Every day, in the event we find ourselves in a place with clear skies, we are witnesses to nature’s artistic prowess. With the vast blue sky as its canvas, it starts to spill dramatic hues contrasting its background at almost the same time daily. This regular phenomenon has inspired other artists to write about it in poems, paint it in physical sheets of fabric for people to touch, and even urge many to cross oceans in search of the best sunsets. Southeast Asia’s surreal thousand years old temples and bountiful natural resources serve as perfect elements completing the most photogenic sunsets you will ever see in your life. Here are the top five places to watch the best sunsets in Southeast Asia (or maybe even the world):
Ha Long Bay
The only fitting natural backdrop in this list is the rugged limestone towers of Ha Long Bay. The bay in itself is already enchanting during daylight; however a veil of mystery and magic envelop this said wonder once the sun starts to retreat. Playfully tinting the heavens with tangerine and rose tones, one of the best things to do in Ha Long Bay is when it prepares to rest. Silhouettes of fishing boats and karsts outline your view which only adds to the dramatic effect of the sun slowly setting. Best viewed in one of the wooden boats’ sundecks, it is one of the ultimate sun basking stories you will tell. The experience of seeing this masterpiece while cruising along its still waters would be hard to replicate. Where else can you experience an otherworldly place than what’s already in front of your eyes?
Best enjoyed with your loved one, the vivid skies serve as the perfect setting for a romantic getaway whether it is your honeymoon or just a quick rendezvous away from Hanoi. Traveling here solo? Don’t worry Ha Long Bay’s sunset will surely capture your heart and believe in love again.
Pre Rup Temple, Angkor Wat Complex, Cambodia
Late risers need not fret if they miss out on the infamous sunrise shots of Angkor Wat. Pre Rup temple’s grand and timeworn facade proves to be a great alternative for those who missed their chance for sunrise shots famous in this part of the world. Pre Rup temple is huge and would be very difficult to miss. A temple-mountain built with laterite, brick, and sandstone construction; the warm hues of these materials are best marveled in the early morning or as the sun is setting. If you fancy taking Instagram shots, then now is the best time to snap that photo. If you are not to be bothered with immortalizing moments with photos, maybe the sun’s gentle kisses on your hands while writing on your diary will seem more ideal to a dreamer like you.
Standing among ancient structures while waiting for the rest of the day makes you wonder how the first sunset looked like. Find a place to sit and start scribbling through your journal and get inspired. These storied temples stood as spectators of this exhibition and may even be holding secrets from the past, and there you are sharing this incredible moment surrounded by history while you wait for a new page to be written. As the sun flickers its last light unto Pre Rup that day, the temples earthy hues slowly turning dark, you find beauty and it convinces you that tomorrow’s story may be the best yet.
U Bein Bridge, Myanmar
Let the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world be the highlight of your day while the gorgeous sunset here complement your narrative. As dusk approaches, the skies around this bridge no doubt hold a magnificent show. However, you will soon understand that the sunset is not the main subject of that photo you have just taken.
Sonder is a word recently coined which briefly means “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”. Just as the sun illuminates U Bein Bridge with unbelievable colors, you are enlightened on how sonder parallels with sunsets. While the bustle of people here is common all day, the bridge usually reaches full capacity during twilight. Monks blend with the skies in their crimson robes traversing the bridge from one end to the other, Burmese cycling from shore to shore after a full day at work, and fishermen slowly casting their nets in the placid waters around; this animated scene proves to be visually entertaining and also mentally satisfying. As lucid as the skies in Mandalay prove to be, so are its people.
Borobudur Temple, Java, Indonesia
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is included in this list as Borobudur Temple gives you an exotic experience like no other. Considered to be the world’s largest Buddhist temple, it is a striking stupa and complex of the Buddhist period in Java. Evidently contrasting the quilted green rice paddies that surround it, this vast monument has survived volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and many other incidents that may have not been recorded since it was built 1,200 years ago.
The temple is built resembling a Mandala which signifies the universe in Buddhist belief. The structure has three zones representing consciousness with the central stupa symbolizing Nirvana or unconsciousness. Zone 1 or Kamadhatu embodies the “phenomenal world, the world inhabited by common people.” This level depicts the law of cause and effect. With 160 reliefs depicting these scenes and partially hidden, only a photography of the entire collection is displayed at the museum. Zone 2 (Rapudhatu) or “the transitional sphere, humans are released from worldly matters.” These level features 328 Buddhas and intricate reliefs. The central dome sitting on top of these levels signifies the rising above the world. Arupadhatu or “the highest sphere, the abode of the gods” has been spared any intricacy in its design to respect the purity of form. All these you get to see and experience while you immerse in the cultural and historical context of this enduring monument as well as the vestiges of the sun before night falls.
Bagan Temples, Myanmar
Finding the best vantage point to watch the sunset in Bagan will prove to be a bit challenging with more than 2,000 temples and pagodas sprawling over this massive ancient city. The government most recently decided to ban climbing the temples after the 2016 earthquake that compromised the structure of these thousand years old monuments. However, they also made sure that you will still not miss out on the world-famous sunrise and sunset of Bagan.
One affordable way of chasing the sunset here would be heading to the man-made earthen hills that the government has established. It may not have the thrill and allure of climbing temples, but this way you help preserve history and still enjoy the blazing sun as it sinks calmly to earth. Perhaps the most popular and memorable way of viewing the sunsets here would be to ride a hot air balloon above the temples and get a panoramic view of nature’s breathtaking performance and man’s unbelievable architectural feat. As a mecca for travel photography, often listed on bucket lists, Bagan is a fitting place to practice and polish your camera skills. Drink in the grandiose rainbow of colors in the sky and capture as many pictures as you can to relive this beautiful memory in the future. But you know capturing it on lens will never compare to seeing it for yourself, you also know you will be back again to witness the magic that Bagan is.