Arriving at the Bayon Temple at 0730 wasn’t even the first temple of the day. We had been up since 0415 to get in line for our ID pass into the Angkor complex. By 0530 we were wandering in the dark through ancient archways and climbing very thin steps ascending to the temple summit where we were to watch the dawn rise.
Aside from our guide we were alone; it felt magical and quiet with monkeys chattering in the forest canopy. As the sun began to rise the animal noises became louder as the light eventually shone out illuminating the temple tops of the complex. It felt quite otherworldly – but I have to wonder whether I needed to get up quite so early. I definitely would not do that if I was travelling with children. The day would become incredibly long and the risk of being “templed out” would ruin it. The point people make about trying to get around ahead of the afternoon heat is valid – it is hot; but hot and utterly knackered is probably worse.
If you have the time and inclination, spreading your Angkor Wat complex visit over a number of days would allow you to enjoy and understand more of the area. I would not have put us down as huge Temple people and I was worried about how long we would be interested in getting in and out of the cool van for the searing heat and accompanying temple history. However I can honestly say we loved it for around 6 hours before we called time. Staying for longer is in the realms of the enthusiast I think.
There is a lot written about visitor “dawn experiences”; seemingly everybody wants to see the sun rise over the best preserved capital temple. The reality is that coach loads of tourists pour into the same area at dawn and it is packed with around 20,000 people with flashing cameras. If this is going to kill your mojo consider any of the other temples as start points. Perhaps less well preserved but keeping the peaceful and serene atmosphere intact.
Angkor Wat, the world’s biggest religious structure, enjoys around 4 million visitors a year with many locals thinking there are even more than this as locals don’t pay (quite rightly). You’ll find lots of tourists are in Cambodia only for Angkor Wat, in which case allow 2 – 3 nights depending on your transport in and out of the country.
The details and costs of the Angkor Wat Complex entrance fees are found here. http://www.siemreap.net/temples-sightseeing/temples/entrance-fees/