Sunrise At Angkor In Our Own Private Temple

Chanting monks provided a suitably exotic soundtrack as we climbed to the top of our own private Angkor temple in the grey pre-dawn light.

Sitting between two stone lions, my tiny straight-backed sidekick and I gazed out at the wondrous misty jungle-y temple-y scene.

It was just amazing.

We were all alone. (Apart from Darling Man, who snuck up behind us to take this pic, and Horse, of course.)

Bakong Temple

Anyone who is anyone who has visited the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat has “done” the sunrise at the main temple. I’ve done it too. It’s crowded and noisy, like an Asian tourist Carnvinale, with locals bustling about offering coffee and postcards for sale.

I didn’t want to be part of a crowd, just one more person in a swarm of tourists eager to catch that iconic photograph on their tiny point-and-shoot or their phallic long lens.

The little girl in me wanted an old-fashioned explorer’s sunrise, alone in a mysterious temple, with the jungle waking up around me and the light gradually revealing statues and carvings and fallen blocks of stone.

So I damn-well went out and got what I wanted. (I can be a bit like that.)

I asked the manager of our hotel, Tanei Guesthouse, to recommend a temple that would be deserted at sunrise.

I explained how, in early 2007, I had sat in some unknown temple as the world woke up around me.

I told him how the hair on my arms and legs prickled and tingled as the birds began singing and, after a while, an unseen person began sweeping the dirt with the same kind of stick broom their ancestors would have used more than 1,000 years ago.

I said being alone in the dark temple had made it feel like a temple to me, rather than a theme park attraction. I said I wanted to do that again. Not necessarily at the same unknown temple … any deserted unknown temple would do.

The manager of Tanei Guesthouse recommended Bakong temple for my ridiculously romantic explorer sunrise.

And we got just what I wanted. Sharing it with Miss M and Darling Man made it even more special – much more amazing than the lone sunrise at Angkor I experienced in 2007.

(In the movies, for this 2012 sunrise I would be wearing skin-tight leather pants and a tight vest that emphasized my wasplike waist, a ruggedly handsome Darling Man would have three-day-old stubble and a brown hat and Miss M would look precisely like the delectable little doll that she is.)

As you can see, we didn’t really dress movie-style for the occasion. We did, after all, drag ourselves out of bed at 4.30am.

There at Phreah Bakong, only a 30 minute tuk-tuk ride from our hotel in a back alley of Siem Reap and 20 minutes from the tourist-crush at the main temple, we were 1,000 years away from the tourist throng.

We sat high above the jungle on the ancient steps and watched saffron-robed monks leave their pagoda to collect alms. We watched school children pedal their battered bicycles along a narrow dirt track just outside the temple walls. We ate a simple breakfast of bread and jam … and it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Angkor sunrise

We clambered about the beautiful Asian pyramid, quite alone, for about an hour.

And then two young boys turned up with the donation box that sits inside the shrine at the top of the temple.

Sunrise at Angkor


Sunrise at Angkor

It was a magical mystical morning. The mystical feeling may have had something to do with the mist over the jungle, or it may have had something to do with the awe I felt at being alone (with my little family) in beautiful ancient ruins.


I made a very short video hoping to record the monks chanting. It only picked up the birds … but here is is anyway. You can pretend you were right there with us!

And the tourist throng? Well, they would have been in the middle of this:

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7 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.


  1. Maya Ewens says:

    Would love to experience one of those mystic morning temple sensations….! Hugs to all

  2. Greg says:

    We did the main Angkor temple sunrise in 2006, and know exactly what you mean about the crush of tourists. The amazing thing for us was this: we went all the way into the inner temple, and were almost alone. In fact, we were stunned by the mobs we encountered just outside the walls of that inner temple. I do wish, however, that we’d also taken a morning at someplace empty. Thanks for sharing.

    • Barbara says:

      Yeah, we went to the main temple the next morning and the noisy mob was just outside the main gate, not inside. After the sun rose, we went inside and explored for a bit, then came out a side door where a bunch of monkeys were playing around. That was fun, too. (The little buggers sent the cutest baby forward for us to stare at while the others circled around and snuck up behind me and stole the bananas out of my backpack! I had to give them extra points for being so damn sneaky.)

  3. What a great way to experience Angkor Wat! Those photos look incredible and only hope I get to experience this wonder soon!
    Elle of Solo Female Nomad recently posted..Edinburgh First Impressions

    • Barbara says:

      It WAS a great way to experience Angkor Wat. We did the crazy main temple at sunrise the next day but I’m so glad we had our peaceful private experience first. I hope you get to experience it soon, too, Elle!

  4. Melanie says:

    I can’t tell from the photos, what material are the lions made from? Is that carved stone or a bronze or concrete-type product? (I love posts about off-the-beaten-path locations.)

  5. love, love, love, love this.
    wandering educators recently posted..Surviving a Road Trip

  6. How wonderful! We’re hoping to get to Cambodia next year and I am making a mental note of this tip. So glad you enjoyed your trip!
    cosmoHallitan recently posted..Snapshot: Sukhothai Airport

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