How To Get The Perfect Angkor Wat Sunrise Photo

We woke up before the sun and stumbled out the front of our hotel to find our tuk tuk driver from yesterday waiting patiently for us. It was about 4:30am when we left Siem Reap, and there were already tuk tuks full of tourists on the road heading towards the exact same place that we were. The sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of those incredible experiences that’s on everyone’s Southeast Asia bucket list, and it’s not had to understand why. Watching the day begin at one of the most ancient and significant places in Cambodia was a very special way to start the day.

You’re probably expecting a very tranquil environment when you arrive at Angkor Wat. You and a few others, spread out around the lake, with no one getting in your way and endless opportunities to really set up your camera settings.  And then, as the sun rises you can simply take in the beauty, enjoy the moment and capture the beautiful colours of the sky for yourself. Does that sound about right?

Well, think again my friend. In reality we arrived at Angkor Wat at the same time as about 600 other people (it felt like anyway). Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off out the front and told us that he’d be back to pick us up in about 4 hours, because he was going to drop his son off at school. No problem, we said, see you then, enjoy your morning with your family! We had our tickets checked at the gate and then we made our way across the floating bridge in the pitch black of the morning, with only a few iPhone torches lighting up some of the way.

When we arrived at the lake we were certainly no where near the first people there. And this was still more than an HOUR before the sun was set to rise. The crowd around the lake was probably already about 4-5 people deep, and as we looked back towards the bridge you could still see hundreds of people walking towards you. Quite simply, the crowds that flock to Angkor Wat to experience the sunrise are MASSIVE. Much bigger than I expected, especially if this is happening every single day. I was absolutely starving and knew I wouldn’t make it all the way to the sunrise standing up without feeling sick, so instead of securing our spot, we made our way over to the food stalls to sit down and grab something to eat while we waited instead. We found a good spot to people watch and still get a nice view of Angkor Wat as we were waiting for the sunrise to begin changing the colours in the sky.

By the time the sun was rising there would have been hundreds, if not thousands of people there. Thom decided to experience the sunrise from a distance and stay at our table – which still did have a lovely view of the iconic sunrise, and I made my way into the crowd and tried to edge my way as close to the front as I could to get some photos. It was difficult I will say, maybe because I’m not as pushy as I could be, but I slipped into any opening I saw and eventually made my way to the front of the pack, with only seated people in front of me to get a chance to photograph the iconic sunset.

Some Etiquette To Remember When Taking Photos in Crowds

I will just go on one tiny rant to talk about tourist photo etiquette – particularly at Angkor Wat. Obviously everyone is here for the same reason. We are all trying to take the perfect picture of one of the most famous sunrises in the world. It’s easy to get caught up in your own photos and not think about the people around you. And again, obviously those who are standing a couple of rows or more back from the front will probably need to raise their phone or camera into the air in order to get a shot without other people or devices in it. Fine, that’s completely understandable.

But please, for the love of God, TAKE DOWN YOUR iPADS AND SELFIE STICKS.

I’m sorry, but if you’re taking photos with an iPad, you’re just an asshole. You’re blocking everyone from not only getting a photo, but seeing anything at all. iPad’s do not have some superior photo quality that makes your photos any better, in fact, in most cases your phones will take a much better quality picture – but they will get in the way of everyone around you and prevent them from even seeing the sunrise at all. And the same with selfie sticks. Using a selfie stick to push your way in front of the two or three people standing in front of you is just plain rude and extremely annoying. Especially because unless you have the hands of a surgeon, that selfie stick is going to be wobbling all over the place and knocking everyone in front of you. RUDE.

Think about the people around you and behave in the way that you expect others to. If you’re not taking photos right in that moment, don’t leave your camera in the air. Give the people behind you a chance to get the perfect shot as well. Remember, a sunrise isn’t going anywhere – it’s not like spotting a baby lion on safari that could be gone at a moment’s notice. It takes a long time to change and evolve as the sun comes up, so give everyone the opportunity to get their perfect shot.

Once you’re done, and you’re not even looking at the sunrise anymore, move away from the crowd. I had a group of people just stand in front of me and have a complete catch up about their travels without looking back at the sunrise once after they had gotten their photos. Umm, excuse me, there’s like a thousand people here. Take your conversation away from the main crowd, and let others continue to fight for the perfect shot.

Anyway, rant over. It was definitely worth getting up at 4am to witness this incredible sunrise. The sky in Angkor is incredible as the sun gets higher and the colours change across the horizon. Before the sun has even completely risen the crowds start to disperse, with some people heading into the temple grounds, and others heading back to Siem Reap for breakfast. We headed in to Angkor Wat to line up nice and early for the Bakan Sanctuary.

The Bakan Sanctuary opens at 7:30am and offers visitors the chance to climb up into one of Angkor Wat’s tallest towers and check out the spectacular view from the top. There is a limit to the number of people that can visit the top at any time, so you will need to join the line if you want to visit. Lining up right after the sunrise, we only had to wait for about 45 minutes to get to the top.

It was definitely an ideal time to visit as the line was relatively short, and to reduce the amount of time you spend standing in line it’s a good idea to head straight for the Bakan Sanctuary as soon as you’re done watching the sunrise. Plus looking over Angkor Wat when everything is sun drenched and golden in the morning is just beautiful. There is very little shade in Angkor Wat around midday, so this is also a good way to beat standing in line in the heat of the hottest part of the day. When we visited Angkor Wat the day before, the line had literally been 3 hours long in the heat – so it’s a good idea to plan this part of your visit carefully.

Read more: Exploring the Temples of Angkor

We did finally get our tranquil moment at Angkor Wat though. As we were leaving, at around 9 in the morning, the pond out the front, where a thousand people had been standing a few hours earlier was almost completely deserted. The sun was still rising, the world was still golden and glowing, and we finally got our perfect moment at Angkor Wat. While it was nice to see the sunrise over this iconic temple, our favourite moment was definitely this quiet peaceful moment, once the crowds had disappeared and we had a beautiful view all to ourselves.

Read more about our adventures through Cambodia here. For more travel tips and to keep up to date with our adventures make sure you subscribe to our newsletter today!

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Emma Shaw

Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started A Make Believe World to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

2 Comments

  1. April 4, 2018 / 4:10 pm

    Very useful blog post, thanks for sharing. Also love your colourful outfit!

    • April 5, 2018 / 8:18 am

      Thanks so much Anna! I just bought those colourful pants from the Angkor Ticket Centre for about $5! 🙂

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