One of the most popular times to see Angkor Wat is for the sunrise. Because the temple faces west, it’s in a perfect silhouette for sunrise. But get there at sunrise and you’ll be disappointed with the amount of people. So like many other photography opportunities, it means waking up early.
The park officially opens at 5 am, but I had my tuk-tuk pick me up at 4:30 am and I was in the park by 4:45 am. Turns out I could have arrived even earlier. After being dropped off at the west entrance of the temple, I pulled out my flashlight and walked across the moat.
To give you a sense of scale, that moat is about 200 yards wide. As my guidebook said, large enough to make European castles blush.
I had my tripod set up and took my first picture by 5:10 am, below. Focusing is really difficult without much light, but the first picture always comes out terrible at night.
I visited the evening before and put an X in the dirt where I wanted to be the next morning, and the spot was open when I arrived. There were 8 people there when I arrived, but few of them had tripods – which means more available space.
As it got closer to 6:30 am, you could tell people were getting anxious. The crowd was getting larger and every once in awhile you would feel pushing from behind – likely from someone on a tour bus who wanted a better view than their fixed schedule allowed. One of the perks of planning your own trip.
To give you an idea of how many people were there, here’s a 360° view. This absolutely puts the ‘crowd’ at Mesa Arch to shame.
To block out the noise from the crowd, I put on Nuvole Bianche by Ludovico Einaudi and just zoned out.
Sunrise wasn’t until 6:30 am, but the best shots were actually leading up to sunrise. Because I went in the dry season, there weren’t any clouds and the sunrise was pretty lackluster.
But I managed to get a decent shot out of it and left before the sun actually came up. Then it was off to the next temple and a race against the crowds.