Early mornings aren’t my cup of tea, but considerations must be made for special cases. When faced with the opportunity to witness the world’s largest religious moment come alive in the first light of day, is there really any need to think twice?
For us, there was only one answer.
The night before, we’d made arrangements for Vannet to pick us up at 5 AM to give us enough time to get ready for sunrise, which was expected at about 6:20 AM. Now, I usually have a hard time waking up, but it seemed so easy that morning. Funny what anticipation does to you.
We found out that Vannet couldn’t make it, but he sent over a replacement driver, Shen. That particular drive was memorable because it was so dark, and suddenly, we’d see a remork or a van appear behind us. It wasn’t until we neared the park entrance that we really got an idea of what an event it is to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Despite the early hour, the entrance was abuzz with the motors of different vehicles as everyone waited in line to have the park attendants check and punch their tickets. It was as if everyone else had the same idea to do the sunrise thing that same day.
The crowd there was nothing compared to that outside the temple itself. The road and the parking lot were both seriously peppered with remorks and people milling about. After agreeing on a meet-up place, Shen dropped us off at the entrance and we carefully started walking along the crossway with the help of our flashlights. Thank God my classmate advised me to bring one. I wouldn’t want to take on the uneven stone path in complete darkness.
There was something eerie and yet so mystical about that journey. We had to traverse the west entrance gopura (entrance pavilion) to continue along the 350m long causeway to the temple. Imagine walking through a hallway where the only sources of illumination are the beams from various people’s flashlights. The fact that the weather was cool–that was the coldest we’d experienced in Siem Reap–and the air musty only added to the synesthetic experience.
It would’ve been perfect — though not the least bit scary — if it were just the four of us there along with the whispers of the wind. In reality, we were lined up while passing the gopura and, once we’d emerged onto the causeway, couldn’t go a couple of steps without an enterprising vendor approaching us to buy a guidebook or to visit their stall after the sunrise. There was one vendor in particular who kept coming up to us: Clara from stall 99. See, I can still remember her!
It’s said that the best place to view the sunrise at Angkor Wat is from across the pond in front of the temple. I Googled it just now, and true enough, most of the image results showed the view of the temple with its reflection being mirrored by the water. Knowing that, it wasn’t a surprise to see flocks of visitors already settled in their little patches of space. I’m guessing that some of them arrived as early as 4:30 AM to be able to stake out the best possible position. A lot of them looked all comfortable sitting on the ground, some with a drink in hand.
At that point, we had about an hour’s wait to go. We entertained ourselves by fiddling with our camera settings, playing Candy Crush and shamelessly eavesdropping on everyone else. One of the surprising things I discovered was that very few people there were conversing in English. I identified mostly Asian and Eastern European languages, plus the occasional “Please sit down!” shouted by an irate Chinese guy to a woman standing in front and the “Wait a second, will you?” in response.
From all the photos and the videos I’d seen, I expected a really dramatic sunrise with glorious yellows, oranges and pinks streaking through the hazy sky. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. It turned out that there was a pretty thick cover of clouds, so though the sky did get lighter, it was more on the bluish gray side of the spectrum. Such a let-down.
To give you an idea of what we witnessed, here are three photos I took in succession:
Now, compare those with these shots of my brother, who visited Cambodia with friends back in 2010.
Yeah, no competition, right?
I remember seeing one of those hot air balloons come up in the sky. My friend commented that it was a good thing we hadn’t made arrangements for that. Can you imagine the disappointment? Sometimes, it really all boils down to luck and good timing.
Still, it was a memorable experience on its own — one that a traveler definitely should not miss when in Siem Reap.