Sunrise at Angkor Wat is one of those bucket list experiences you have to have once in your life. Sitting there watching the sunrise just behind the main temple of Angkor Wat was somewhat spiritual for me. It was so incredibly beautiful that I almost wanted to cry. I had dreamed about sitting there to witness that for years and it was happening right in front of my eyes.
There is a lot of thought that should go into your visit to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat because it is such a widely popular experience to have. I’ve completed a complete breakdown of instructions from day before through day of including where to view and what to bring.
BUY YOUR TICKET THE DAY BEFORE.
The ticket off opens at 5am each day. If you choose to buy your ticket the same day you’d like to see the sunrise, you might risk getting a good view. Just like all of the temples, the ticket office is still a drive from Angkor Wat. Don’t risk a good viewing spot, buy your ticket the day before. FYI, tickets are available in 1-day, 3-day and 7-day variations.
BRING A PLASTIC BAG TO SIT ON.
In further preparation for your visit, there are few things you should pack before you leave your hotel. Grab a plastic bag to sit on. The ground will most likely be muddy and you have to wait an hour and a half for the sun to rise. Unless you want to stand or sit on the mud, go to the front desk of your hotel to ask for some plastic. Guaranteed they will be super helpful.
Other things to pack:
A flashlight - it will be pitch black out.
Snacks - if you get hungry easily, pack something for breakfast.
Camera - pretty obvious, right?
GET TO ANGKOR WAT BEFORE 5AM.
The entrance to Angkor Wat opens at 5am even though the sun won’t rise until around 6am. Guaranteed the will be a crowd at the entrance even before 5am. Don’t worry, the area to view the sunrise is a good 700 meters from the spot where they check your ticket.
The crowd is not actually a line so don’t worry about queueing. Remember you still have to walk another 700 meters. Our guide was yelled at by a couple of Asian tourists because they thought the crowd was a line and accused us of cutting. Our guide had the best response to the outraged tourists. Without flinching, he calmly said, “You may go first”. It was hilarious.
Also, keep in mind that depending on where your hotel is, it could take more than 30 minutes to get to Angkor Wat in the morning especially if you take a Tuk Tuk. They are significantly slower than cars.
WALK THROUGH THE EXIT.
After your ticket gets checked, walk down the stairs and across the water on the floating bridge. Just after you walk up the next set of stairs, the traditional path leads you to the left. This is where all of the other tourists will be literally running down. Don’t go that way! Instead just continue walking straight (you may not be able to see the exit sign as it is pitch black outside) through the opening in the wall.
I know that sounds against the rules, but it did not seem that this was something you shouldn’t do. After all, our guide took us this way and said it was completely ok. I wasn’t too trusting of following him at first, but it truly is the best way to get to the best place.
In the photo below, you'll see a rectangle opening just above the second stairs in the center of the photo. That's the exit.
HEAD TO THE LAKE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE WALKWAY.
After walking through the exit, you’ll end up at a water with a view of the temples behind it. The main walkway should be on your left.
There are two lakes in front of the temple with the main walkway in the center of the two. The main pathway leads to the the lake on the left of the path. This is where most of the tourists go. Avoid it if you can. The left lake can have a crowd that is 30 people deep and the right side may be only 10 deep. Also, currently (as of January 2018) the temple tower on the far left has scaffolding in front of it. When you sit on the right side, palm trees will cover the scaffolding.
Fortunately, we were the first at the left lake and were able to set up smack dab in the center of the lake.
The photo below shows the crowd around us at the right lake which was significantly less than the left lake.
IT WILL GET LIGHT ABOUT 30 MINUTES BEFORE SUNRISE.
About 30 mins before the sunrise, it’ll start to get light out. About 10-15 minutes before sunrise is the best time for photographs. The light changes very quickly, so heads up for you photographers, you’ll have to adjusting your settings. Bring a tripod for slow shutter speeds during blue hour or if you’re sitting you can just use your knee like I did.
Depending on the weather the day you go, you can see a rainbow of colors as the sun rising and the light changes. In the earliest stages, the sky will be more of a blue color turning to purples and then to pinks.
If you can help it, mornings with scattered clouds will have the prettiest color sunrises. The clouds not only create interest in the sky but the reflections from the light on the clouds create vibrant colors. You really can't help the weather you'll have just like attempting to see the Northern Lights.
Hope this guide is useful to you to witness one of the best sunrises you'll ever see.
Yours Truly // Shannon