My goodness, Siem Reap – and Cambodia in general – is SO HOT! Apparently the climate from March to May is hot AND dry. Even for somebody who lives in the tropics, works out of the office most of the time, and generally loves the sun, there was just too much heat.
Fortunately, I started the day early. Before dawn, at quarter to five in the morning, I left my hostel to meet up with my appointed tuktuk driver who will take me to the Angkor Wat complex, particularly Phrom Bakheng to see the sunrise.
He let me off at the start of the trail. From the foot of the hill, there was a long, winding path upwards. Imagine, it was so dark. I only had the torch from my cellphone to light my way. Needless to say, I did not encounter anybody else while I was walking up.
Slowly, the dark canopy of the trees started to clear and I could see the dim pre-dawn sky and I knew that I was close. Then I saw a high set of steps leading up to the sky and I knew that I was close!
When I got there, I was the first one. My travel friend was right, it is an incredible feeling to have the temple all to yourself even for just a moment…you get to close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to meditate in total isolation. The pre-dawn darkness was also a welcoming isolating element in the entire experience.
Soon enough, I was joined by staff from the Angkor Wat staff and other sunrise spectators. It was also reassuring to have people start coming in. Otherwise, I think I may have become paranoid with all the silence.
I definitely wished that I brought my tripod though. It would have been beautiful to capture the pre-dawn sky with the smattering of stars and the blanket of fog that tries to keep the morning at bay.
And then the sun came.
I must say, it was quite underwhelming. Not only because we had to wait so long for it to rise, but that when it rose, it was such an unassuming ball of light. I remember sunrises in the Philippines would really herald the day. We called it haring araw because the sun IS king.
Driving out of the Angkor Wat complex, I enjoyed a much better view of the sun as it gains power (notice that this is the point where it gets hotter). Then a sneak preview of what I would be enjoying later in the day. See how the people having their picnic is reminiscent of the silhouette of the famed Angkor Wat structure? Awesome!
So, with the sunrise view done, I was more than ready to hunt down breakfast before the main tour.
Now, the tour I got was a bit pricier (USD 32) than what you would see in the city (USD 16 and some even at USD 8). I did deliberate quite a lot the day before whether to cancel my booking and go for the cheaper option. I visited the tour office and had a nice chat with one of the staff there. I was convinced that having a comfortable, small group tour was something that I would pay a premium for. After all the sweating I did yesterday and the days before, I would guess that I’ve had enough DIYs things for quite some time.
The start of the tour was funny. So it was just the three of us tourists and we got to chatting. We started off talking about our expectations of the day. Apparently (and this is not gonna sound as funny as it really was), the other guys thought that they paid extra to go on a bike tour of the temples. They were especially worried for me as I confessed to not knowing how to ride a bike. I said and argued that this tour was a van tour and that we would not have to leave the van except to walk around the temples. Well, they were pleasantly surprised, and I was (honestly) worried for a while there–I did not know how to bike and I still do not–it would be impossible for me to go around Angkor Wat within a day, even if it was the short way of doing things, if we were going on a bike.
So, with all five of us, we took the “Greatest Hits Tour of Angkor Wat”. It was awesome. I will just let the photos speak for themselves.
All in all, we went through four different temple compounds within the entire complex in one day. It was already a lot…and a bit too much to take in. Or not enough variety if you’be had too much temples.
At the end of the day, we were all “Templed Out” as I heard one of the American tourists say in Thailand the other day. All in all, though, it was an awesome visit. I am awed at the Khmer peoples who have striven to achieve such marvels several centuries ago.
I will most probably come back. Maybe bring my parents and siblings along too?