One of my favourite destinations to see the sunrise is at Angkor Wat. Don’t get me wrong, I love a sunrise regardless of where I am, but there’s definitely something more magical about a sunrise over an ancient temple.
Many people have heard of Angkor Wat without truly knowing or understanding what an outstanding place it is. It’s my firm opinion that everyone should visit one of the world’s ancient civilizations at some point in their life. They can open your eyes to just how old the world’s history really is.
If you’re unfamiliar with Angkor Wat & Cambodia’s history, let me fill you in a little.
Heading to South East Asia yourself? Check out this popular route for backpackers for inspiration!
If you plan on travelling around the country, check out 12Go Asia for all of your overland transport needs. They have a great site that covers the whole region – not just Cambodia!
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The country of Cambodia
Cambodia is a little known country located in SouthEast Asia. With popular Thailand and Vietnam on either side, this is a country sometimes overlooked when tourists visit the region. But it shouldn’t be!
Cambodia has a long and fascinating history. Some of it dark, and some of it beautiful. I’ve visited this tropical country a few times now. I just love the slow-paced nature of even their largest cities – it’s a complete contrast to London!
Apart from their hot & humid climate, one of the main things Cambodia is known for is the ancient cities of Angkor Wat and the picturesque sunrise that has become popular with the tourists that visit.
Spending some time in Cambodia? Check out:
How to get there
Angkor Wat is located in northwestern Cambodia, just north of the city of Siem Reap. If you’re travelling internationally by plane then you will want to fly into the Siem Reap international airport. It’s located only a 10 minute drive from the park.
If you’re already in Siem Reap and only need to travel shorter distances you have a few different travel options. The two most common are tuk tuk and rental cars.
Regardless which travel option you choose, I’d always suggest arranging it in advance if you’re aiming to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. It is otherwise quite difficult to find your way around at 4.30am in an unfamiliar city!
The temples are located to the north of the city only 11 minutes drive from the city centre. If you have a rental car you can drive to the car park on site. If you choose to order a tuktuk they can either drive you just to the entrance of the park, or they can drive you around all day for a slightly higher rental fee.
Travel tip: Most people opt to hire a tuk tuk driver to drive you around from temple to temple. It costs an average of $15 usd for the day but some people (braver than us) choose to walk it!
Entry passes and tickets to Angkor Park
1 day pass
3 day pass
7 day pass
If you’re a tourist and would prefer to purchase your ticket yourself and in person, you can do so on arrival at the official ticket booth at the entrance of Angkor Park.
If you want to save time by not waiting in line or would like your tickets to meet you at your accommodation, you can purchase your tickets here on a partner site online. There is a slightly higher cost than the regular ticket price on arrival due to the convenience of the tour guide bringing the tickets to you.
You can opt for one of 3 tickets for your entry. Each time I’ve been, I’ve chosen a different day pass. Each time it wasn’t quite enough to see everything since the grounds are so large. For people with longer to spend in the city, I’d recommend the 7 day pass.
That way, you can really make the most of the visit and really take in all the centuries of history. This will allow you to take your time and recharge after each day. This is truly needed since there is SO much to take in.
Different circuits to choose from
There are multiple circuits you can take to see all the park has to offer. The small circuit takes you to only the main larger temples. The large circuit which takes twice as long to complete but offers many more smaller temples as well.
Many of the smaller temples are badly damaged and now only have a few remnants of the once tall structures, but you can still see the restoration projects that have taken place over the years.
Interested in visiting for sunset instead? Take a look at this sunset boat tour where you visit later in the day and get to visit unseen areas of the Angkor Park.
Be aware of the expected dress code
Like most sacred and religious places, there is a requested dress code. Make sure to cover your shoulders and your knees while exploring the grounds of Angkor Wat.
This is the typical dress code when visiting most religious buildings around the world and Cambodia is no exception. By covering your knees and shoulders you are showing a sign of respect within these houses of worship.
The Different Temples on the grounds
Ok, so now the fun bit. The main reason I went back to Angkor Wat was to enjoy the sunrise once again. Most temples on the Archaeological grounds are open from 7am but Angkor Wat itself is the exception. So that visitors have the option to see the sunrise, they open from 5am each morning and close at 5.30pm.
The great thing about these times (especially during the more humid months) is by starting early, you can get the majority of your sightseeing done before it hits the hottest point of the day. Something I was very grateful for!
This time I visited in early May when the humidity levels were close to 98% to prepare for the start of the rainy season in a few short weeks. Being outside without much shade for the full day here can tire you out so make sure you bring a lot of water! Make sure to stay hydrated!
Tip: Always make sure to carry a reusable water bottle during your days here. The temperature makes it very easy to get dehydrated.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world if you calculate by land area. It was built by King Suryavarman II during the first half of the 12th century as a Hindu temple. It was to be a palace for Vishnu to show the King’s faithfulness to his God.
He built the temples as a place to hold his remains after death as a funerary building. It’s believed to have taken almost 30 years for the structure to be built and is still standing hundreds of years later.
Eventually, the palace became a Buddhist temple by the end of the same century.
This site was once the capital of the Khmer empire during its peak of their reign. The Khmer empire once ruled most of SouthEast Asia and was one of the most sophisticated kingdoms of that time. Angkor Wat shares the Archaeological park with other temples that are just as beautifully created as the last.
Sunrise over Angkor Wat temple
When you watch the sunrise here you get to see the three towering spires of the Angkor Wat temple’s shadow poke through the rising sun. When you head to the viewpoint you’ll be in front of a small pond – this was much bigger years ago.
No matter what time of year you arrive here to watch the sunrise, it will be busy. If you’re not there in advance it can be hard to find a good spot that isn’t blocked by the many people in the crowd.
Pro tip #1: If you can get to the front of the crowd at the edge of the pond you’ll get a beautiful shot of the temple & its reflection in the water. This is the prime place to catch that inst-worthy shot. If you’re tall like me, consider crouching down to be closer to the water for a better shot and to not block the view for others behind you.
Pro tip #2: Be prepared to wait around a while if you are there early. It takes some time to get your tickets, walk to where you need to be and find a comfortable spot until the sun pops up. It’s totally worth the wait!
The Bayon Temple, one of the more popular structures located inside the Angkor Archaeological Park, is best known for the many large smiling faces carved into the large towers. It’s estimated that there once was over 800 faces across the two hundred towers on the temple. Today that is drastically reduced to around 200 remaining.
This was the final temple to be built in the area and is the central temple inside the Angkor Thom fortress city. Four roads lead to the temple from the four gates (also known as gopuras) of Angkor Thom. This was once a capital city in the Khmer empire and the faces were believed to be of Hindu gods.
However, archaeologists later discovered that this was instead a buddhist temple. The faces were more than likely those of Lokeshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. As you wander through the ruins you can see how some of the ‘tower faces’ have eroded much more than others, and they all resemble the same expression – a slight smile similar to that of Mona Lisa.
Ta Prohm Temple
Now, if you are a movie fan, you might recognise this temple from the ‘Tomb Raider’ movies. An ancient temple that has been swallowed by trees. It has been completely taken over by the surrounding jungle and is another very popular temple in the park.
Built in 1189 during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, it is thought that he had this temple built to worship Jayaraja Chudanami – his mother.
The temple was used throughout most of the Khmer rule until the empire broke down after the Siamese war. Neglected and left to be taken over by nature, the temple was left undiscovered for roughly 300 years until a French explorer came across it again in the 15th Century.
Ta Prohm has large sections of rubble and stone piled high, where the tree roots have caused parts of the once sacred building to collapse. These days, restoration has been made on some walls of the temple, not to build it back together, but to place metal pipes in a way that holds some of the tree weight off of the structures.
This is to try and preserve the temple for longer. The second time I visited I stayed at just this temple for over 2 hours and there were definitely more sections that had fallen compared to my first visit in 2015. Rest assured, UNESCO and the site caretakers are putting measures in place to preserve it. Their goal is to keep the temple around for as long as possible.
Baphuon Temple was originally built as a hindu temple but was later converted into a buddhist temple in the 15th century. It is built in the shape of a pyramid and is known as a ‘temple mountain’.
It has many steep staircases that head to the middle terrace and offer panoramic views of Angkor Thom. The temple has a long, stone walkway leading you to the many staircases that lead you to the top.
Similar to Ta Prohm, this temple had been quite badly damaged over the centuries and a few restoration projects have been started to try and restore it back to its once full glory. Unfortunately the project started in the 1960s was abandoned due to the Khmer Rouge war. This meant that many parts of the structure remained untouched.
Then, back in 1996 a new restoration team started to piece the temple back together which is why we now see 2 different coloured stones scattered across it. The light stones are the restored pieces and the dark are the original. Most people spend an average of an hour at Baphuon.
This gives enough time to admire the structure while walking along its entry path, as well as climbing the stairs to the very top.
Like many touristy places around the world, there are many retail stalls for people to purchase souvenirs on the grounds of Angkor Wat. If you run out of water during your day of exploring, you can easily purchase another drink (or snacks) throughout the day.
If you prefer to purchase gifts or souvenirs specifically, you will be spoilt for choice of different artworks of the temples in the area. Check out this painting I got below.
At the site of Angkor Wat paintings very similar to this cost roughly $15 USD each ($30 for a set of 2). I couldn’t decide which paintings I liked best so went about the rest of the tour without buying any.
Budget travel tip: Visit the markets that the locals go to when you wish to buy local artwork. You’ll get similar products as you would see at the tourist hotspot, but for a fraction of the price!
Accommodation in Siem Reap
Do you need somewhere to stay in Siem Reap? Each of these accommodations have agreements with tuk tuk drivers to take their guests to visit Angkor Wat including at sunrise if you prefer to book things once in your destination.
Check out this list of recommendations!
On a budget?
Jasmine Family Hostel – As it says in the name, this is a hostel that allows for all ages (as long as kids are supervised). It’s got more of a laid back vibe and has a good range of shared or private rooms. This is a good choice if you’re on a budget whether travelling with family, or if you just want to stay somewhere quiet. Only 14 minute drive from Angkor Wat so it’s easy to make it for sunrise!
Siem Reap Pub Hostel – This one is a 17 minute drive to the Angkor park. If you’re wanting more of a party then this hostel might be better suited to that. With a swimming pool and a bar this is a popular hostel for people who want a sociable atmosphere. Not suitable for kids and it’s definitely a more lively place to stay.
Want some more luxury?
Palm Village Resort & Spa – This is the closest of my recommended properties to the Angkor Park at only a 9 minute drive away. Because this resort focuses more on relaxation you’re a little outside of the city centre when staying here. This is a great choice if you don’t want to be in the middle of it all but still close enough to access if you choose. Plus the rustic bamboo suites give you a real unique feel compared to a typical hotel room!
Memoire d’ Angkor Boutique Hotel – This one is in the middle of the city and only a 10 minute walk from the old market! It’s a comfortable, luxurious option if you prefer to explore the city on foot during your stay but want to stay in comfort. Only 15 minutes drive from the Angkor Wat park too means you’re able to access everything quickly.