How to have a stress free sunrise at Angkor Wat: a complete guide.
It has been said that the sunrise over Angkor Wat is the most iconic in the world. We've all seen pictures of the temple's mysterious black towers silhouetted against a fiery sky, perfectly reflected in a pond scattered with waterlilies. What you won't see is the crowd of jostling photographers, elbows and selfie sticks out, desperate to recreate that image. While Angkor Wat is rightfully very near the top of the world's bucket list travel destinations, this also brings the crowds, which somewhat diminishes your serene sunrise experience.
Now don't let this put you off from visiting - we assure you that it is possible to have a stress free sunrise visit to Angkor Wat (we had 2!), you just need to take a few things into consideration. As we said in our complete guide to visiting Angkor Wat: Does Angkor Wat have a dress code? 9 useful tips for visiting Angkor Wat, the first obstacle to a chilled out sunrise experience is the scramble for tickets in the morning.
The most stress free way to buy tickets is in advance online (full info in our complete visitors guide). Otherwise you'll need to go to the official Angkor Park ticket office which is about 10 minutes drive from Siem Reap, and another 10/15 minutes drive to Angkor Wat itself.
In order to know how much time to allow for buying tickets, you need to know the exact time of sunrise at Angkor Wat, which depends on which month you're visiting. When we went in February, the sun came up at about 6:15ish, so we were at the ticket office by 4:40am and in position on the wall outside the temple by 5:20am. However, in summer months, sunrise can be as early as 5:30am, which doesn't give you much time to buy your tickets and get to the temple in time- if you're visiting Angkor Wat in June/July we'd recommend buying your 3 day pass the night before (the ticket office is open until 17:30pm) so you can head straight to the temple in the morning (and get half an hour's more sleep!).
Even if you're only visiting for one day, if you buy your ticket after 16:45 the night before then it will be valid for the following day and you can head straight to the ticket checkpoint outside the complex in the morning. If you absolutely can't get to the ticket office until the day of your visit, make sure you're there as soon after half 4 as possible so you can lurk near the ticket counters, ready to spring into action as soon as they open, or buy your tickets online.
Where to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat -
hint: it's not the most popular place on Instagram!
Understandably, watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is massively popular. It's gorgeous, and in this day of social media, everyone wants to get the perfect snap for their Instagram. This means that you'll want to make a plan in order to avoid the bun fight and enjoy this beautiful experience. Most people head inside Angkor Wat itself to take photographs of a famous reflecting pool, but unless you're there very early then you'll be at the back of an enormous hoard of people resembling the 1990s paparazzi staking out a celebrity, all elbowing and shoving to take that instafamous shot. Stuff that.
For a more relaxed experience (and a better view in our opinion), skip the famous ponds inside, stay outside the temple and grab a seat on the wall bordering the moat, to the left of the bridge. You won't have anyone standing in front of you and you'll have a fabulous panoramic view of the sun coming up behind Angkor Wat, reflecting in the moat. Arriving at 5:15ish, we had the wall pretty much to ourselves as we watched the crowds heading over the bridge and into the temple complex, and by sunrise while that wall was full of people sitting and snapping photos, it was only 1 row deep.
Give yourself more than one chance for the perfect Angkor Wat sunrise.
One of the main reasons why you'll want more than one day allocated for Angkor Wat is to have multiple chances at seeing those famous glorious orange skies behind the black Angkor Wat towers. If you bank everything on one visit and the morning is cloudy then you're out of luck! We had an amazing first day, but day two was much cloudier with far less dramatic skies. If that had been our only Angkor sunrise it would have been very disappointing!
Allowing multiple mornings at Angkor Wat also means that you can experience the sunrise at different places. We spent day one at the moat of Angkor Wat and day two up Phnom Bakheng. While the skies were less dramatic, we had amazing misty views of the jungle coming to life as the sun emerged from behind cloud.
Other beautiful places for sunrise at Angkor Wat:
Phnom Bakheng: We spent our second sunrise at the top of this huge 10th century pyramid temple overlooking the jungle. There were only about 10 of us up there (this temple gets incredibly busy at sunset, with only 300 allowed up it per evening) and it was a lovely serene start to the day. To the right you can make out the distant towers of Angkor Wat deep in the misty jungle, and at around 6am as the skies began to glow, a tremendous rustling wave of sound flooded over the tree canopy - cicadas waking up and greeting the day. It was magical! From our lofty perch we saw hornbills flying above the trees, before walking back down the winding 'elephant track' (thankfully elephant rides are now banned at Angkor Wat) back to find our driver.
Srah Srang (also spelt Srassrang) is a 10th century man made reservoir where you can hang out on the terrace to watch the sunrise colours reflected in the water. While there aren't any temple views here, you can have a far more tranquil experience than over at Angkor Wat surrounded by Naga and lion statues, and the trees that surround the reservoir create some nice reflections. It's also a good place for sunset.
Pre Rup: Another popular sunset spot that also opens its doors (so to speak) in time for sunrise, Pre Rup is an impressive 10th century stepped pyramid temple with the same 5 towers (though in worse condition) as Angkor Wat. The height of the temple gives beautiful sunrise views over the treetops (and to the west you can see Angkor Wat), and the orange colour of the exposed laterite stone used to build the towers glows as the sun comes up.
We hope this helped! Now take a breath and book your Angkor Pass - that bucket list tick is coming your way!
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