Everybody goes to the west gate watch the sunrise in front of Angkor Wat.
E-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y (and their tripods).
But watch the sunrise from Angkor Wat? That requires sneaking around in the dark and paying a small… *cough*… “fee.” Ahem.
Our hearts raced with nervous energy as we entered the 900 year old temple alone, in pitch blackness. At one point, we stepped into a courtyard and paused because we thought we heard monks chanting. (Nope… we had just awakened all the mosquitoes in Cambodia.) Alicia wavered, sure that the instructions that a fellow traveler gave us would get us arrested, but Tony kept us on mission.
We made it up to the third, final, most sacred tier, the Bakan, just in time to hear the jungle come alive with the calls of strange birds and to see the bas reliefs illuminated by the red morning sun.
We looked down at the hundreds of people gathered at the far end of the pond, grateful that we were not among them.
As soon as the sun was up, the guards quickly shooed us back down, presumably to avoid the scrutiny of the people who began filtering into the courtyard who might wonder why the posted opening times didn’t apply to us.
After that great start, we were not too frustrated with the tour groups clogging the pathways through Ta Prohm (a.k.a. the Tomb Raider temple).
We experienced another peaceful (albeit more conventionally achieved) sunrise at Bayon Temple the following morning.
We visited many other ancient Khmer temples around Siem Reap, but those two sunrise experiences were the best.