Angkor Temples: Too Early To Rise

By Stephen Ewashkiw | April 11, 2014

12,621 km so far.

Me: “Seriously, what time is it?”

Jane: “5am.”

Crap. I hate Angkor Wat.

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow

OK, I don’t hate Angkor Wat. I am just not a morning person. But, we are in Siem Reap and the thing you do here is get up really early and go to Angkor Wat.

And you can also help a nice Cambodian family get fresh water. Heck you don’t even need to go to Siem Reap to do that.

You are “supposed” to go to Angkor Wat, the main temple, for sunrise. That is the “best thing ever”. Seriously dude, “it will change your life”. Yesterday and today the sky was overcast at sunrise. All the sun did was lighten the grey sky a little. So take that all of you who got up at 4am.

Our travelling friends Lauren and Luke described it the sunrise crowd at Angkor Wat as “like Woodstock”. This Instagram of Lauren’s sure makes it look like it.

Not my preferred way to see anything.

Instead, we got up with the sun, rather than before it, had a quick breakfast and rode to the Angkor grounds. By the time Angkor Wat was rammed with people bustling for spots to watch a sunrise that was obscured by clouds, we were buying our tickets (with no line!).

Before 7am we were pedalling on past Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom, hoping that we would miss the madness and get in a few quiet hours of temple viewing.

No crowds at the gates of Angkor Thom.

No crowds at the gates of Angkor Thom.

Not That Bothered

Truth be told, I was not excited about visiting the Angkor site. Jane is the one who wanted to get up at 5am and get there early. Lots of my friends are really excited for me, and several people have told me it is an amazing place to visit. A few have, of course, told me I should have seen it 10 years ago when it was still indie.

To me, it seems not that different from many of the temples we have visited. If we hadn’t already visited the Xi’an Warriors, the cliff face of a thousand Buddhas, Kamphaeng Phet, Chiang Saen, and various UNESCO sites, along with so many other temples we couldn’t possibly remember them all, maybe I would have been more excited.

I am impressed by the effort it took to create something like this site, but it is just another temple complex. It’s bigger, sure, but to me size doesn’t make it more beautiful, or important. It really means less natural and more touristy.

Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom

Our plan to beat the crowds worked, and we managed to explore the impressive Bayon temple at Angkor Thom in near solitude.

black and white photo of ancient temples

50 Shades of Bayon, Angkor Temples.

We examined the carvings, which for the most part seem to have not been restored.

And admired the stone masonry.

We took in the tourists.

The perfect shot, at Bayon, Angkor Temples.

The perfect shot, at Bayon, Angkor Temples.

And admired the restoration crews, already hard at work.

Gearing up for another day of restoration at Bayon, Angkor Temples.

Gearing up for another day of restoration at Bayon, Angkor Temples.

Finally, we deemed it was time to move on to the next item on the list.

The Royal Palace at Angkor Thom

We had the Royal Palace at Angkor Thom almost to ourselves as well.

archway at ta prohm in angor wat

Arch, The Royal Palace at Angkor Thom.

We took the opportunity to shoot a few portraits.

And of course, there were more carvings to admire.

Tomb Raiding

Outside Ta Prohm’s north wall there is a small dirt track. Locals use it to ride across the Angkor site on their scooters. We turned our bikes onto the path, which led us to Ta Prohm’s north gate.

The gate, which is hidden in the middle of a jungly forest, has a huge tree growing up through the wall, reaching its roots into one of the temples built into the gate, and deep into the ground.

Statue at the north gate, Ta Prohm.

Statue at the north gate, Ta Prohm.

There is a piece of the gate wall, intricately carved, entwined in the roots.

Tree swallows wall, Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

Tree swallows wall, Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

That’s pretty cool.

Ta Prohm is known for being the temple with trees growing out of its walls. It’s also famous for being the The Tomb Raider temple.

tree growing in ta prohm temple

Awesome tree at Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

Even though the crowds were growing, we managed to have a little fun at Ta Prohm.

Most of these temple housed statues of the gods they pay tribute to. Now, empty plinths are all that remain. Buddha statues often (always unless restored it seems) have no head. These precious historical artifacts are in private collections and housed in the world’s museums.

Only here because it was too hard to steal? At Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

Only here because it was too hard to steal? At Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

Over the years, into the 90s, the temples at Angkor were raided by thieves, archaeologists, and private collectors. Not cool, Indiana Jones.

Cute kids leaving Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

Cute kids leaving Ta Prohm, Angkor Temples.

I have decided this is why the Buddha head bust is a popular bookshelf item. The heads were chopped off and brought home to “protect” them. (Taking the whole statue was too much work.) Then museums started selling copies of their Buddha heads in the gift shop, et voila: the sad evidence of theft on a massive scale is now a hip way to say you’re spiritual.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by Dave

    Dave April 19, 2014 at 6:38 am

    If you have the time Banteay Srei is worth seeing. Beautiful carving and few tourists. I believe it was the oldest Watt.


    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen April 20, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      We didn’t make it there Dave. Just a bit too much to see and do. It was on the list, but a bit far out of the way. Next time??

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