Although it happens every single day with predictable regularity, somehow we usually only seem to find the time to give the daily occurrence of the sun setting more than a passing glance when on holiday. If the bus loads of travellers that make the eventide pilgrimage to the small hill of Phnom Bakheng are anything to go by, located in the central Angkor complex, then sunset chasing could be classified as a serious holiday hobby.
The hilltop temple – positively mountainous in contrast to the otherwise pancake flat terrain – is not a bad vantage point to see the top of Angkor Wat as daylight turns to dusk. The problem is that everyone else thinks so too, making it a packed out mecca of sunset-seeking madness with the constant click of cameras. And that’s after you’ve had to queue to climb the last stretch to the top.
If, instead, you’re looking for a serene environment to just pause and perhaps even contemplate life a little, one alternative sunset spot well worth considering is the north-east corner of the moat of Angkor Wat. Note: This should not to be confused with the moat of Angkor Thom, where you can take a gondola ride for a relaxing, though more costly, sunset experience.
The corner of the moat of Angkor Wat is free to get to, asides from the daily temple pass required for general entry to the Archaeological Park. It can be visited any time of day and is reachable on bike or foot. To get here, you need to follow the main, sealed road round the moat then instead of veering right, where the main road goes, simply continue straight. There are a couple of drink vendors and a small checkpoint (not for the moat, but for Angkor Wat) – if you headed left you would be walking across the moat through the ‘back’ entrance of Angkor Wat itself. Instead head straight and the moat will remain on your left. From here a sandy, forested path follows parallel to the moat – continue along it until you hit the corner. The moat is easy to see and follow from all tourist maps.
The advantage of heading to this site by bike is that you can reach further along. You’ll need to bear in mind that when the sun goes down it gets dark quickly and there are no lights to avoid the bumps of tree roots and uneven earth to get the few hundred metres back to the sealed road. By foot it is still perfectly possibly, though we’d simply not venture as far along and make more of an effort to source a flashlight. Either way, the best sunset view is from the north-east corner – otherwise you won’t catch as much of the sunset.
This location is a peaceful way to spend the eventide away from the masses – you can genuinely expect to be the only tourists here. So that’s a piece of Angkor to yourself, in the very centre of the park, literally besides Angkor Wat. You will likely see a small scattering of young Khmer couples or families, spread out along the moat; nobody is going to get in the way of your camera view. It is surprisingly off the beaten path, given its central setting.
It’s worth pointing out that sunset at the temples is a ‘thing’ to do – but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as viable to head back to Siem Reap and take advantage of affordable massages and restaurants. Whilst this area of Angkor ticks the boxes for having a pleasant view, being tranquil and you can see the sunset, glowing strokes of warm yellows, pinks and reds are not guaranteed by any means. You’ll also see the walled temple – you won’t have the iconic towers in sight, which is somewhat less spectacular. But if you’re intent on seeing the sun set, or simply fancy a way to wind down the end of a busy few hours of sightseeing, this is a very convenient site to wind up that offers a sense of adventure in an area where otherwise seemingly no stone has been left unturned.
By Caroline Major
Last updated on 31st January, 2015.