The temples of Angkor are Cambodia’s most iconic sight. They used to be the center of the ancient Khmer empire. It is a complex of multiple temples, some in better state than others, spread across thousands of hectares near Siem Reap. Most people know of Angkor Wat, the biggest and most popular of them all which is the largest religious building in the world, covering approximately 200 hectares – but there are tens, if not hundreds more.
We reached Siem Reap the day before, so we had a bit of time to walk around the town. Our plan was to wake up as early as possible, be there before the sunset, get back to the accommodation during noon for an hour or two of sleep and then get back to the temples in the afternoon to stay until after the sunset. We decided to hire a tuk-tuk for the three days we were there. We found a really friendly driver, who also spoke quite good English – he learnt it in a pagoda – he told us later.
We decided to go to Angkor Wat on the first morning. You will want to arrive there early, while it’s still dark. The reasoning behind getting up so early is that most importantly we were trying to photograph during the golden hours – that are approximately 15 minutes before sunrise, around one hour after, around one hour before sunset and 15-30 minutes after sunset. For the most part this rule applies to landscape photography, but since the temples (or at least Angkor Wat) are out in the open, the warm soft light that is present at sunrise and sunset is excellent for photographing them. I know, I’m not a morning person either, but it’s worth it. Firstly, if Angkor Wat is your destination, there will be crowds. Secondly, you want to have a bit of time to look around and choose a good spot for either watching or photographing the sunrise. A headlamp will probably be helpful in these situations. Now when it comes to photography (and almost anything else really) a bit of research goes a long way. You will want to know the hours of sunrise/sunset and the direction of the light during sunrise and sunset. Before going you might want to decide what kind of photo you want – if it’s a silhouette you are after, pick a spot facing the sunrise.
There are two lakes to the left and right of the causeway as you approach Angkor Wat, use them for a reflection photo. For our first photo we decided to go behind the temple, since the lakeside was already full (not early enough, and we also had to buy tickets) and we wanted to catch the soft sunlight on the temple itself. So we set up our tripod and waited – in vain, since clouds were covering the sky on the east side. We took some pictures nonetheless, since it is not everyday that you see such a magnificent building. About 2 hours later, the sun finally started piercing the clouds – and I ended up with this image, where the sun hits the tower, but only covers it halfway, stopping right above the entrance – giving it a mystical atmosphere.
After walking around the interior a bit, we found a Buddhist monk who was giving a blessing ritual to everyone willing to accept it. I took out my shoes and slowly I stepped on the mat in front of him, ready to receive my first Buddhist blessing. After this we decided to go back in front and try our luck with reflection. The sun was already a bit higher in sky and it started to become a bit hazy, as you can see in this following shot, where all 5 towers of Angkor Wat can be seen. As we were getting back to our tuk-tuk, we took the obligatory compass shot as well with the temple in the background.
We came back the next day in the afternoon, for some sunset shots as well. We wandered around a bit before setting up our tripod across the lake. While waiting, I got harassed by some monkeys who were out to get my mango. One even jumped on by back, looking for stuff in my backpack. Luckily, as soon as they saw that I have nothing of value for them (except my mango) they went away.
We also noticed some monks around – and ended up with these shots – combining two of the most iconic sights in Cambodia into one.
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