Siem Reap: Angkor Wat Sunrise

Siem Reap: Angkor Wat Sunrise

My friend and I decided to tack on Cambodia to the end of a girl’s weekend in Bangkok during July of 2018. Neither of us had been to Cambodia before, but sunrise over Angkor Wat is one of those classic things that anyone traversing through Southeast Asia must check off.


Preparation

The best time to visit Cambodia is between November to March as that is their dry season and the temperatures will be cooler. When we went in July, it didn’t rain, but it really was scorching hot (about 34 degrees everyday we were there). I would strongly suggest trying to visit during the “winter” season instead.

We flew into Siem Reap and planned to stay for three nights in Siem Reap, allotting a full day for Angkor Wat, and another to explore the city and do a day trip. For anyone who is not so strapped for time and have a couple more days to spend in Cambodia, I heard that Koh Rong island in Sihanoukville has pristine blue water. It would definitely be a great break from the tireless temple hunting in Siem Reap.

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Arrival Visa

Please be sure to get your E-Visa through the government website. It costed me USD36 for a single-entry, and the process took 2 weeks for us to get our approval. You need to print your e-visa and bring 2 copies with you to the airport – one for entry and one for exit. However, we forgot our exit ones and had no issues leaving anyways.


Budgeting

Price (‘USD) Comments
Flight: 134 USD60 (Bangkok to Siem Reap) on Air Asia + USD74 (Siem Reap to HK) on HK Express
Hotel 228 Price for two nights, booked via Entertainer
Angkor Wat 52 Tuk-tuk and entrance ticket
Transportation 40 Airport transfer and around town

 

Miscellaneous 50 Food
Total 504

Although there was an currency exchanger at the airport (and throughout the city), I would recommend keeping your USD. Most, if not all, merchants accept USD. Their menus are even listed with USD prices. However, if you don’t have cash handy, that would be problematic. We ran low towards the end of our trip, and when we tried to withdraw from our bank card, various ATMs had no cash available.

The upside is costs are very low in Cambodia. Most meals can be kept under USD5. Happy Hour drinks are USD1 or USD2. And massages are typically USD3-USD20. However, the quality of the massages also reflected the price, so if you are picky about your massages, I would recommend doing it at your hotel.

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Street food and cheap alcohol – check

What to Pack

  • Long pants/sarang, and tops. Elbows and knees need to be covered when visiting the temples.
  • Sim card – a local SIM was USD6 for 3 days
  • USD cash
  • Bug spray
  • Lots of water
  • Portable fan -very important!

Accommodation

hotel
Image source: Borei Angkor

Most of the hotels that we looked at were about a 20min ride from Angkor Wat (by tuk-tuk).We stayed at the Borei Angkor Resort and Spa, which I would recommend. As an aside, we actually booked this hotel via the Entertainer App(which is an annual paid subscription service that gives you buy-one-get-one free deals on food and beverage, as well as hotels!). We stayed for 3 nights, so we only got one night free – but even then it made this five star hotel very affordable. I really liked the spacious lobby area and my girlfriend got a massage at the spa on-site, which she was cool with.


Getting Around

Unfortunately there is no Grab or Uber service in Siem Reap. Tuk-tuks are the usual way to get around, but they are plentiful and cheap, and there is room to haggle if you really want your ride around town to be USD3 instead of USD4.

For catching the Angkor Wat sunrise, you should book ahead with your hotel for early morning pickup. A tuk-tuk that took us to the different temples of Angkor Wat for the day costed USD15. Guided tours will go for about USD25.

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Angkor Wat

Located about 6km North of Siem Reap, catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat means an early get-up at 4am. Our tuk-tuk driver picked us up at 4:30am and we got to the ticket office at 4:50am.  One-day ticket cost was USD37, but it covered the entrance ticket to all the temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park. They also sell 3-day and 7-day passes for USD62 and USD74, respectively.

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4:50am, bright and early!

After getting our ticket, we headed straight for the main attraction. It’s easy to get distracted by the changing colours in the sky, and one can’t help but watch in awe, before even entering the gates of Angkor Wat, of the serenity of the sunrise. Cross the moat that surrounds the outer gates first and make your way inside the wall. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time cropping people out of your pictures.

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A UNESCO World Heritage site, what really impressed me was the sheer size of the compounds. The layout is a perfect square and its proportions are balanced and symmetrical.  Unlike the other temples, Angkor faces West. Which make sense why we are able to enjoy the absolutely stunning outline as the sun rises from behind the main towers.

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If you didn’t book a tour company, there are plenty that offer their services at the doors. I think it would be advisable to find someone who speaks English well. Otherwise it is quite difficult to fully appreciate the beauty.

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The colours of the walls are blackened due to decades and centuries of plant overgrowth, war, general deterioration and damage. It is also quite common for parts to be taped off as restoration continues throughout the year.

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Casual morning chats
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These steps were extremely uneven and narrow. Would not recommend on sandals.

Tip: Keep your belongs secure and food out of sight! There were stray monkeys climbing around in the courtyard. We saw one make a beeline for a young guy carrying his breakfast. The monkey won the fight and made off with bananas and the guy’s dignity.

Bayon Temple

Around 9am, we made our way to the Bayon, which was about 10min away by tuk-tuk . Bayon is much smaller and surrounded by jungle and forest. Its decocration is uniquely different from that of Angkor Wat, because it has over 2,000 faces smiling down at you from over 50 towers.

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The layout seems like a maze, with small narrow galleries and winding stairs. There were markings on the floors to guide the tourists, but they were not too accurate. At least, I think so, since we kept walking against “do-not-enter” signs everywhere.

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Looking at temples in South East Asia is kind of like looking at churches in Europe. Although I do have a good appreciation for history and art, the summer heat made it difficult for us to tour all the temples and get our money’s worth. We went back to our hotel to rest during the day, and went back in the evening to watch Sunset. Tip: Sunset is watched from Phnom Bakheng, outside of the Angkor Wat compound. Our tuk-tuk driver took us back to Angkor Wat, and by the time we realized it was not the right location, the sun was already almost gone 🙁

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Afternoon lighting at Angkor Wat

Final Thought:

Even though I thought the admission ticket is considered quite expensive by SE Asia standards, I think Angkor Wat is worth the experience. It is incredibly calming to be walking through the grounds at five in the morning, and when I go back again, I definitely want to check out the tomb raider temple.

The day-trip, to go to Kulen mountain (the waterfall shown above), that my friend and I booked, on the other hand, were not as impressive at all, and I think I would skip it if I go back.

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PS if you run out of things to do in the evening – go have a happy pizza! But that’s for another blog… 😉

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