Sunrise at Angkor Wat can get a bad rap for being crowded, noisy and distinctly unmagical. And for those who visit during high season, there’s probably good reason. I’ve heard horror stories of crowds 20 people deep all facing towards Angkor Wat, clamboring for the best spot and jostling for position. Luckily, we happened to be in Siem Reap towards the end of the rainy season, giving us beautiful weather and a distinct lack of crowds. Our Angkor Wat sunrise experience was beautiful, with an added bonus at the end.
Even the birds weren’t awake when our alarm went off at 5.30am. Fumbling and half asleep, we grabbed our bags and went to meet our waiting tuk tuk. Driving through the streets in the dark, we arrived at Angkor Wat as a pale blue light began to appear in the sky. Crossing the bridge over the surrounding moat, I kept waiting to hit the crowds that I’d heard so much about. But approaching the temple, we were all alone, the silhouette of Angkor Wat rising ominously before us in the pre-dawn glow.
With only my phone torch for light, we walked over the threshold and into another world. I could barely make out any other people, but my torch shone a spotlight on the walls around me, the ancient carvings coming to life as my light flickered over the stone. We arrived at one of the lotus ponds in front of the temple, a popular spot to capture the reflection of Angkor Wat as the sun rises behind it. And here we waited. Again, I kept expecting the crowds to appear behind me, but for the next hour, maybe 20 other people joined us. The huge temple of Angkor Wat was the stage, as the sun turned the sky from a deep blue to a lilac purple, and then to a yellow-orange glow, clouds filtering the light around the sky. Dragonflies began dancing on the pond in front of us, birds began the dawn chorus in the trees and frogs began to call out in the morning sun. It was incredibly beautiful, and I feel really lucky that we got to experience this sunrise as it was meant to be.
Once the sun had risen and the crowds dispersed, I walked up towards the temple and was mesmerised by big beams of sunlight burning through the morning mist. A huge tree stood shadowed against the sky, and before I knew it a monk walked past, heading towards Angkor Wat to begin his day. It was one of those moments I wish I could bottle up and treasure. The peacefulness and simple beauty in that moment is one I’ll always remember.