Angkor Wat for Photographers


Everyone has heard of Angkor Wat but a trip to this fabled destination offers so much more.  Siem Reap and the surrounding area is a photographer’s paradise.  It offers landscape, architectural, cultural and people photography just to name a few.  In my opinion, it is the most photogenic area of Cambodia and, for many, the only destination in Cambodia that they visit.  It is easy to reach from both Thailand and Vietnam and is often included as a 3 to 5 day extension for other tours.  The region has a mature tourist infrastructure and you can use a single hotel for your entire visit.  Most sites can be reached within an hour or two from your hotel.


So what’s the attraction for photographers?


1. Angkor Wat


I’ll start with the obvious one.  Angkor Wat is the best-known temple complex in the area because the architecture is fairly well preserved/restored and the stone carvings on the walls are some of the best anywhere.  So if architectural photography appeals to you, don’t miss Angkor Wat.  It also has several lakes on the grounds that provide great reflections if the water is calm.  But the biggest attraction for photographers is sunrise and sunset.  The early morning and late afternoon light offer fantastic images of this famous temple.  There are far fewer people there at sunrise than there are at sunset so you can walk around a bit to find the best spot.  At sunset, there are hundreds of people gathered to capture the post card image so you will need to get there early, stake out a spot and wait for this one.


2. Ta Prohm


This is the temple complex that is still partially covered with trees.  It has the look of a lost temple that you would expect in an Indiana Jones movie.  It provides a glimpse of what the entire area must have looked like when it was rediscovered.  Landscape and architectural photography are your best options here as you try to capture both the temple and the enormous trees that are growing through the complex.


3. Bayon


This complex is famous for its many carved faces in every direction.  They are very large and easy to incorporate into your photos in a variety of ways.  There are also many wall carvings on this temple complex and since the temple is not as old as Angkor Wat, many of them are in good condition.  Doorways and windows of the temple offer lots of ways to frame your photos too.


4. Lots of Other Temples


The area around Angkor Wat has a long history.  There are dozens of ancient temple sites as well as city gates, parade grounds and more.  There are sites of pre-Khmer architecture, like Banteay Srei, as well as some more recent Khmer sites, like Angkor Thom.  Much of it is well preserved too.  There’s lot to see and explore with photo ops around every corner.


5. People


If, like me, you like to photograph local people with ancient backdrops, this can be done in Siem Reap.  It just takes a little planning.  I have successfully used both traditional dancers and monks in this type of photography.  You need to make arrangements for your models and visit the sites very early to beat the crowds, though, as other tourists will make photography difficult as early as 9:00 AM.  Outside of the historical district everyday people like merchants, farmers and fishermen are usually willing to let you take their photo as well.


6. Vendors


There are many roadside vendors in the area around Siem Reap and they offer some excellent local products like palm sugar, woven mats and cloth and even wood or stone carvings.  While the vendor locations and their colorful merchandise will catch your eye, it is the craftsmanship of the vendor and their activities that create the biggest appeal for photographers.   For example, you can photograph people collecting palm oil from the trees or cooking the palm oil to make sugar.  Or you can photograph wood carvers at work making detailed carvings of ancient icons.


7. Streets and Roads


The main roads in the area are often crowded and vehicles are often loaded to the hilt.  The smaller streets are clogged with other form of transportation from pedestrians and bicycles to tuk tuks.  In the countryside, many forms of animal drawn carts are in the street too.  The region has found a way to make organized chaos work and provide endless photo opportunities at the same time.


8. Lake Tonle Sap


A nearby lake has been created on the Tonle Sap River due to flood waters.  The lake size and depth varies greatly throughout the year but many fishermen permanently live on the lake, both in houses on stilts and floating houses.  A boat trip on the lake provides many different type of photo ops because the fishermen have set up an entire community here.  There is a floating school, police station and more.  Everyone moves around by canoe or boat.  You can photograph the fishermen with their nets, young kids canoeing to school or everyday life in homes on the lake.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


    Roger Nelson