3 Attempts to See the Angkor Wat Sunrise

Dec 6, 2014 - Julie

Seeing the Angkor Wat sunrise is one of the most iconic and popular activities for anyone visiting Angkor Archeological Park. There’s no better way to view the silhouettes of Angkor Wat with a gold/orange/red horizon. It did involve getting up at 4:30am to get in place when it was still completely dark outside – I can’t remember the last time I had to get up at that time. Everyone who visits dreams about getting that perfect Angkor Wat sunrise photo, us included.

3 day pass to Angkor Archaeological Park
3 day pass to Angkor Archaeological Park

Since we bought a 3-day Angkor Archeological Park Pass, we had three opportunities to see the Angkor Wat sunrise. Here is a summary of what happened during those three attempts.

First Attempt

Well, on our first attempt, we didn’t even make it to Angkor Wat. We rented bikes for our first full day of Angkor sightseeing and picked them up a bit before 5am to begin the 7km ride. Just after entering the park and stamping our ticket, I was almost robbed by two men on a motorcycle while riding my bicycle. Police caught and arrested the thieves, but we spent the first three hours of the day at the police station and thus missed the Angkor Wat sunrise. (Feel free to read that story before continuing to read this one.)

There was nothing we could really do about this missed attempt. At least we still had all of our belongings and helped to bring justice to the world. Better luck the next day.

Second Attempt

On our second attempt, we made it to Angkor Wat (yay!), so that was an improvement on the first day at least. We decided to ditch the bikes and hired a tuk-tuk. It was a lot less work and we got there way faster. So at 5:20am, half an hour before sunrise, we were in position by the left pond with about 500 other visitors, all jostling for a good spot and taking photos every few seconds.

Second attempt: crowd around the pond of Angkor Wat
Second attempt: crowd around the pond of Angkor Wat

While some clouds in the sky for the Angkor Wat sunrise is nice, we were afraid the sky was too cloudy during the second attempt. Our fears were more than confirmed when it began to rain just before sunset. Damn it! Not only do the dark clouds and rain prevent the golden colors in the sky, it also ruins the reflections of Angkor Wat in the pond.

Second attempt: clouds covered the sky
Second attempt: clouds covered the sky

In the moments without rain, this next photo was the best shot we could manage. It was not the background with vibrant colours that we were looking for, but it’s still decent (it’s hard to take a bad photo of Angkor Wat, it’s that photogenic). Nonetheless, we thought we might as well give it one last shot.

Second attempt: beautiful view of Angkor Wat
Second attempt: beautiful view of Angkor Wat

Third Attempt

On our last day, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4:20am yet again. I couldn’t believe we were going for the third time in a row, but still holding out hope that it would be worth it. When we met up with our tuk-tuk driver, he said that there was no rain and it looked to be less cloudy than the day before. That made us even more hopeful. We made short work of getting to the perfect spot in front of the left pond.

Third attempt: the clouds made the view breathtaking
Third attempt: the clouds made the view breathtaking

As the sky turned from pitch black to a glimmer of light, it was clear that there were some thick, thick clouds right behind Angkor Wat. That was pretty frustrating. While the rest of the sky elsewhere was clear with only small wisps of clouds, the only opaque clouds happened to be in the worst spot. Sigh. We made the best of the situation, though, as the clouds did create a cool effect. In photos like these, the thick clouds almost look like cut outs.

Third attempt: clouds over Angkor Wat
Third attempt: clouds over Angkor Wat

Over the course of the next hour, the thick clouds slowly shifted and some glimpses of gold in the sky could be seen. The clouds never completely went away, but we saw the most sun as we have on any day, and it made a difference. What amazed me the most was how different Angkor Wat can look in a matter of a few minutes.

Third attempt: sunrise over Angkor Wat
Third attempt: sunrise over Angkor Wat

While we certainly did not catch the best ever shot of the Angkor Wat sunrise, we certainly caught a few of the most unique ones anyone has ever seen. Plus we’re grateful to have seen it at all, because it was a dream come true. Three days in a row of getting up before the crack of dawn was admittedly not fun – really tortuous to drag yourself out of bed at that time of day. But we’re satisfied knowing that we took advantage of every opportunity we had and made the best of it. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is something that I will never, ever forget.

For more pictures of the sunrise at Angkor Wat, please visit the gallery!