The morning started at 4:30 AM with a wake up call. Today was an early start to make sunrise at the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Quickly we dressed for the early morning chill and ran downstairs to the lobby to meet our driver and guide for the day, Rak. Sleepily we climbed into the car and drove off into the darkness. We drove round twists and turns with the sound of the tuk tuk motors filling the air as we passed them in our car. We came to a large ticket area to buy our 3 day passes ($20 USD for 1 day and $40 for 3), get our photo taken to be placed on the ticket. The large crowds were quickly handled and within minutes we were back in the car and getting instructions as to where to go once we were dropped off at the gate. It was pitch dark with no street lights, luckily I brought a small portable flashlight. Rak pointed the direction and we were off with the crowds over ancient cobbled stone and we picked our way in the darkness following the simple beam of light. Suddenly a slight outline of the temple loomed in front of us. It was right there the entire time. My breath caught in my throat, as awe washed over me. I had imagined it far from the road, but it was right in front of us the whole time hidden in the inky blackness. We continued on up some stairs feeling our way in the dark. On the other side we could clearly see the temple and where the reflecting pond was to get the best photos.
The large crowd of people spread out along the pond, so it was difficult to get a good place to view the sunrise and see its reflection in the said pond. I pushed through the crowds looking for a better place. On the opposite side a smaller pond was less crowded, so we moved there and waited for the sun. The temples were now outlined by the ever lightening sky. Unfortunately after the early morning start the low hanging mist and cloud along the horizon blocked out the sunrise leaving a bland, dull sky. It was disappointing we missed the glorious colours and sunrise, especailly since the sky appeared clear when we left, oh well the temples were still there, so we set off to explore.
Two smaller structures were near the reflecting ponds, so we started there. We then went to the main temple area. It is 3 levels and each one is a steep climb. In some places wooden staircases and railings were added to make the climb easier. Few people were around, so we were able to explore and take photos with ease. A large crowd had gathered in one area and suddenly everyone jumped up and a rope barrier was moved to allow the crowds to climb to the highest level. Take note that Angkor Wat is a temple and you must be respectful, so no short shorts or uncovered shoulders are allowed. If you do not follow this request you will not be allowed to enter. As far as I know a scarf isn’t enough to cover your arms and shoulders. It must be a proper top. The day we visited it remained cool, so it wasn’t a problem for us. You should also note the ticket you purchased will be requested to be presented at numerous locations even within the same temple complex. It is a paper ticket, so keep it safe. We clambered up the steep stairs and the view was worth it. The view over the grounds and surrounding area was stunning. The sun was finally making a brief appearance and it highlighted all the carvings and bas reliefs that covered the walls. The amount of workmanship in this temple and the carvings that covered every wall, celing and doorway was amazing. Some told stories while others showed gods, or intricate sdesigns. The detail was fantastic and some carvings were shallow and worn over time while others were deep.
The pillars represented mountains and look like lotus buds
Leaving the temple we followed the same route we took before sunrise. We were surprised how large the moat was surrounding the temple complex, like a river, and how close we were to the edge picking our way through the darkness. The uneven large stone bridge was massive. Along the way we could spot the restoration work that has been taking place to preserve this incredible landmark and World Heritage sight.
Stay tuned… more temples and Siem Reap to come.