Angkor Wat, "the city that is a temple", is by far the most visited and most photographed Angkorean monuments. Unfortunately this also means it is the most touristy site.
Masses of tourists arrive for the sunrise when it is still dark outside. No wonder because it is mentioned in every guidebook and website as a "must do". I put it off at first and said I do not want to be with so many people when "enjoying" a beautiful sunrise, but after having seen all the photos, posters and paintings I decided to ask my tour guide about sunrise and he said "have fun!!", indicating that he would not be part of it :-)
I got up at 4am in order to get to the temple in time and was surprised how many local people are on the streets on their way to work by bicycle. The ride on the tuk tuk was surprisingly cold. When arriving at the parking lot, there were already vendors selling books and tour guides ready to be hired. This is at 5am!!
When crossing the long stone causeway over the huge moat and into the first Gopura (gateway) it was pitch dark. I could not see where I was stepping and I hated the fact that I did not have a flashlight with me. Once through the Gopura I heard voices coming towards me, but could not see anyone until my sleepy eyes got hit with the bright beam of a flashlight and there they were - vendors - selling coffee, breakfast or mats to sit on! The best spots for sunrise are actually blocked by the local vendors who want to make a living too. Mind you, we are only talking about a dollar or two!
Still in the dark arrive hundreds of people from China, Korea, Japan and other countries. All looking for a good spot to stand and to put up their tripods. And then you wait a long time until you can see the first silver lining along the horizon which brings out the black silhouette of Angkor Wat.
Slowly there are reflections visible in the ponds just west of the temple but it seems to take forever until the the sun itself becomes visible through the spikes of Angkor Wat's towers. That is the moment when the entire mass of tourists with their camera's seems to leap forward with those people closest to the water scrambling not to be pushed right into the pond. The backpack of a nice guy from Seville in Spain sitting next to me actually plunged into the water as he struggled to hold on to his tripod and cameras to prevent them from falling in as well.
And this is when the whole spectaculum angkorium is over. People leave as soon as the sun is up. Some wait a little longer and enjoy the pretty sight. My Spanish friend there said that he was happy that people didn't applaud when the sun was up, as they do in other countries for the setting sun. Oh, and this is the moment for the "jumping" scene - those people who think they need a photo of every point in the world with them jumping up, arms and legs in the air and a screaming expression on their face. Mr. Spain did not believe me when I told him this would happen soon and he could not trust his eyes as a bunch of girls did "the jump" right in the middle of a group of Buddhist nuns.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat is awesome! No question about that! But the presence of so many people, their voices, shouting and jumping, clicking of cameras and people stepping on you, pushing their way through did not leave a nice imprint on my memory.
We actually visited Angkor Wat again on a separate trip for a daytime visit, because I headed back to town with everyone else for breakfast.