A Dawn Visit to Angkor Wat

I woke up in darkness to the sound of my alarm. It was 4:30am, a time of the day that I used to dread. For the past seven years I had been getting up at 4:30am to go to work. For those seven years I hated the sound of that alarm, and I hated that time of the day. But today was different. Today I jumped out of bed, full of excitement despite the lack of sleep. I wasn’t back at home getting up to go to work. I was in Cambodia, and today was the day that I would be visiting Angkor Wat. I was up this early to see one of the most famous historical structures in the world. And I was going to see it at sunrise.

I had this picture in my head of what Angkor Wat would look like at sunrise. I had seen so many photos of it before. It was like some magical world with the grand structure of Angkor Wat silhouetted against an orange sky as the fiery sun rose above it in some godlike appearance. Everyone said that it was just stunning, so I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like. I was excited.

When Veronika and I stepped outside of our guest house to meet our tuk tuk driver, we walked out into a dark, drizzly predawn morning. I think I knew then that I wouldn’t be getting my “perfect Angkor Wat sunrise”, but I still hung onto the idea.

Although we were the only ones at our guest house up this early, there were plenty of other people on the road making their way to see the sunrise spectacular. We were amongst other tuks tuks and mini vans, and even a few keen cyclists when we got to the entrance to Angkor Wat. There was light on the horizon as we began walking, but we were still kind of walking blind. A torch would have been a good idea.

I set up my tripod right at the edge of the small lake that sits in front of Angkor Wat, waiting for the sun to rise above the structure. Plenty of other people gathered around with their umbrellas and cameras, while I had to shelter mine with a plastic bag. The drizzle wasn’t going anywhere, and as I fired off exposures, everyone around was wondering if the sun had actually risen or not. I knew that it now had. The overcast skies had hidden the sun, preventing that fiery sunrise that we were all so looking forward to, but I wasn’t disappointed. What I got instead was a slowly changing sky of different shades of blue. From the dark blue sky of predawn, the slowly rising sun turned the blues into lighter shades, slowly revealing Angkor Wat itself. I realised that whatever time of day it was, or whatever the weather was like, there was no way that this place could be disappointing. It is just too impressive to let anything change it.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise on a rainy day

While the crowd was still gathering around the lake, we sneaked off to visit Angkor Wat itself, hoping to see it all before the huge tour groups arrived. Visiting just after sunrise turned out to be a great move. There were still plenty of people there, but nothing like what there would be later in the morning. This is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, so wandering it’s grand halls and rooms in peace isn’t easy. At this time of the day, we actually found ourselves alone in some parts of the temple. That is certainly a rare thing at Angkor Wat.

Walking up to Angkor Wat

Walking to the main entrance to Angkor Wat

Grand hallway in Angkor Wat

Hallway inside Angkor Wat

Amazing carvings inside Angkor Wat

Amazing carvings inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

Carved ceiling in Angkor Wat

Carved ceiling in Angkor Wat

Ancient Hallway inside Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Ancient hallway

I can’t really describe what visiting Angkor Wat is like. The architecture is just stunning. It is almost perfectly preserved, and all I can really say is that my mouth was wide open, but speechless a lot. I even had to remind myself to take photos, which is generally a very natural thing for me to do these days. I probably could have wandered around all day.

Tower at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A tower on the inner walls

Building in a courtyard at Angkor Wat

A building in the outer courtyard

Grand towers at Angkor Wat

The grand central towers, standing in the inner courtyard

Barred windows at Angkor Wat

Barred windows along the wall of the inner courtyard

Inner courtyard at Angkor Wat

Wall carvings at Angkor Wat

Stone wall carvings

Outer courtyard at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Outer courtyard

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Panoramic view of the back of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Corner view of Angkor Wat

Paved road to Angkor Wat

Looking back down the road to Angkor Wat

Entrance to Angkor Wat

The entrance to Angkor Wat

Words can’t really describe what visiting Angkor Wat is like, and I don’t feel like the photos do either. It is one of those places that you have to see with your own eyes. Like the Colosseum in Rome or the Pyramids of Egypt, Angkor Wat is one of those places that every traveller should see at least once in their lifetime.

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18 comments… add one
  • Cheryl Howard Nov 20, 2013

    Lovely photos despite the weather. LOVE the first one with all of the blue hues and reflections.

  • Kristy Nov 21, 2013

    I love the first picture because the temple looks very peaceful and divine.

    • Dean Wickham Dec 6, 2013

      Hi Kristy. I’m glad you liked the photo. It was a pretty spectacular sight.

  • Hi Dean,

    What a magical photo that is – the top one – it’s always worth getting up at dawn for a shot like that. So glad to see you are still at it – traveling that is 🙂 Keep it up!

    • Dean Wickham Dec 6, 2013

      Hey Annabel. Great to hear from you and thanks for the comment! Dawn is a real magical time of the day. I really should get up to see it more often.
      I hope you are doing well. Cheers

  • Samuel Jeffery Nov 25, 2013

    Great photos Dean!

    You’ve inspired me to want to revisit for a 5th time 🙂

    • Dean Wickham Dec 6, 2013

      Haha. That’s good to hear Sam! You can never visit Angkor Wat too many times 😉

  • Liv Nov 25, 2013

    Love the blue sky shot. This post has only furthered my desire to visit Angkor Wat!

    • Dean Wickham Dec 6, 2013

      Thanks Liv. Angkor Wat is spectacular whenever you visit. I hope you get there soon 🙂

  • Dan Dec 13, 2013

    Awesome photos man. Its always tough waking up for the sunrise shots but almost always is worth it. Love the dramatic blues.

    • Dean Wickham Dec 29, 2013

      Thanks Dan. Oh yes, getting up that early isn’t easy. Totally worth it though 🙂

  • The first shot is breathtaking! and I find the architecture beautiful, and it’s crazy that everything has been preserved so well (for instance the carved ceiling in Angkor Wat). Too bad the weather was so grey

    • Dean Wickham Dec 29, 2013

      Angkor Wat is really well preserved. The carvings for example are in excellent condition. It is quite a sight to see.

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