat. Visiting this exceptional piece of history at the break of dawn was nothing short of incredible. 

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7 Planning Tips for Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Buy your ticket the day before: The most important item on this list- buy your ticket in advance.

Before you visit the temples, you need to head to the ticket office- a ~20 minute drive from Angkor, to buy a 1-day, 3-day or 7-day ticket pass. The office opens at 5 am each day.

Read: By the time you’d get there, wait for a ticket, and get to Angkor Wat, you’d miss the best part of sunrise.

If you can’t go the day before and are limited on time in Siem Reap, see if a tour guide or your hotel can purchase for you. Regulations on this are pretty strict- I was asked for my passport as part of buying, but I’ve heard there are sometimes ways around buying in-person if you’re with a registered tour provider.

In my case, I bought a 3-day ticket since I wanted to go to the temples on two days. The first day, I went to the ticket office early, and then headed to Angkor to explore some of the temples further back in the complex while the sunrise crowd meandered Angkor Wat.

On my second day in Angkor, I went for sunrise and then went to see a few other temples before heading back to my hotel.

I didn’t have a third day to spend, but even if I did, I don’t think I would have opted to do so, instead of staying in Siem Reap. I visited in April, which meant it was insanely hot, humid and sunny. After a few hours in the sun on two mornings, I wasn’t interested in heading back for a third go.

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Book your Tuk Tuk Ahead of Time: You can either find a driver recommendation on TripAdvisor forums or ask your hotel to recommend someone. I had a list of which temples I wanted to see each day, and asked my hotel to recommend a driver.

Reserving a driver at least a half day in advance of going to see sunrise is critical as you’ll be leaving early in the morning, and don’t want to chance finding one in the streets.

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Time Your Sunrise Right: After your tickets and tuk tuk driver, the most important thing you need to do is time your visit right. Look up the time of sunrise, in my case it was 6:21 am.

I’d heard the best time to actually be at Angkor Wat was 15-25 minutes before sunrise, when the sun’s light first touches the sky. When this happens, you’re more likely to see shades of pink, purple and even blue.

The gates to Angkor Wat open at 5 am, and I wanted to be there for opening. My hotel was about ~20-30 minutes from Angkor Wat, so I asked for my tuk tuk driver to pick me up at 4:30 am.

Once your tickets are checked, you need to walk across a pond, and then through the first temple before crossing the yard in front of Angkor Wat. By the time I was in and settled, it was already 5:20 am.

So, in actuality, I only waited about 15-20 minutes for the sky to start putting on a morning show.

Worth the early wake up.

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Pick the Right Spot for Sunrise: If you’re standing directly in front of Angkor Wat, I chose a space on the right side in the middle of the pond- perfect for that famous reflection shot.

I’ve heard views from the left side are also good, and in some spaces, give a good view of all five towers.

The best advice I can offer, which I received from a guide, is that it depends on time of year. If it’s the dry season, the ponds may only have partial water and thus, one side may be way better than the other for a reflection shot.

When you walk into Angkor Wat, you’ll be closest to the right side, so I’d recommend scoping out the view here first. If you’re with another person, perhaps have them save your space and then head over to the left side to see if you think that view is better.

Being early means you’ll have the best pick of front row seats before the crowds descend (usually starting in mass around 5:30/5:40 am).

And, if you come later, please don’t snake your way down to the front and then sit down in front of people who arrived much earlier than you. Get up early or stand in the back.

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Bring the Right Supplies with You: Namely, something to sit on (plastic bags work great, and your hotel can usually provide one), mosquito repellent (necessary for the morning critters), a flashlight (or back-up battery for your phone if you’re planning to use that one), and breakfast.

If you’re staying at a mid-tier to luxe hotel, chances are they’ll offer to pack you a breakfast. Take them up on the offer- even the touristy food stalls at Angkor Wat don’t open until later in the morning.

I shot at Angkor Wat with an iPhone X, which perfect captured what I wanted. If you own a DSLR, don’t forget your tripod.

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Dress Appropriately, Angkor Wat is a Place of Worship: As with temple etiquette pretty much anywhere in SE Asia, clothes should cover your knees and shoulders. You will not be permitted entry if you’re not dressed modestly.

Wait Long Enough to Really See the Sun Rise: Interestingly, a lot of people leave after the sun first peaks over the horizon, which you can usually see through the temple.

Don’t be one of those people. Wait another 15-20 minutes.

You’ll be treated to the sun rising over the temple peaks, washing everything it touches in a soft, morning glow.

Post sunrise, many people head further inside Angkor Wat.
I chose not to do so, and instead, asked my driver to take me to other temples, all of which were almost completely empty at 7:30/8 am.

My route for visiting Angkor had me seeing Angkor Wat on my first day, in the late morning. Yes, it was hot, candidly- almost too hot, but it also meant fewer people were there.

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Finally, the best tip I can really offer is to do what feels right to you.

On the morning I went, my hotel said the sunrise wouldn’t be good and advised I skip the early wake up. They believed clouds from a late night storm would linger in the early morning.

They were wrong.

Sunrise was spectacular, and I would have missed it if I took their advice. Now, if the weather had predicted 100% chance of thunderstorms, I may not have went.

But, seeing sunrise was important to me, so I decided to take a chance and still go. I got lucky, but even if the sunrise isn’t everything you’ve imagined, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a moment ripe with magic.

Is seeing sunrise at Angkor Wat on your bucket list? Would you add anything to these tips for seeing sunrise at Angkor Wat?

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