You’re in Siem Reap, Cambodia to explore the ancient Angkor temple complex and immerse yourself in the rich Khmer culture. Watching the sunrise in the shadow of Angkor Wat is inevitable. Sure, you have to wrench yourself awake before dawn and fight your way through mob-level crowds to that perfect viewing spot, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Trust me; it’s totally worth it.
What you may not know is that a sunrise trip to the temples is the perfect opportunity for a local food adventure.
For me, the real magic happened after daybreak, when the crowd of sun worshipers climbed back into their buses and tuk-tuks and headed back to town for breakfast and a nap. If you’re planning to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat (and you will), don’t head staight back into Siem Reap. Grab a Cambodian breakfast of Bai Sach Chrouk – barbecued pork & rice –at a local restaurant stand.
Offer to take your tuk-tuk driver out to breakfast, and he’ll give you the lowdown on the area’s best bai sach chrouk. Imagine slightly sweet & sticky barbecued pork served on a bed of fluffy white rice. This is the quintessential Cambodian breakfast, traditionally enjoyed by locals at street-side tables in the early morning. Also note that the water is safe to drink in Siem Reap, so feel free to enjoy an iced coffee while you’re chowing down.
I accompanied my driver to his favorite stand, located deep within the temple complex. The open air restaurant offered a full menu of traditional Khmer dishes. “I’ll have what he’s having” is an excellent strategy if you’re unfamiliar with the local fare. In the jungle, you’re also guaranteed some interesting table-side entertainment. We watched a pack of monkeys tear through baggies of stolen fruit then engage in…uh…acts of intimacy before stretching out for a nap in the morning sun…on a 1200-year old wall.
The bonus to sitting shoulder to shoulder with locals and enjoying a home-cooked meal in the jungle? Those sunrise tourists are still napping. You’ll get to take advantage of less crowds at the complex’s most popular temples (Ta Phrom, Angkor Thom) after breakfast.
Useful Travel Tip/Warning:
Remember those monkeys? Well, they’re jerks. Keep your eye out, because they’re waiting to steal your snacks. If they ambush you (and jump onto your lap with teeth bared) don’t be like me who tried to hang on to her food. Just let it go, because rabies.