If you’re planning a trip to Siem Reap, one of the things you are obviously going to want to do is to visit Angkor Wat. It’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the most breathtaking, inspiring places I have ever been.
The big question for your visit now is fighting the famous crowds at sunrise or going for a more relaxed sunset a better choice? In my opinion, the sunrise colors and light of Angkor Wat is better than sunset and makes fighting the morning crowds bearable. I’m not saying sunset isn’t worth it, but if I could only go to one, I would make sure to be there at sunrise.
The reason why I wanted to write this article in the first place is because when I was planning our trip to Cambodia, I had seen in a few blogs and vlogs that sunrise at Angkor Wat is over hyped and not worth the effort.
Having experienced sunrise 2 times and sunset 1 time at Angkor Wat during our trip, I can confidently say that sunrise is well worth the effort. With that said though, going for sunset is well worth it too and there are definitely some pros and cons of going at each time.
After reading through the pros and cons, if you’re ready to take on the sunrise adventure, I’ve also included my top 10 favorite tips below to help you capture that picture perfect sunrise.
Pros and Cons of Sunrise Versus Sunset
- At sunrise, the sun rises right behind Angkor Wat creating otherworldly hues of purple, red, orange, and yellow, like the cover image of this article. It definitely makes for a great reflection shot too!
- You are forced to be at the temple early so you will beat the midday heat and will have more of a chance of getting parts of the temple to yourself.
- It’s a magical experience seeing the first rays of sun light up the temple even if you’re shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.
- You will have other parts of the temple almost completely to yourself if you explore right after sunrise.
- You have to wake up extremely early and get to Angkor Wat when it opens at 5am to give yourself the best chance of getting a spot at the reflection pools.
- It is very very crowded at sunrise especially at the two reflection pools in the front of the temple.
- It is not a very peaceful experience.
- The atmosphere is more relaxed as there are much less people and you don’t have to fight for a spot near the reflecting pools.
- You can sleep in later! Although I would still recommend getting to the temple by 8am to avoid the midday heat and the crowds.
- The sun sets in the front of the temple so you still get to see beautiful sunset rays light up the temple grounds.
- You can still get great photos, while avoiding the crowd.
- The colors and the view are not as magical and surreal as sunrise.
- You will not be able to capture that “postcard” image of Angkor Wat.
- You cannot explore the temple after the sun sets as Angkor Wat closes at sunset.
10 Tips to Capture that Postcard Perfect Angkor Wat Photo at Sunrise
Capturing the perfect shot at Angkor Wat isn’t difficult, but it does take a little bit of planning especially if you want to go for that sunrise shot.
Here are my 10 favorite tips that I wrote down from my sunrise and sunset experiences at Angkor Wat. These tips are more geared towards getting that perfect sunrise photo, but they also apply for sunset too.
1.) Purchase Your Angkor Pass the Day Before
To visit any of the Angkor Temples in the Archaeological Park, which includes Angkor Wat you need to purchase an Angkor Pass. The pass does not include Phnom Kulen National Park, Beng Mealea Temple, and Koh Ker Temple, though. If you can, its best to purchase the pass the day before you go for sunrise. This will save you the headache of waking up even earlier, waiting in line with the crowd, and stressing out if you’ll make it in time.
Angkor Pass Tip: The pass can only be purchased at the official ticket center, which is open from 4:30am to 5:30pm everyday. There are 3 different kinds of passes available depending on how long you will be visiting the temples:
- 1 day pass – $USD 37
- 3 day pass – $USD 62
- 7 day pass – $USD 72
2.) Hire a Tuk Tuk Driver for the Morning or the Day
Out of everything we chose to do while we were in Siem Reap, hiring our Tuk Tuk driver for the sunrise was one of the best decisions we made. Not only did our Tuk Tuk driver make sure we made it to Angkor Wat in time to catch sunrise, but he also recommended what temple we should visit after Angkor Wat to beat the crowds.
We ended up hiring our driver for the day and went from Angkor Wat sunrise to Angkor Thom and Bayon, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and finished the day at Pre Rup for sunset. It was definitely a very memorable day.
We booked our tuk tuk for $30 for the entire day through our hotel. I know that’s a little more expensive than other tuk tuks you can find, but we didn’t want to worry about the reliability of the driver.
3.) Go to Angkor Wat as Early as You Can
As I mentioned already, sunrise is extremely busy. The temple opens at 5am, so try to get here as close to that time as you can. The two reflection pools at Angkor Wat are not that big, so in order to give yourself a chance to get a good spot, you have to get there early.
The way I thought about it is if I was waking up early for sunrise, why not just wake up a little earlier to give myself the best chance of getting a good spot! Hopefully this little thought helps you get up at this crazy hour.
4.) Make Sure You Adhere to the Angkor Temple Dress Code
The dress code for both men and women at the Angkor Temples is that shoulders and knees need to be covered. Of course if you’re a women, you shouldn’t show too much cleavage either. These are very sacred religious sites, so the least we can do as visiting tourists is to follow the basic dress code.
Since it does get pretty hot while you’re exploring the temples, I chose to wear a long dress and had a shawl with me that I could cover my shoulders with. This way, once I was outside of the temple grounds, I could take the shawl off to cool off a little.
5.) The Left Corner of the Left Reflecting Pool has the Clearest Shot of Angkor Wat’s 3 Pillars
It took us two sunrises to finally figure this out, but the left side of the left reflecting pool has the clearest shot of Angkor Wat’s 3 giant pillars. Here’s a picture from Google Maps of where I am talking about.
Sadly for us, during both sunrises we shot from a location where one of the palm trees blocked a pillar. The pictures still turned out very nice, but every time I look at them I still wish we had a found a spot without the palm tree. Lucky for you, you can learn from our mistake and find a spot without a palm tree blocking your view of all three pillars.
6.) Use a Tripod to Shoot at Low ISO with Longer Exposure
There is almost no external light by the reflecting pools, so it is very dark before the sun rises. When the sun starts to rise, though, you will first see an incredible purple, pink hue in the sky. As the sun slowly rises higher and higher you will begin to see the oranges and reds of the sun’s warmth pop out.
During this part of the sunrise, the sun is still behind Angkor Wat so there is still not a lot of light for your camera to capture. The best way to capture the magnificence of this part of the sunrise is to use a tripod at low ISO (ISO 100, 200, etc.) with a longer exposure (1/2 second, 1/4, 1/8, etc.) to compensate for the low light and low ISO.
Shooting this way will make it a lot easier to bring out the colors using an editing program or editing app on your phone once you get back to your hotel.
7.) Set Your Focus on a High Contrast Area or Manually Focus
Going off of tip # 6, your camera might have problems focusing because it is so dark in the early hours. One way to get around this is to find a high contrast area, such as the area close to where the dark temple meets the lighter sky and focus on that area. Your camera should be able to pick this up easier.
Another way, and the way I did it, is to turn the ISO higher, manually focus on the pillars and then lower the ISO back down before shooting. Either way should work.
8.) Stay at the Left Reflecting Pool Until the Sun has Fully Risen
After the sky changes colors as I mentioned in tip #6, it will get lighter out. You will see people start to head into Angkor Wat, but don’t leave the reflecting pool yet. Even though the sun has risen, it hasn’t risen above the temple yet, which is what you want to wait for. If you’re not at the left reflecting pool, now is also a good time to walk over there as it should be less crowded by now.
9.) Once the Sun has Risen Above the Temple Make Your Way to the South and East Side of the Temple
Most people will head directly into the temple right after sunrise, which makes sense. However, what you want to do is to take this opportunity to head over to the south and east side of the temple to get it to yourself! This side of the temple is also being hit by the warm morning light so it makes for some epic photos like these ones we took after watching sunrise.
10.) If You Bring Your Breakfast, Watch Out for the Monkeys!
Many of the hotels will offer to box your breakfast for you to bring on your adventure. This is a really nice touch and we looked forward to our take away breakfast from our hotel every morning we couldn’t eat breakfast there.
Be warned though! There aren’t a lot of places to eat your boxed breakfast in the morning at Angkor Wat, so watch out for the monkeys there! We got our breakfast stolen on more than one occasion. Just look at this guy enjoying our food. While it might be cute to think about, we spent time trying to figure out what to do with this monkey, which we could have been taking pictures!
Overall, I think making it out for sunrise is definitely worth it and for me, I felt it was better than the sunset. It’s not that I didn’t like being at Angkor Wat at sunset, its more that if I could only choose to do one all over again, I would choose sunrise. At sunrise, there really is a sense of anticipation and magic that you don’t get during the sunset.
Yes, there are a bunch of people who go see the sunrise and it can get annoying when you’re fighting for a spot, but it definitely made for a memorable experience. Plus, when you look back on the trip, you’ll probably smile and laugh at yourself for going through so much just for a silly sunrise.
Have you been to Angkor Wat before? If so, did you like sunrise or sunset better?