Do’s and don’ts when visiting Angkor Wat. This article, based on our experience from running photography workshops in Angkor park. It is aimed at photographers who intend to visit the temple complex, however many points are relevant to all visitors.
Jet lag. Don’t expect to get off a long haul flight and do a full day photography tour. A full day, sun rise to sun set is a very long day, thats why we often break the day up into morning and late afternoon. We have had people drop out after sunrise & miss the rest of the day due to jet lag! Also, people that over sleep and forget their early morning pickup, not the best way to please your guide and driver. You may have traveled a long way to see the majestic scenes of Angkor, make sure you enjoy it.
Cover up from the sun. Probably obvious, theres plenty of sun here. Even in rainy season, we are blessed by the shades of clouds and cooling rains, but between clouds the sun can be intense. Walk like the locals do, in the shade. You will see Khmer covered from head to toe with kramas gloves & socks, theres a reason for that. So grab a hat & keep cool, and observe the dress code of conduct from the Apsara authority.
Water. High season is particularly warm mid day so keep the fluids going. People have passed out in the park due to dehydration, luckily nobody yet on our tours as we supply ample water for free.
Patience. Big tour groups are becoming more popular within the park. We do our best to avoid them, however it is not always possible. They will pass with time, until the next group comes along, there a bit like buses. Similarly, wait for the right light. You will probably be here for only a few days. To be at the right place for the right light is not always possible in one day but we do out best, knowing where the light good and at what time.
Stick to the path and times as advised by the lovely Apsara staff. Climbing up unsafe structures within the park & you will be cautioned. The Apsara staff are everywhere in the complex. They seem to put odd arrows saying ‘way of visit’ which is normally ok to overlook. A Khmer with an Apsara uniform and a two way radio and whistle has power! Be polite and do as they say, even if there is absolutely no sensible reason for the ‘way of visit’ sign. Similarly, opening times have become a lot stricter in recent years, so again be polite and respect the rules – see Angkor code of conduct for an overview. People have been known to be approached by machete armed monks in remote a temple after dark thinking the photographers were ghosts, but thats another story.
Route plan. If you are on a photography tour then let us know your preferences and we will try to fit them in, however, take our advice. There are certain areas and times of day where places are at there best. If your just going via tuk tuk, most drivers will know the routs, so please speak to them before departure and they will try to accommodate.
Footwear. A good closed walking shoe is recommended. Don’t do as your guide does and wear open footwear. The temple floors are uneven at best, with plenty of opportunity to trip. I have twisted my ankle early one morning, it’s not fun. Fortunately a tripod can double as a walking stick.
Monkeys. People travel half way around the world to see these iconic structures then want to photograph the monkeys. Quite often our last temple stop has many monkeys near by, so go shoot at your leisure. Don’t expect enthusiasm by your guide, and if you have food, be aware that thats what the monkeys want, they may try to get it.
Watch your head. Those sandstone lintels are hard. Many of the temples have low entrances and it can hurt!
Mosquitoes & bugs & things. Living in the Cambodian climate, mosquitoes seem to be less of a problem. However, if they are attracted to you then bring some repellant. Lots of tourists also bring along hand sanitizer too, probably a wise move. As for other creatures, most of the paths are well trodden, and although we do see the odd snake or scorpion, sightings are rare. After dark can be fun, with numerous oddball creatures making an appearance. Ants are evil, the big red ones bite, the ones that steal your food, you have been warned!
Kit. We all get carried away and it’s a great place to test out your new camera. But remember, it’s your eye that sees the shot. Don’t get carried away and buy the whole range of top end lenses expecting immediate results. Lugging all that kit around in the mid day heat is not so fun, travel light! When coming out of your air-con room at 4.30 am to catch the iconic Angkor Wat sunrise, get your camera out to acclimatize, its all about the dew point! Entering into the morning heat will inevitably cause condensation on your lens, giving an artisticly blurred sunrise shot for all your efforts. Also look after your gear. A long day at the temples is tiring. Pushing yourself too much can lead to mistakes. An incident that happened to me a while ago. I was hastily changing a lenses to capture some action. Showing someone the photo on the rear screen, the lens dropped off, the bayonet fitting not properly secured. It bounced three times on stone before I caught it. Remarkably, the lens still worked, a testament to Canon L series. While were on the kit theme, memory is cheap now so snap away & bring more memory than you think you will need. Get your memory cards before you enter Cambodia, they tend to be expensive here, cameras however are relatively good value! Don’t forget a spare battery, especially sony users – you know, obviously charge them up before your temple tour.
Dust & Humidity. Camera Killer. You visitors are lucky, your hear for a few days. We have to put up with this for most of the year 🙂 A bit of common cense, keep your camera clean and off the floor. A good bag with ventilation & maybe a rain cover in the wet season will all help. I carry a dry-bag for emergencies when out shooting storms, however in the temple area theres always some sort of shelter around.
Get to know your guide! Wether it be a professional photographer or a licensed Local guide, make sure they are who you want for the day ahead. Theres nothing worse than booking through a third party and not getting what you want. If, for example, you want a German speaking guide, then make sure you talk to them prior to booking your trip!
Above all, enjoy your day at the temples. Don’t rush, absorb the atmosphere and respect the locals, they are great people. The best light is at the beginning and end of the day so theres no real need to rush around in the mid day heat. Take this time to reflect on the overwhelming magical temples of Angkor.
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Check our guide on How to photograph Angkor Wat – Preah Khan