How to Beat the Crowds (and heat) at Angkor Wat
The best way to visit Angkor Wat is to get there before, or after, the crowds. Luckily, this also often means avoiding the heat as well! The following guide will show photos from our trip to the temples and explain how (and when) we were able to get those perfect Instagram shots without other people in them.
1. Best Way to Visit Angkor Wat Temple
Getting a photo right in front of Angkor Wat Temple with no one in the shot is seemingly the most difficult thing to do, but in fact we were able to get this in just one try by visiting at sunset.
Because most people visit Angkor Wat Temple for sunrise and the grounds close at 6pm, the place gets pretty quiet (by Angkor Wat standards!) between 5 – 6pm. This photo was taken at 5:45pm as the temple staff started ushering people away. It was a bit of a game of leap-frog as one person would get their shot (quickly), then be shooed away. Everyone would take a few steps back towards the exit and then one more would jump into position. This may sound hectic, but the staff were quite used to it and accepted this as an inevitability (while laughing at me twirling around). Just be courteous with them and with the other people trying to do the same!
Another great composition is featured below, which was taken around 5:30pm. Again, we were able to get a shot with no one in it because of the late hour and a bit of cooperation with another couple looking to get their shot.
2. Best Way to Visit Angkor Wat Temple for Sunrise
Perhaps the most sought-after and iconic photo of all of Angkor Wat is the Angkor Wat Temple in the reflection at sunrise. The beauty of shooting here is that despite there being 1000s of people around, no one can get in front of you because of the water.
The best way to get this photo is to arrive before the crowds, which meant being there by 4:40am. The gate doesn’t open until 5am which is when most people arrive. To make sure we got the very best spot, we wanted to be first in line and had scouted our spot at sunset the night before.
3. Best Way to visit Ta Prohm Temple
If you followed our advice and got to sunrise early, you’ll already have some nice shots of the Angkor Wat Temple from the pond with no people in them. That means that as the crowds start flooding in, you can start making your way over to Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple, which is the second-most popular temple in the park.
Ta Prohm does not open until 7:30am, so we left Angkor Wat a few minutes before 7 to get to the gates by 7:10. We ate some snacks and were the first in a line of about 15 people when the gates opened. As a result, we were able to get first dibs on all the best spots with no people in them. Getting the shots without having to wait will also keep you in the front of every line as you move from temple to temple.
4. Best way to visit Banteay Kdei Temple
Because we were able to shoot the places in Ta Prohm that we wanted quickly and easily by being there first, we also allowed ourselves time to explore other compositions at the temple and still be on the road by 8:30am. We arrived at Banteay Kdei Temple a few minutes later and found the temple to be basically empty still. This photo was taken at 8:52am.
Essentially, most of your groups, whether organised or individual, are doing the same loops. By being the first to each place, you perpetually REMAIN the first at each place through the morning.
This was our last temple for the morning, finishing around 9:45am as both the temperature and number of people started to spike. We were back at our hotel by 10am, just in time to catch breakfast, relax during the hottest part of the day, and return to the temples later on in the day.
5. Best Way to Visit Pre Rup Temple
If you have more than one day to visit Angkor Wat, I would strongly suggest following the itinerary laid out above on your first day, including that last hour of sunset at Angkor Wat Temple the night before. If you’ve already done that, then you’re in prime position to visit our favourite hidden gem; the Pre Rup Temple, for a special sunrise.
The temple is open at 5am, giving you plenty of time to explore compositions and watch the sunrise from high up (Pre Rup Temple has a nice, high vantage point.) The sunrise itself occurs over the jungle and is very pretty, but not much of a photo. The real magic is that first golden light on the temple itself!
The shot above was taken at 6:05am. From 5am when we arrived until about 6:30am when we left, we had this entire temple all to ourselves and found so many great photos in that time!
6. Best Way to Visit East Mebon
East Mebon is known for its elephant statues, which have a soft spot in my heart. It is a very popular temple on the big loop and doesn’t open until 7:30am. Most people are going from Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm or Bayon, so East Mebon doesn’t see much action until 9am or later. By going straight from Pre Rup to East Mebon, we were there before it opened and were permitted early entry. This photo was taken at 7:10am.
7. Best Way to Visit Ta Som
Ta Som is often neglected, but has a very special feature that is more commonly associated with Ta Prohm; a large tree growing right out of the temple doors!
We arrived at 8am, which was early enough to be the only people here, but as you can see from the photo, the light was already a bit harsh. If we were to do it again, we would have skipped East Mebon for the time being and gone straight from Pre Rup to Ta Som to get this shot before the sun was so high and casting such harsh lights and shadows, then backtracked to East Mebon.
8. Best Way to Visit Bayon
Bayon Temple is one of the most popular temples in Angkor Wat, and it gets busy very quickly. We arrived at 7:15am and despite it not “opening” until 7:30am, people were already walking around inside and streaming in from the side entrance. We were still able to get this shot with no one in it at 7:22am, but right behind the camera was a large tour group of about 30 people ready to go in. I recommend arriving at 7am and starting with this photo at the entrance.
Once you get inside the temple, there will be plenty of great shots featuring the smiling stone faces, but you will be able to use compositions like the one in the photo below to minimise the impact the large crowds will have. For that reason, I recommend getting any photos from the entrance first and arriving well before it’s technically open.
9. Bonus: Best Way to Photograph the Gates of Angkor Thom!
There is a well-known shot from the road at the South Gate entrance to Angkor Thom. This shot is a bit of a logistical nightmare and the drivers get frustrated with people on a very busy road trying to get their shot.
Instead, have your driver take you to the East Gate entrance. Not only is it much quieter, but you will have some decent light on the face of the gate and a nice red-dirt road rather than concrete.
Get More Instagram Inspiration for Angkor Wat!
To see more photos from my trip to Angkor Wat and many other places, please follow me on Instagram @travelsofsophie.
If you need help planning your once-in-a-lifetime trip to this historic marvel, check out my Ultimate Guide to Angkor Wat.
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