Seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is one of the most recommended and popular things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia. One thing I didn’t realise until it was too late was if you buy your ticket after 5pm the evening before, it’s valid for the next day therefore you can visit at both sunset and sunrise.
Passes to the temple complex are available for 1 day at $20, 3 days at $40 and 7 days at $60. Adam and I were undecided for a while whether to go for the 3 day pass, or the 1 day pass and just focus on the most popular and well known temples.
In the end having done Hampi in India and recently Myson in Vietnam, we agreed we’d had our fix of temple ruins and were happy to go for the 1 day. It was also more agreeable with our budget, though I think 2 or 3 days would have been a perfect amount of time to explore a little further and at a more leisurely pace.
~ The walk up to Angkor Wat after sunrise
Hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day
As soon as you arrive and step off the bus in Siem Reap, tuk tuk drivers will be trying to befriend you to take you to the ruins for a good price. It’s up to you if you want to negotiate a deal here or shop around like we did. We had 5 or so days scheduled in Siem Reap and weren’t yet sure of how many we were looking to spend around Angkor Wat.
The endless supply of tuk tuk drivers around the city of Siem Reap also offer their services for the day but we ended up settling with one of the drivers at our guesthouse, Hak’s House, for 15$.
You see a lot of bicycles for rent around, and I saw a few people struggling on bikes heading for the temples as we were leaving. I would not recommend cycling, Cambodia is HOT, the complex is huge and the temples are all pretty spread out away from each other.
4:00am wake up!
After only a few hours sleep we woke up to meet our driver in the dark and headed out to the Grand Circuit temple complex, about 6km out of Siem Reap. You stop off at the entrance to the complex to buy the appropriate tickets and make your way to the first stop for sunrise, the famous Angkor Wat.
~ Monks at Angkor Wat
I knew it was going to be busy, but I was still surprised at just how many people were up at this time buying tickets. This was supposed to be low season!
You need to hold onto your ticket tightly as it’s required at each temple. As we were heading there, a guy was waving about a ticket and calling out the person’s name on it to see if they could find them. It would suck to have just paid all that money and only make it to one temple!
Photography war at ‘the spot’
All of those photos you may have seen of the magnificent Angkor Wat, will have been taken at the spot just in front of the lily pond. We arrived there just as the sky was beginning to show some light and the place was packed already. We managed to squeeze into a gap just near the edge of the pond but if we’d been a few minutes later we would have been behind the crowd.
~ Angkor Wat at sunrise
As we excitedly waited for the sun to rise, surrounded by smartphones, iPads, selfie sticks and tripods at the ready, we realised people who were still arriving were deciding to move in front and actually stand in the pond area. A fellow English lady next to us kept calling them out to move, which was great for us. A typical Brit, I’m always one for getting annoyed with queue jumpers/people pushing in, but regrettably rarely say anything.
I learnt a thing or two from this lady. At the end of the day we’ve all been waiting there patiently and saying something is only beneficial to those around you/behind you too!
Once the sun was up the lady had had enough and left. This of course didn’t work in our favour and everyone she had been telling to move swiftly got back in place, in the pond, in front of us. Much to all the photographers’ dismay, a guy dressed in bright red had also placed himself at the other end of the pond taking snaps of all the tourists and ruining their shots!
Adam and I had managed to get a few pictures we were happy with but decided not to let the photography war get to us and actually enjoy the sight with our own eyes. The sky didn’t light up quite so incredibly like in so many of the photos I’ve seen, but boy was it something. It might have even topped sunrise at the Taj Mahal…
~ Beautiful interior
Around Angkor Wat
After a quick breakfast at one of the cafes dotted about the complex, next on the list was Angkor Thom – the last capital of the Angkor era. Within Angkor Thom is Bayon, the temple recognisable by the large carved faces. The paths and walkways around this temple are thin and unsteady, which sometimes became a challenge with the amount of tourists there!
~ Bayon, Angkor Thom
Also visited within Angkor Thom were Phimeanakas and Baphuon, the latter being my favourite, a pyramid temple with a large stone walkway up to the steps to explore.
~ Cats at the top of Baphuon, maybe part of the reason it was my favourite
Last but not least on our circuit was the well known Ta Phrom, with jungle roots and tree trunks intertwined with stone structures and much of it having been the set for the Tomb Raider movie.
As we were entering Ta Phrom, there was a sign providing you with two choices, to walk the long way or the short way. Seeing as the hoards of tourists were heading the short way I managed to persuade Adam to go the long way. It paid off as it wasn’t even that long and we managed to get a good part of the temple to ourselves.
~ Ta Phrom
We finished up the day at about 2pm and headed back to Siem Reap before a nap; all those steps, walking and heat made for a tiring but worthwhile day!