I woke up in darkness to the sound of my alarm. It was 4:30am, a time of the day that I used to dread. For the past seven years I had been getting up at 4:30am to go to work. For those seven years I hated the sound of that alarm, and I hated that time of the day. But today was different. Today I jumped out of bed, full of excitement despite the lack of sleep. I wasn’t back at home getting up to go to work. I was in Cambodia, and today was the day that I would be visiting Angkor Wat. I was up this early to see one of the most famous historical structures in the world. And I was going to see it at sunrise.
I had this picture in my head of what Angkor Wat would look like at sunrise. I had seen so many photos of it before. It was like some magical world with the grand structure of Angkor Wat silhouetted against an orange sky as the fiery sun rose above it in some godlike appearance. Everyone said that it was just stunning, so I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like. I was excited.
When Veronika and I stepped outside of our guest house to meet our tuk tuk driver, we walked out into a dark, drizzly predawn morning. I think I knew then that I wouldn’t be getting my “perfect Angkor Wat sunrise”, but I still hung onto the idea.
Although we were the only ones at our guest house up this early, there were plenty of other people on the road making their way to see the sunrise spectacular. We were amongst other tuks tuks and mini vans, and even a few keen cyclists when we got to the entrance to Angkor Wat. There was light on the horizon as we began walking, but we were still kind of walking blind. A torch would have been a good idea.
I set up my tripod right at the edge of the small lake that sits in front of Angkor Wat, waiting for the sun to rise above the structure. Plenty of other people gathered around with their umbrellas and cameras, while I had to shelter mine with a plastic bag. The drizzle wasn’t going anywhere, and as I fired off exposures, everyone around was wondering if the sun had actually risen or not. I knew that it now had. The overcast skies had hidden the sun, preventing that fiery sunrise that we were all so looking forward to, but I wasn’t disappointed. What I got instead was a slowly changing sky of different shades of blue. From the dark blue sky of predawn, the slowly rising sun turned the blues into lighter shades, slowly revealing Angkor Wat itself. I realised that whatever time of day it was, or whatever the weather was like, there was no way that this place could be disappointing. It is just too impressive to let anything change it.
While the crowd was still gathering around the lake, we sneaked off to visit Angkor Wat itself, hoping to see it all before the huge tour groups arrived. Visiting just after sunrise turned out to be a great move. There were still plenty of people there, but nothing like what there would be later in the morning. This is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, so wandering it’s grand halls and rooms in peace isn’t easy. At this time of the day, we actually found ourselves alone in some parts of the temple. That is certainly a rare thing at Angkor Wat.
I can’t really describe what visiting Angkor Wat is like. The architecture is just stunning. It is almost perfectly preserved, and all I can really say is that my mouth was wide open, but speechless a lot. I even had to remind myself to take photos, which is generally a very natural thing for me to do these days. I probably could have wandered around all day.
Words can’t really describe what visiting Angkor Wat is like, and I don’t feel like the photos do either. It is one of those places that you have to see with your own eyes. Like the Colosseum in Rome or the Pyramids of Egypt, Angkor Wat is one of those places that every traveller should see at least once in their lifetime.