Racing Against the Sun, Part II – Angkor Wat

In case you're wondering how that sunrise really turned out, here's a follow up to our scramble to catch the first rays at the Angkor Wat.

I’m no fan of early mornings (as seen here). Even when I’m back home, every morning is a demo in zombie-walking around the house. So, as the phone alarm rang shrilly in the middle of the night, I groaned and dragged myself out of my pillows-and-blanket cocoon and encouraged myself to do this for the breakfast that awaited on the other side of sunrise (Diamond d’Angkor – best breakfasts of the trip, more on that another day).

Seth, our tuktuk driver and general-overseer-of-sightseeing was abnormally bright and sprightly for that hour – ‘Good Morning! Ready for sunrise-a?’. We piled into the rickety ride and off we were, on our first visit to the Angkor Wat. The ride from Siem Reap to Angkor is about an 8 – 9 km one and at its most pleasant before dawn as you pass the cool, dense jungle in some parts, flanking the road on either side. We were surprised by the sheer number of people and vehicles that were all headed the same way, looked like Pub Street hadn’t done a good enough job of getting people drunk the night before. Some adventurous souls were working up a sweat, pedaling their way furiously as the tuktuks and cars passed them by.

To get to the most popular sunrise point, which is by the moat in front of the temple, you have to cross a number of entrance gates. Unless you’re running late, it will be dark in the compound, so carry a flashlight / use the torch in your phone, if it’s got one. Another good idea would be to buy your Angkor pass the evening before if you can (the office is on the way from SR to Angkor) – it’ll save you the time and effort in the bleary morning. As we crossed the last of the gates, we were greeted by the silhouette of the famous six towers of the temple (and more people racing to the site).

Motion

At the site itself, we figured out that we weren’t as early as we had imagined – all the vantage spots by the moat (where you can capture the reflection and the sunrise both, and avoid heads bobbing into your pictures) were already covered by a wall of people, five layers thick. Tripods, hoods, flashes, iPads everywhere. As we settled some distance behind them, we were surrounded with offers of ‘Breakfast? You wann breakfast, lady?’. Tempting, but too early for me to eat.

At least a couple of hundred and counting
At least a few hundreds and counting

After a buildup of 45 minutes of so, the sun clambered into view, received by oohs, aahs and the sounds of shutters clicking and lights of flashes firing. As it happens, the sunrise is one of the most popular things to do in Siem Reap and there’s a near-science on online forums telling you exactly where you should stand to get the best shots. But don’t worry if you don’t know, they won’t turn out too bad as long as you’re facing the right way (except for the odd selfie stick and bobbing heads in some of your pictures). And all those surreal photos of the Angkor sunrise that you saw online? After being there, I’m skeptical about how heavily touched up some of them are.

Sunset done and dusted, we were on our way back around 7.30 AM. The downside of the sunrise was, of course, that the sun was out and it was getting steamy even at that hour of the morning. Couldn’t wait to get baked on our temple-hopping plans for the day ahead (:S). But first for some air-conditioning and endless breakfast with iced coffee!

P.S.

  • Was it worth it? – Yes, worth skipping that extra couple of drinks the night before.
  • How to go? – Your hotel / hostel / guesthouse can easily fix you up with a tuktuk and a driver for a pretty standard rate (sunrise is an extra 5 USD). If you’re feeling particularly active, you can even rent a bike in town. Yes, that early too.
  • What does it cost? – Your day / multi-day pass will cover this too, you only pay 5 USD extra for the tuktuk driver for the early start to the day.
  • Carry water and some snacks, a flashlight, your Angkor pass and your cameras (and equipment) of course!

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