Angkor Wat and its Crowds

I couldn’t resist the need to visit Angkor Wat for that famous sunrise photo.  The only problem is that I wasn’t the only one up to catch that shot.

By the time that Tiffany and I had gotten to the place to take the classic image of Angkor Wat, there was already about 100 people there as well.  I had to slog through the insect-ridden pond and soak my feet in mud to get to a place where I could set up my travel tripod uninhibited.  I certainly wasn’t alone.  Around me, there were at least 15 other tripods set up.  I felt like I was standing in a gallery of sports photographers.

Of course, there were also those who just felt the need to reach over my shoulder and shoot the scene pitch black on their iPhones, hoping for the same results as I achieved.  Of course, there were the dozens of people who somehow thought that firing the flashes on their smartphones or handheld DSLRs would magically cast light on the temples a hundred feet away.

In many ways, it was infuriating. As a travel photographer, I had been hoping to add this shot to my portfolio for ages.  But how can I be mad?  The hundreds that surrounded me by the time the sun had begun to rise over the temples were there for the same reason as I was.

Angkor Wat Crowds

Angkor Wat Crowds Sunrise

The most important lesson I’ve ever learned when it comes to shooting classic scenes like Angkor Wat is to get the most obvious photo out of the way first.  If you go out and grab that first image, that one that has so obviously been staring in your face for years, it allows you to then go about your business and find creative ways to shoot the same scene, or new scenes, without that other image weighing on your conscious.  Moreover, it lets you go on and continue exploring new areas without feeling restricted to that one image.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Angkor Wat Black and White

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Angkor Wat HDR

In the end, Angkor Wat was ever bit as spectacular as I expected it to be.  Sure, it’s crowded, but it is very much worthy of the praise and hoards of tourists.

However, I urge you to tune in for my next article where I got away from the classic shots and moved to some of the lesser known areas of Angkor Wat Archeaological Park.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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5 Comments

  1. Greta shots. Yes, the crowds get there early but licking there is the pond so you can get a clear shot. I used to live in Siem Reap and can testify that every morning is like this.

    The baht is the currency of Thailand, the dong (insert joke here) is Vietnam. I know what currency confusion is like. I can’t hardly figure out what a fruit shake costs anywhere anyone.

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  2. I’m amazed at how casually you just popped the cockroach in your mouth. I would have been dry reaching just trying to put it in my mouth. I was pretty lucky the day I went to Angkor Wat for sunset, there was only a small group of people there. The weather forecast said it was supposed to rain (which is didn’t) so we think that was why it was quiet.

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  3. Very interesting insight about what it looks like behind the camera. Great photos! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Nice pictures, I really like the one with all the photographers.

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  5. I mean, it is pretty much the same sunrise photo everyone snaps or sees…until you examine and appreciate your take on. Love the perspective showing those dynamic clouds above. And, at the same time, avoiding having anyone in the photo while tons of people are there. I visited Angkor Wat recently but decided to skip the sunrise since everyone on my bus had already opted to go. But, maybe I’ll go back again for it. It does look stellar if you can be in your own world. I spent a good 6 hours walking around the complex and at some moments, somehow, found myself absolutely alone.

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