First Sunrise of the Year

After going to bed early the night before, we woke up early for the experience we had been planning for the trip, seeing the first sunrise of the year 2011 at Angkor Wat. We were ready to go before 6 am when it’s still dark. Our tour guide Vanna and Hour came on time to pick us up. They looked quite sleepy; it turned out that they actually went to celebrate New Year’s Eve in downtown Siem Reap as well, and they stayed there until after midnight.

The short drive from the hotel to Angkor Wat went like the day before — we waited a little bit at the entrance of the Angkor Archaeological Park to get our entrance passes checked. When we arrived at Angkor Wat, however, we realized that there were significantly more people compared to the previous morning. We’re not the only ones with the idea of going to see the first sunrise of the year at Angkor Wat. Perhaps some people even went directly from celebrating in downtown Siem Reap to end their New Year’s celebration with watching sunrise at Angkor Wat.

The picturesque north pond near the temple was already surrounded by the crowd waiting for the sun to rise and seeing the reflection of the temple on the pond. We decided to go to the south pond across the walkway instead. It was less picturesque as the pond’s water surface seemed a little murky, but there were not that many people there. So I set up my tripod and camera to wait for the sunrise. As we waited for the sunrise, we saw a group of Cambodian children with some adult chaperones gathering near us. It seemed like they were a group doing a field trip — perhaps children from villages or from an orphanage. They seemed to have fun; entertaining and great to see on the first day of the year.

The sun finally came up. The sky was a little cloudy, so the sunrise was not as clear as the day before. I was glad we were there the previous day and got the nicer photos already, but it’s still nice to fulfill our plan of celebrating the beginning of the year at Angkor Wat. It’s definitely a New Year’s Day to remember.

The photo below was taken after we took some photos on the south pond. We walked to the other side to watch people watching the sunrise there. You can see the crowd waiting to see the magical moment near the pond.

New Year's crowd

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

After a good night rest following a long day that started with a trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, followed by a visit to Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng, and completed with attending an apsara dance performance over dinner, we’re ready for another day full of activity in Siem Reap area. We started very early in the morning, leaving our hotel around 6 am when it’s still dark. The first activity of the day, back to Angkor Wat to watch the last sunrise of year 2010.

This activity was as popular among tourists as going to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. It was still dark when we arrived at the entrance gate to the Angkor Archaeological Park, but we could tell that it would be quite a crowd judging from the line of cars waiting to get the entrance passes checked by the officials.

When we arrived inside the Angkor Wat complex, there were already many people in there, mostly waiting near the pond in between the library and the main temple building. That seemed to be a popular spot to wait for the sunrise as from there you could see the silhouette of the temple with the sun rising behind it, and the temple reflected on the pond.

The area near the pond was already full of people, so I decided to set up my camera and tripod a little bit further to the side so I had room to capture the image with long exposure at low light with the tripod support. It worked pretty well, though there were several takes that had to be redone because I had people walking in front of my camera setup as they didn’t realize I was taking photos there.

After a little while, the sun had been rising for a few minutes and it’s getting brighter. Many people had left the pond area, so Kristi and I decided to get closer there to take photos of the temple reflected on the pond. I was able to still get the effect of sun rising by changing my shutter speed to be very high. That allowed me to take some photos like one below without the aid of tripod — very helpful as there were people around me that made it difficult to do any set up at all that require space. It was a great experience, and I was glad that it was a nice, clear sky and we could see the sunrise nicely as we hoped for.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southwestern Utah, about 90 miles away from Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon is known for its hoodoos, the spire-like rock formations in arid, desert areas formed by erosions. While hoodoos can be found also in other places in the world, nowhere else you could find a large concentration of them like in Bryce Canyon.

I arrived late at night on my first visit to Bryce Canyon, and we went straight to our hotel that was located just outside the park. We went to the Bryce Amphitheater — the main area where the hoodoos are found in Bryce Canyon — very early in the following morning, hoping to catch the sunrise and see the sun light illuminating the amphitheater area in the morning. We were not disappointed; it was quite a sight seeing the sun rises in the distance, then slowly seeing the hoodoos in the Bryce Amphitheater being lighted from just silhouettes to bright red color of the sandstone. During the daytime, you can see the area quite clearly from various overlooks in the park. The air quality around Bryce Canyon is among the best that you can see as far as 160 miles away from there.

The photo below was taken from an overlook near the Bryce Amphitheater during my second visit to the park. It was early spring time. That morning it was a bit cloudy so we didn’t get to see the same dramatic illumination of the hoodoos, but the sun light was still soft in the morning that you can see the details of the hoodoos at the Bryce Amphitheater. In the background, you see some vegetations that looked like bushes. Those are actually tall pine trees — to give you an idea of the scale.

Bryce Amphitheater

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is a wonderful place to visit in Maine to experience the beauty of nature. The park is located on Mount Desert Island, which is reachable from the mainland through a bridge. Most visitors stay at the town of Bar Harbor, which is located just at the edge of the park. The park is a popular getaway destination in the Northeast United States especially during the summer months and early fall when the fall foliage is at its peak. The park is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. It has a wonderful one-way road called Park Loop Road that goes around the park on the coastline — the landscape was beautifully designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, who was also the landscape designer of the National Mall, the White House grounds, the Jefferson Memorial, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. There is also a network of old carriage roads that was financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and now provides a nice network of trails to explore the park.

There is one cool place to check out and experience if you go to Acadia — going to the Cadillac Summit, the highest point along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in the morning to see the sun rising over the horizon. During the months of October through March, this place has the distinction as the first place to see the sunrise in the United States. The photo below was taken when I went up there to experience the sunrise on my first morning at Acadia. It’s a neat picture of the sun rising over the horizon on the left, and on the right there was a couple sitting bundled up and enjoying the view.

Sunrise at Cadillac Summit