We get it, you’re hostel-hopping across southeast Asia, which means you’re inclined to wave goodbye to early mornings and scream hello! to late nights, lie ins, and lazy breakfasts sipping fresh coconuts in the sun before a spot of sightseeing. Bliss, right?
But every traveller should know that there are a few places in Southeast Asia so beautiful they warrant 4am starts in order to beat the crowds of tourists, avoid the heat of the day, and see these wonders of the world illuminated by the blazing eastern sun as it rises over them. In fact, we’re just as partial to a hot pink sunrise as we are to a sunset, so we’ve made a definitive list of the ones you really shouldn’t miss… and added in some advice to make sure you don’t! So trust us on this – fight the hangover, set your alarm, grab a 20 cent coffee from the nearest local coffee stand and don your sunnies. Every one of these incredible spectacles has the ability to alter your perspectives forever more…
A majestic kingdom built by a Burmese king in the 11th Century, homing over 2000 peaceful, crumbling pagodas, temples and multi-storey monuments, empty and y0urs to explore, climb and conquer… sound up your street? Well, for us, it’s definitely better than a day at a desk. Or a day at the beach. Or anywhere else in pretty much all of Asia. To be honest, we can’t think of many places more magical than Bagan in the world!
Untouched, aside from the friendly locals who call Bagan home, this 26-square mile archaeological zone warrants the journey off the beaten path from neighbouring Thailand. Rise early each morning, pick a temple (any temple!), and climb to the top to watch the sun slowly illuminate the 2000 pagodas, temples and stupas.
Tips for the best Bagan sunrise:
Hire a bike the night before your early morning start – the electric scooters available from most guest houses work best on the dusty, sandy roads.
Shwesandaw Pagoda offers incredible views and is the most popular sunset spot. Sunrise atop of here, or on any of the surrounding temples will offer you an ultimate zen experience!
If you want to catch a ride in the famous hot air balloons floating over Bagan at sunrise (or just get an awesome one of for the ‘gram of them), head there between October and March.
For more Myanmar inspiration and a whole load of tours of this untouched gem, click here.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
One afternoon just isn’t enough to explore this sprawling ancient Khmer city. To get fully immersed in Southeast Asia’s most impressive monument, you’ll need at least two or three. Beat the heat and catch the worm (well, that iconic photo, free of obstructive selfie sticks and sunhat-clad tourists who engulf the area later on) by heading there for dawn. Wandering around the ruins before everyone else arrives gives the feeling that you’re just discovering the empty, abandoned ruins after thousands of years; Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, eat your hearts out.
Tips for the best Angkor Wat sunrise experience:
Stay in nearby Siem Reap and keep yourself away from the hectic Ankgor What?! Bar on Pub Street for just one night, so you can rise to a 4am alarm the next day.
Bear in mind that it can take up to half an hour to drive from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat, then just as long again to clear the ticket gates, park up and walk through the main gate to the Reflecting Pond, where you’ll be able to get the famous sunrise view.
After you’ve explored the main Angkor Wat temple, head north to Angkor Thom before thousands descend on this otherworldly masterpiece, filled with charismatic carved faces and endless nooks and crannies to explore.
Many tuktuk drivers are happy to take you around the entire complex for the day for a set price. The other alternative is hiring a bicycle, since the 162 hectare site is much too big to walk around.
Our Cambodia Experience offers you two full days in Siem Reap meaning you have maximum time to Reap the most benefits from this ginormous complex! Plus, you’ll have all of Cambodia’s other highlights thrown in too. Otherwise, consider Indochina Encompassed which allows you to pack in Bagan, Laos and Vietnam, too!
The Indonesian island of Java, next to Bali, may sound tropical, but in reality it resembles a different planet… a planet full of otherworldly sunrises and some serious volcano-porn. In fact, its home to three unmissable sights, all within around 320 miles of one another, which calls for one epic sunrise chasing journey.
Samyang AF 14mm f2.8 FE Nisi V5 Holder Nisi Hard Nano IR GND4 (0.6) Nisi Nano IR ND64 (1.8) #borobudur #borobudurtemple #borobudursunrise #unescoheritage #unescoworldheritages #7wonders #7wondersoftheworld #sevenwonders #sunrise #sunrise #sunrise_sunsets_aroundworld #sunset_stream #sonya7rii #sonyalpha #sonyalpha_id #sonyindonesia #sonyalphasclub #nisifilters #nisifiltersindonesia #igtravel #instagood #instatraveling #instatravel #beautifuldestinations #wonderfulindonesia #borneodigital_share #travelphotography #travelpics #travelling
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First up, Borobudur, a mad and mystical Buddhist temple complex, just outside the cultural city of Yogyakarta. With a thick mist that often shrouds the hundred Buddha statues here at dawn, and the mighty (and still active) Mount Merapi overlooking it, a sunrise visit to Borobudur has to be on the cards.
Further east, you’ll find Mount Bromo. This huge volcanic national park is home to three active volcanoes, the smallest, steamiest of which in the photo above is Bromo.
You’ll arrive via the transport hub of Probolinggo, and take a local bus or pick-up to the tiny hilltop village of Cemoro Lawang to catch a few hours of kip before you begin your dark journey to the sunrise viewpoint. The next few hours will involve blitzing across a seemingly endless black sand plain in a jeep, seeing the volcanoes turn every colour of the rainbow under the rising sun… and then climbing them to peer down inside.
Furthest east in Java’s trio (and within a stone’s throw of Bali!) is the Ijen Plateau. This place throws out some serious End of the Earth vibes, so if you’re in Indonesia, you should beeline here and rise at 2am to stand on the edge of this huge volcanic crater filled with a paint box blue acid lake.
We’re not sure what makes this place one Southeast Asia’s most astounding secrets: maybe it’s the fact that it’s the only place in the world you can see bright blue (!!) flames burn from volcanic vents, or the sulphur miners who extract the solid bright yellow chemical from them around the clock, or the sunrise itself, or the fact that you can see Bali on the horizon when you’re stood on the crater edge.
Another incredible 24 hours in Java. Got up at midnight to trek Ijen and then climb down into the crater in the pitch black to see her rare ‘blue fire’. Watching the sun rise over the acid lake was out of this world! Photos can’t do this any justice #Ijen #volcano #acidlake #sunrise #travel #indonesia #instatravel #surreal #scary
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You can only hike up to Ijen’s crater with a guide. Take a tour which includes a hotel in Bondowoso, and begin the trek at 2am with some sensible shoes and a head torch. Talk about Java being an absolute adventureland!
Tips for the best sunrise chasing journey:
The easiest and safest way to hit up these incredible sights with one of our tours of Java (check out the range of Java, Bali and Sumatra tours here), as transport can be long and painful if you try to do it independently.
A beach in Thailand
If all else fails, including your hiking legs, your alarm clock, or your discipline when confronted with a bucket of Sangsom and a bunch of new travel friends post-10pm, there’s always the sunrises you’ll soak up when you haven’t been to bed yet. So here’s to beach parties, jungle parties, awesome new friends, and staying up ‘til 7am with the sand between your toes. Cheers!
Planning on heading to Southeast Asia in your lifetime? Of course you are. So be sure to hop on to one of our Asian adventure tours, which encompass all of the above destinations… and more.