Angkor Wat is one of the most incredible wonders of the world, and the “Angkor Wat Sunrise Photo” is practically an art in and of itself.
As a religious complex, it has few equals. As an amazing ancient site, it has no equals. The number of temples, the size of the temples, and the amount of detail all combine to make it an incredible place to visit!
When you’ve made the trek out to Cambodia, one thing is for sure – you want awesome photos of Angkor Wat. Especially Angkor Wat at sunrise. It can be tricky, but it’s definitely do-able!
Angkor Wat Overview
Angkor Wat refers to two things – the first is the name of the iconic temple everyone knows about. The second refers to the whole complex that has many temples.
Angkor Wat passes can be purchased in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day. I bought a 3 day pass, and it was the perfect amount of time. I spent one day on the short route, one day on the long route, and one day heading back around a bit of both to make sure I got all the time and photos I wanted!
Getting to Sunrise at Angkor Wat
There are a few ways to get around. The most common is to hire a tuk-tuk, which will generally cost $15-$30/day. (Note prices are in USD because Cambodia uses USD as the general currency.)
If you want a more luxurious/custom experience, you can hire a car (with a driver – you’re not going to want your own car). Those are more expensive and start at about $50/day. One big plus is that they’ll have air conditioning!
Most tuk-tuk drivers will attempt to be something of a tour guide, but know that you’ll only be “guided” while driving between temples. If you want a guide for the individual temples, you’ll need to hire one separately. (If you want a guide, you’re probably going to go the rental car route and are likely to be best going through your hotel or a reputable travel agency.)
I found an electric bike store in Siem Reap, and decided to give that a try. I loved it! It gave me all the freedom I wanted while also making it easier than renting a true pedal bike. Some people do bike Angkor Wat – a pedal-powered bike is by far your cheapest option, but you need to be really in shape to do it!
For sunrise, your best bet is either a tuk-tuk or hired car. If you want an electric bike, you’ll need to rent it the night before and make sure to charge it at your hotel, hostel or guesthouse overnight. (Any transportation needs to be arranged the day before.)
Angkor Wat Sunrise Crowds
Of course, one of the most popular attractions at the park is watching the sun rise over the towers of Angkor Wat. It’s magical – and crowded. Come early to stake out a spot, and know up front that there’s not going to be the chance to photograph multiple angles. Get your cropping skills in a good place – to make a picture that’s all about you and not about the crowds, you’re likely to need some cropping!
You’ll basically be stuck where ever you initially set up. And to be honest, if you want those nice semi-dark shots and you don’t have a SUPER sensitive sensor on your camera and/or a lens with a really large aperture, you might be SOL.
If you’re a sunrise fanatic, or you’re worried that it’s going to disappoint, I’d go to the sunrise your first morning exploring the temple complex. Then, if it doesn’t turn out, you still have other days to go.
I went, and my sunrise and sunrise pictures really did not turn out. It was a cloudy morning, and so cloudy that it basically became light without ever getting to see the sun rise. But given how early the morning was, how much I hated tuk-tuks and preferred electric bikes, and how long the days were, I skipped it the other two mornings.
Angkor Wat Sunrise Photo Spots
There are basically two key spots for sunrise pictures, which are the ponds in front of the temple. They don’t open the temple itself until a bit later, and they do try to keep the crowds contained near the ponds.
The ponds provide the perfect reflection that you always see! Your options are the right pond and the left pond – both are going to provide similar experiences. For sunrise, I went to the left pond. (Left is when you’re looking straight at the temple, it’s the one on your left).
This is the picture I took from the left:
And I went back during the day a day later, and this is the picture I took from the right pond (and I was much further around):
The beauty of the symmetry of Angkor Wat is that both sides are going to give you a gorgeous view. I’d personally pick whichever is less crowded when you arrive!
Angkor Wat Photos After Sunrise
If you’re wanting additional photos of Angkor Wat once the sun has risen, you might actually be better heading on to other temples. Then, you can come back for those. The big tour groups will typically give their people time at sunrise and then for exploring the main temple complex. Thus, the biggest crowds at Angkor Wat itself tend to be first thing in the morning.
Even for those that don’t do sunrise, most tours start with Angkor Wat. Again, when you come back later, you’ll be in a better position to have fewer crowds and have them more spread out.
The temple is gorgeous and worth spending time photographing!