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Sunrise and sunset at Angkor

A few tips on the best places to see sunrise and sunset at the Angkor temples

Everyone likes a great sunset photo. Silhouettes of palm trees against a fiery sky, perhaps a silhouette of a bathing elephant (if you happen to be on Koh Chang) or an iconic Buddha image or temple spires would look great on your social media profiles. Sunrise photos are, of course, rarer – you are on holiday – but Cambodia is one of the spots where travellers will make that effort so, what are your best locations for sunrise and sunset at Angkor?

Firstly, a brief description of the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Historical Park is required. The core area of this vast ancient city covers some 200 square kilometres and is considered to house at least 70 major temples and ancient structures although the city originally extended much further in every direction and included literally hundreds of minor and lesser-known sites.

Cambodia, Angkor sunrise
Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Angkor Historical Park is located just north of modern-day Siem Reap and is bordered to the south by the Tonle Sap Lake and to the north by Kulen Mountain. 1000 years this would all have been habitations, roads, reservoirs, canals and of course temples, although today much of this is covered with paddy-fields and the suburban sprawl of Siem Reap while the protected park area is home to dense – protected – jungle. (This area is also great for wildlife by the way.)

Tall trees, creepers and undergrowth have been cleared around the main temples although famously – and photogenically – still encroach on some. The setting is picturesque – parakeets and macaques add to the jungle atmosphere although there’s the rub; open vistas are consequently few and far between and sunrise and sunset at Angkor are largely obscured by forest.

To obtain those colourful views requires open space or, at least, a high vantage point. The terrain however is flat with just a solitary hill, Phnom Bakheng, found in the central Park area. Phnom Bok lies some distance to the north while Phnom Krom is located south of town on the edge of the Tonle Sap. (Yes, Phnom means hill in Khmer.) Both are good, outside-of-the-box options although they’re some distance from town.

Since most temples are nestled in forest clearings, even if you find a high viewpoint you’re not going to see much except canopy. Naturally, for good sunrise views you need an east-facing vista and west-facing for sunsets so that further narrows down the options. Angkor Wat itself is really the only temple with enough open land to its west to afford convenient sunrise views.

Tall trees surround Bayon Temple
Tall trees surround Bayon Temple

While the overall site is so vast it’s easy to avoid the crowds, sunrise at Angkor can get busy – particularly during high season. Nevermind, look at the spectacular view in front of you – not the row of fellow tourists to your left and right – the sight is worth it. We’ll get you there early – the guides know good spots – and once the sun has risen and your neighbours returned to their Siem Reap hotel for breakfast – you’ll visit a near empty Angkor Wat.

Conversely, on the east side of Angkor Wat, the forest nearly reaches the temple’s edge so you won’t get enougn distance to see any sunset. The best options are finding a higher viewpoint and by far the most popular is the aforemtioned hill, Phnom Bakheng. That said, you won’t see it on any of our Cambodia itineraries. The space is more confined than at sunrise – but with an equal number of visitors – and as the sun obviously sets west of the hill, it’s setting over the old Siem Reap Airport and the huge reservoir, the Western Baray. If you just want a featureless sunset shot then you may as well sit by the hotel’s rooftop pool.

Angkor Wat, seen amongst the trees to the east from Phnom Bakheng
Angkor Wat, seen amongst the trees to the east from Phnom Bakheng

Most temple sites at Angkor close at dusk – with authorities understandably reluctant for various reasons – to allow visitors to wander after dark. Many of the best-known ones, such as Prasat Preah Khan, Ta Prom or Bayon are ‘flat’, or low temples with the only pyramid form sanctuary where sunset access is permitted being Pre Rup. (Renovated and reopened in 2024.)

The summit of the relatively small temple offers a very limited area and while that may be ok for low season, we’d also be relcutant to include it as a sunset visit during busy months. Our choice – high on atmosphere but without any orange skies – is a dusk visit to Banteay Kdei. Much less-visited than its more famous, above-listed, cousins this Jayavarman VII temple still comes with the iconic faces and giant roots and we’ll guarantee that, at that time of day, you’ll just have the parakeets and cicadas for company.

The picturesque Sra Srang ancient reservoir
The picturesque Sra Srang ancient reservoir

Entering from the west and exiting by the east gate takes you to Sra Srang – a small, by Angkor standards – reservoir whose waters pick up the sunset reflections. An ancient jetty with lion statues offers an attractive silhouette while adjacent bamboo shacks offer cold cans of Angkor beer. (You’d probably be ready for one by then!)

So – sunrise and sunset at Angkor – follow the crowds when you have to, avoid them when you don’t, think outside of the box and…above all…make sure you have an expert local guide to show your around.