How to Capture Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Dreaming of capturing that perfect sunrise photo of Angkor Wat? You are not alone. Photographing the sunrise at Angkor Wat is on many travelers’ bucket lists. This guide will tell you exactly what to do to ensure you get your magical shot, including a step by step photo guide of exactly where to stand (and how to get there). If you follow this guide you can ensure an amazing, unobstructed view of the temple, get fabulous photos, and then create your own time lapse video of the sunrise like mine:

If you like to travel spontaneously, go where the wind takes you, no schedules, no plans, more power to you. But to capture sunrise at Angkor Wat you will have to do a bit of planning, and stick to a schedule. Don’t believe me? Check out your competition (and this is only the first few rows):

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Crowd around the reflecting pool to capture the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Don’t let this scare you off. With a few key tips you can be the first to arrive and find the ideal spot to set up your camera and get the shots you want. Honestly, as one of the first to arrive I didn’t even notice the crowd around me until the sun was up and we were ready to head off to find a spot for breakfast. Your eyes will be focused forward so no one will be in front of you. You may have to stand your ground a bit with those behind you trying to shove in, but my experience with this was minimal. Most people were polite and quiet and really wanted to enjoy the sunrise so it was still a peaceful experience even with the crowd.

Now down to those essential tips that will ensure a successful sunrise at Angkor Wat. You really only need to know just a few.

PREPARATION

To have a successful sunrise shoot at Angkor Wat you need to be prepared. Do not expect to just show up a few minutes before sunrise and be able to capture that magical shot. First, Angkor Wat is huge, and since you are trying to capture the sunrise you will be arriving in the dark, so you need to know where you are going. I recommend a scouting trip the day before. This way you can get a feel for the layout in the daylight so that when you are parading through the temple and its massive grounds with dozens of other people in the dark you will have a good idea of where you are going. To aid in your prompt arrival be sure to bring a small flashlight (or use the flashlight on your phone). If you arrive on time it will be pitch black so some sort of lighting is a must.

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This was taken at least 20 minutes after arrival. You can just barely see Angkor Wat.
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It is seriously dark if you arrive early enough so you will want that light source.

TIMING

To ensure you can get that perfect shot you need the perfect shooting location (don’t worry, I’ll tell you exactly where that is). But in order to snag that location before one of the hundreds of others who will join you for the sunrise, you need to be one of the first on the scene. This means getting up early. VERY early. The gates at Angkor Wat open at 5am, and during peak season (November to March) people will be lining up outside. We went on December 18, 2017, and arrived at the gate around 4:55am. There were at least 20 people already lined up when we arrived. We walk fast so this was ok, but as you can see, the earlier you arrive the better. If you are staying near the center of town, this means leaving your hotel around 4:30am. Keep in mind that many hotels provide packed breakfasts for tourists going out on just such sunrise tours, so ask your hotel and bring along a nice breakfast or pack your own snacks.

LOCATION

Location, location, location. Getting that perfect shot really does require the perfect location, and lucky for you I know exactly where that is. If you’re like me you’ve probably read dozens of blogs about Angkor Wat so you know that the best location to capture the sunrise is from the left reflecting pool. But that pool is fairly large. Does it matter where you stand along it? Yes. I’d say making sure you get a spot right on the water where no one can stand in front of you is key number one. But if you have the option I think the ideal spot is at the far left corner of the pool. Be sure not to stand along the left side of the pool because you will end up with people in front of you. But if you arrive and walk along the pool facing the temple and stop when you get to the left corner where the pool turns right, then you will have arrived at the perfect spot (detailed instructions on how to get there with photos are below).

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See that camera on a tripod at the corner of the pool? This is where you want to be. The water ensures that no one will ever be standing in front of your camera, and the angle from the far left allows the widest possible shot of the temple.

Once you get to the corner find the two relatively large, flat rocks sitting just in the water. You will want to set up your tripod on the rock on the right (the rock on the left is too close to the corner so there is the possibility that you will have heads in your view).

EQUIPMENT

To capture the sunrise at Angkor Wat you will need some equipment. Some obvious, like your camera (don’t forget this one!), and some not so obvious, like waterproof shoes (if you want that prime location you will be standing right along the water, and since it is dark you may actually end up in the water a bit). Apart from the obvious camera equipment (camera, batteries, SD card), you should also consider bringing a tripod. Since you will be shooting in low light you will need a longer exposure, especially in the beginning. This means you need to be able to hold the camera extremely still. Even with the steadiest of hands those first shots will not be great if you are holding the camera yourself. Beyond a tripod you may want to look into a wireless remote so that you don’t even have to touch your camera to snap the photo but you can set the image in the frame, let go to allow it to steady itself, and then snap the photo remotely. This is what we did and we had great success. Finally, before the day of the main event you will also want to practice working with your camera’s settings so you know how to shoot in low light before you arrive.

SNAP AWAY!

Now you are all set and you can start snapping photos. The sunrise was amazing. The colors in the sky changed a lot, as you can see from the photos below. And the cloud cover actually made the colors stand out more so I recommend choosing a partly cloudy day if you have the option. Obviously, too many clouds (or rain) will not make for ideal photos, but a few wispy clouds here and there turned out great.

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And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the step-by-step photo guide to the ideal shooting spot. Check it out below.

Step-by-Step Photo Guide to Prime Shooting Location

After you pass through the main entrance gate to Angkor Wat you will cross a bridge to access the outer temple gate:

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Once across the water you will be directed to turn left. You can then pass through the outer gate via one of the middle entrances:

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Enter and pass through the gate:

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Once through the gate you will see the temple itself. Follow the path toward the temple until you find some stairs leading to the grass on the left:

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Look for the reflecting pool on the left of the path:

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Make your way to the far left corner of the reflecting pool. This will be your view:

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Look down and you will see two large, relatively flat rocks half in the water. These will be your target when you arrive in the dark in the morning:

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You will want to snatch up this spot early and set up your camera on the rocks so that you have your front row seat:

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And voila! You are ready for a magical sunrise over Angkor Wat!

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Keep a lookout for more information about this amazing trip, including a detailed 4 day itinerary!

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How to Capture Sunrise at Angkor Wat

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