Having negotiated a price with a local driver for the day, we agreed a pick up time at 4am; giving us ample time, in the likely event that we would miss our first alarm after enjoying the best (and worst) of the infamous Pub street the night before, to travel the short distance from our hostel in Siem Reap - 6 km south of Angkor Wat.
Pub Street in Siem Reap. A long road teeming with bars and restaurants.
Not a minute late, and more awake than us both, our spritely driver - who had no troubles with the unearthly hour - ensured we arrived at the main 'west' entrance shortly before they opened the gates 5am sharp; sunrise was due to start around 5.30am and ending just after 6am (dependent on the time of year).
As anticipated, we weren't the only people to make the early start - we had however planned ahead by purchasing our permits the day earlier after 5pm, which gives the opportunity to enter the complex the same day before it closed. Utilising this time to not only watch the setting sun's light sparkle over our first views of the complex, we pinpointed a great spot to capture that quintessential shot of Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Red skys above the moat surrounding Angkor Wat
Leading the crowds, we marched our way over the stone causeway - weathered guardian lions marking the way - across the gigantic moat surrounding Angkor Wat.
Our destination was the reflection pond in front of the main temple - with the sun due to rise from behind Angkor Wat - on the left side of the walkway facing the temple spires.
Angkor Wat Northern reflection pond
To the point of tipping our toes into the water, we made sure to get as close as possible to the edge of the pond to prevent any late comers from stealing our well earnt view.
As the sun began to rise at around 5.20am - during a light morning shower - the silhouette of the temple started to look magnificent. Despite being surrounded by an audience of hundreds in close proximity, It was very easy to zone out and become absorbed by the breathtaking scale and beauty of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.
As the sky began to transition from dark blue to a sublime orange, the glow of the sunlight began to rise over and dance off the temples five lotus blossom shaped towers rising into the air - a truly monumental and awe inspiring sight.
After half an hour the sun was high in the sky - ready to beat down on another hot and humid day in the high 40's.
Discover ideas for your next trip and begin to plan it with Lonely Planet Cambodia.
Lonely Planet Cambodia
As the crowds quickly began to disperse we were left with a visceral feeling of awe far beyond anything we could have imagined.
Detailed wall carvings within Angkor Wat.
After venturing into the inner depths of the temple, you start to appreciate the beauty and scale of preservation at Angkor Wat. From afar the complexity of the building cannot be translated - as the most photographed Khmer monument, nothing approaches the actual experience of seeing this temple in person.
North Library at Angkor Wat.
Jungle surrounding the temple of Angkor Wat.
Alistair is a passionate traveler who has explored a diverse array of cultures and countries, having visited over 50 destinations across multiple continents.
Currently in: London, United Kingdom — @0_7734