When travelers talk about Angkor Wat they always mention watching the sunrise. This is a thing thousands if not millions of people come to do every year at Angkor Wat temple.
Because so many people want to see this, you have to plan ahead of time how you’ll get there and where you will sit to watch the sunrise.
Luckily the tour group we went with provided a “Sunrise” package for an additional $20.00. This included pick up from our hotel and a guided walk in the dark of the jungles to the Temple Complex at 4:00 am in order to get there to stake out the “best seat.” Since you and everyone else wants to the see this sunrise you must get up no later than 4:15 am in order to get through the complex entrance and to Angkor Wat temple.
Our guide had the hookup!!! We met him at 4:00 am in our hotel lobby. Then we drove to an entrance that had no crowds. From here, we walked down the gravel path surrounded by the jungle to Angkor. Walking down the road before the sun rose was actually a highlight of my day. Staring up at the thousands of stars against the blue-black night sky above was very cool.
When we got to Angkor Wat our guide picked up a collapsed cardboard soda box he saw laying next to a souvenir shop’s recycling bin. I was perplexed at first, but when he pointed at our “seat” on the edge of the pool that sits in front of Angkor Wat, he put the box down and said, “sit on this!” This was a smart move that let us sit on the muddy rocks on the very edge of the pool that lays in front of Angkor Wat temple without our butts getting wet or dirty.
We got there early. I’d say only 25% of the people who ended up showing up were there that early in the morning. By my estimate, there were a total of 150-250 people who showed up by sunrise. It was crowded. The “serious” photographers were already there, tripods teetering on the edge of the pool’s mud and rocks.
While we waited in the darkness for the sun to rise we met a very self-sufficient British woman who found her way alone and in the dark to the temple while also losing her guide!!! She was solo-traveling for a week from her home in Penang, Malaysia. She got an opportunity to take a job there from London and she took it. I love it when people pack up their lives and move somewhere new! An adventure! Perhaps that’s why I always find myself moving every 3-4 years.
As the sun got closer to rising, people were crowding around the pool as close as they could without falling in the water. The French photographer to my left used his guidebook as a camera stand and placed it by my foot! You can imagine how careful I was not to move my foot at all. He eventually picked it up.
You will witness a dichotomy while experiencing this particular sunrise. On one side of the pool is Angkor. The largest religious monument in the world, built in the early 12th century. Its presence is breathtaking; as the sun rises its carvings and shape takes on all the colors of the sun. Orange, red, purple, blue. The five peaks are the showpiece and the carvings on the facade are there to be marveled at as well. The water is so still with pink water lilies resting on it, awoken by the occasional ripple from a small fish. Everything seems untouched, as if you have stumbled upon a secret hidden temple at sunrise.
If you turn your gaze from the peaceful sunrise, you will see hundreds of camera flashes going off, one by one at domino pace. One tourist after the other is trying to get “the perfect shot” to slap on their Instagram or place in their portfolio. Every thing is moving and chattering on this side of the pool. No reverence or silence. In that moment on the edge of the pool you are in between both worlds and you choose how you want to enjoy it. Do you choose the right side, the left side, or both?