Even before you visit Angkor Wat, you’ve probably seen so many photos and videos from the ruins in Cambodia that you feel like you already know them. The sunrise at Angkor Wat is something many tourists dream about exactly because of all these beautiful images, while the sunset is gaining popularity too (even though it’s not as spectacular).
To help decide which one to choose – sunrise or sunset – consider the following pros and cons based on my personal experience:
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
1. The sun shows up right behind the ruins of Angkor Wat and the sight is magical.
2. Waking up early will give you more time to explore the ruins before the heat sets in.
1. In photos the sunrise usually looks like this:
But what you can’t imagine from the photos is that the reflection is seen in a rather small pond (not in a huge lake as it looks like) and if you turn back, you will see this:
Hundreds of people flock around the shores of the pond (there are two ponds but the one on the right if you face the temple doesn’t reflect the buildings well) and fight with elbows and tripods for good shooting spots. Some latecomers even venture into the mud:
But that’s what we do for art! If you don’t like crowds, you might feel overwhelmed. But that’s the overall vibe of Angkor Wat, so it won’t surprise you so much after a few hours.
2. Balloon flight – flying over the temples at sunrise is definitely the most spectacular way to feel the magic, but I have some ethical qualms about it. When we were in Siem Reap (spring 2017), we found only one company offering flights and they all ended with throwing candy to kids in a nearby village. I found this practice humiliating for the locals and skipped the balloon flight (that’s a personal opinion: if you are okay with it, go ahead!).
1. To get to Angkor Wat for the sunrise, you can get a tuk-tuk or rent a bicycle or a motorbike. The price for a sunrise tuk-tuk tour (and then a whole day around the temples) is more or less the same all over Siem Reap ($20 per person) and there’s not much space to haggle. Renting a bike will cost you around $2 a day, and scooters can be as cheap as $7 a day.
2. Arrive long before sunrise (at least 40 minutes) to find a good viewing spot and to witness the amazing play of light in the sky behind the temple before the sun peeks above the horizon.
3. If it’s your first day at Angkor Wat, don’t forget that you have to go to the ticket office and buy a ticket to gain access to the temples. The ticket office has been moved to a new location, 10 km away from the official entrance of the temple area.
Sunset at Angkor Wat – pros and cons
1. Fewer people make a special effort to visit Angkor Wat for the sunset, so it’s much less crowded.
2. The sun sets facing the facade of Angkor Wat and there is a special magic here. With the last minutes of daylight you will see the walls changing color several times – from orange to pinkish and then brown. It’s the perfect way to end the day at Angkor Wat.
1. It’s not as spectacular as the sunrise.
1. The Angkor complex closes at sunset, so make sure you are there early enough to find a good spot and take photos. As soon as the sun gets below the horizon, you will be asked to leave the temple.
2. If there are clouds in the sky, you should definitely go for the sunset as it’s even more beautiful.
The verdict: craft your route so that you can see both sunrise and sunset.