My alarm went of at 4 in the morning. It was time. Through all my planning and internet scouring there were but a few things that stood out as highlights – beyond the promise of cheap massages, drinks and all of that sort. But rather, a few cultural icons I was eager to meet. One of them the famed Angkor Wat which is Cambodia’s ancient ruins of multiple temples.
Angkor Wat is the most famous, it is the most majestic, and it’s usually the first one you go to – as it’s famous for sunrises. So I went for sunrise, of course expecting to see the world unravel before my eyes in color form. For some reason, whenever I have these grand pictures in my head I always seem to forget to include the other people that will be there too.
In this case, something that felt so personal between me and Angkor was instead turned into a circus for traveller’s who were just there to check it off their bucket list. You get the serious ones there too, of course, but backpackers in bulk always seem to lessen a cultural impact in any given situation.
The crowds flooded in to the sacred remains and littered it like a house party at a friend’s house whom you don’t really care about. I felt a little emptier knowing this wasn’t going to be as personal and special of an experience as I had anticipated or hoped. Nor would it turn out to be as breathtaking as I can imagine – but I learned that at Uluru.
Uluru lured me in with the promise of magnificent colors abound, but instead was your average sunrise with a big rock in front of it. Still, not an experience wasted, just not what I was expecting.
I had arranged for a tuk tuk driver to pick me up at 4:30 am and trek me out to AW and then to trek me around the site for the day. All for a measley $15. It was a deal, to me! He arrived and we get to the ticket counter at 5 ish, still pitch black, we all line up as you need to get your photo taken for your pass – be it a day, 3 day or week long pass. They ask your nationality, which they do a lot, but I’m not sure why as they don’t seem to track it, but maybe they do somehow.
He pulls me up to the walkway where loads of people are walking in line towards the temple. He says “see you back here, I’ll be over there” and points to a parking lot full of about 100 or more tuk tuks. “OK, SURE” I was thinking, like I’ll be able to find you, but okay Joon, see you later. Follow the hoards over the bridge and into the first bit then continue on with them until it opens to the ponds and you know it’s in front of you, but you can’t see it yet – it’s still pitch black.
We all stand around, try to find the best spot, try to get ahead of the others, look around and… wait. The sun didn’t shine bright over the temple until almost 7 which left a lot of time to just… stand there. There were conversations all around ranging from facebook to “take a better picture of me” to “ugh I’m bored” to “when are we going to eat?” So you know… really deep stuff.
I stood alone, just trying to soak it in. When the sun was rising already a lot of people had lost their faith and already started in and around the temple. I stood there, wanting to see God. I didn’t I saw an ordinary sun rise over an extraordinary building. The building, in daylight was remarkable and meant more. Despite the fact that there were still people here on this sacred spot trying to sell you elephant pants, scarfs, bags, bracelets, coffee, breakfast, you name it.
So on I went to explore after sitting to soak in the site, and the sun. The temple was huge and my biggest folly was not hiring a tour guide on the spot, to explain more. I reckon I would have enjoyed it heaps more had I known, at the time, exactly what it all meant.
After a few hours of wandering I walked back out to the parking lot, where from 200 feet away or more I could see Joon waiving “Lady, lady! Over here lady!” So I laughed and walked over to my designated driver. He whipped the map down from the roof of his tuk tuk and mapped out the route for the day. “Great, let’s go!” I said eager to see more. The next stop was Angkor Thom, much larger of an area than AW and housing what quickly became my favorite temple – Bayon.
This was not too long after sun rise, so the sun was still rising, and it caught the faces of Bayon perfectly. This was a place where I felt something. There weren’t too many people walking around yet over here so it was moderately calm and peaceful.
The rest of the day was bouncing in and out, up and down temples, knowing somewhat but not nearly enough about what it all actually meant. They say the one thing you can do wrong there is try to fit too much into one day… which is what I did.
I knew it was a large campus, but I honestly had no idea how large it was. Plus you walk through all the temples and that includes walking on stone, up and down, stairs, inclines that are practically vertically straight up and made for tiny Cambodian feet, apparently.
One of the temples was the one featured in a Tomb Raider movie, which I haven’t seen, but could hear all the English speakers talking about it. Perhaps I will watch it one day. Which is a bummer is spoils the site, because that probably would have been the coolest one, with the incredible trees growing through it. It is something I have never seen before, and that was really cool.
Overall it was an amazing day, just packed to much in and I was exhausted afterwards. It was like coming home from the Great Ocean Road when my calves were just dying. This time it was my thighs from the stone stairs. I always feel good after a day where I can fit in both cultural exploration along with a good leg workout.
One thought on “Angkor Wat”
OMG you climbed those AND walked all over????? I am so impressed – and exhausted!