Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour
If you are visiting Siem Reap, an Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour is an absolute must. Siem Reap Shuttle Tours and others offer shared group tours to the temples, starting from just $13. However, we chose a private tour, which we booked with our hotel on arrival. You can opt for a tuk tuk driver (we had the lovely Mr Mey) for $18 (+$5 for sunrise) who will take you to the temples you want to visit and will wait outside. Depending on the drive, they may give you some facts on the way but this is not a given.
To discover more about this amazing historical site, we opted for a tour guide to accompany us which was $35 (+$10 for sunrise). Our guide was Mr Jean from Angkor Tours, who was so friendly and relayed so much of the history of the temples. This was definitely the right decision, as we learnt so much more and Mr Jean also knew some of the best photo spots in the complex!
The entrance fees to Angkor Wat are always excluded from any tour company price. 1 day is $37, 2 days is $62 and 3 days is $72. We opted for just the 1 day ticket but would recommend a 2 day for those wanted to visit more than just the main temples (see below). The tickets last for 24 hours so if you purchase one for sunset one day, you can use it for sunrise the next day. We didn’t do this but it is useful if you want to see sunset and sunrise and pay just $37. Given Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world, it is imperative that you cover your knees and shoulders for your entire visit.
We were picked up from The Night Hotel at 4am to start our journey to Angkor Wat. The tuk tuk ride took around 15-20 minutes – make sure you cover up as it is a bit cold with the wind. After purchasing our tickets, we made our way through The Elephant Gate to Angkor Wat to get a prime position on the lake.
The main attraction of sunrise is the reflection of the three Angkor Wat towers on the lake. When we arrived around 5.15, the lake was getting busy already. We managed to stand at the front to the side which was a decent position! We waited around a hour for the sun to rise, snapping away to get the different lights of the sun on Angkor Wat. The pink water lilies were so gorgeous and a stark contrast to the darkness of the temple.
The Angkor Wat Temples
Once the sun had risen, we made our way around Angkor Wat (the three towers of Angkor Wat are depicted on the Cambodian flag) with Mr Jean. By the way, Angkor means City and Wat means Pagoda / Buddhist Monastary (although we tend to call it temples!). The entire complex is more than 154 square miles which is absolutely huge!
Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple in the 12th century in memory of the Hindu God Vishnu and was converted into Buddhism in the 16th century. It was only discovered in 1860 by Henri Mouhot and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 when it was opened to the public. Sadly, the site previously suffered from looting where many ancient statutes heads were decapitated and sold. However, restoration and excavation continues and new temples and ruins continue to be discovered.
Angkor Wat is mainly built from sandstone which was transported by boat through the Tonle Sap Lake and by elephants (there is an Elephant Gate entrance) around 25 miles away! Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat which is symbolic of the ocean and helps the foundations of the temples.
There a number of bas reliefs (where shapes are cut by the sandstone so they stand out slightly from the stone). The carvings are surprisingly well preserved. Some depict military processions and others show the battle between heaven and hell with different scenes in the lower, middle and upper tier. A key scene is the churning of the ocean which depicts attempts to obtain the elixir of life.
As we continued around Angkor Wat, Mr Jean encouraged us to visit the Library for a picture! What a photo spot – you can sit inside a window and see the three towers of Angkor Wat in the background. There is also a brilliant standing shot by the columns.
You can climb a number of temples to get to the second levels and for views over the complex. The central sanctuary is called Bakan and has traditionally held the main shrine for Vishnu and Buddha as it is the holiest sanctuary in the temple. It is open to the public to climb to the top and steps have now been erected to make the climb easier. We visited on a Buddhist day so were unable to climb to the top. Make sure you check beforehand if this is something you wish to do – there is usually four Buddhist days a month but they are not set days.
We were also blessed by two Buddhist monks who splashed us with holy water and gave us a bracelet for protection. Leave a donation to be polite.
Before we headed to Angkor Thom, we had a breakfast at Neary Khmer Angkor. The pork and rice was delicious and around $3.
Our next stop was at Angkor Thom which is 12km squared, so pretty large! There are five entrances into this ancient city. We entered through the South entrance where the statutes are the best kept (in other entrances many of the heads have been removed due to looting). The entrance featured 54 gods and 54 demons showing the fight between heaven and hell.
There are so many amazing features on the temples and, in particular, the three elephants emerging from the churning of the ocean.
We visited the Bayon temple, which was built in the 12th century. There were originally 54 towers (49 towers plus 5 entrances) which represented the 54 provinces of Cambodia. However, there are fewer left now.
Bayon is considered the temple of smiling faces as there are a multitude of giant buddha faces in every direction. Similar to Angkor Wat, there are some really impressive and well preserved bas-relief carvings.
Our final stop was Ta Prohm or the “Tomb Raider” temple, made famous by the Angelina Jolie film.
This temple is small and less preserved than the other main temples. It was built with lower quality sandstone and it was built in only 5 years so, once abandoned, it deplapidated quickly. However, this is what gives Ta Prohm is charm. It has been overgrown by trees and vines and that makes for a more eerie and jungalistic feel.
There is a huge tree in the middle of the temple, the root of which looks like an Anaconda and which is over 300 years old. There is also an echo chamber in the middle of the temple where, if you stand to the side and knock your chest, the sound reverberates all around the chamber.
East London Girl: Angkor Wat Sunrise Tour