Greeted by our friendly tuk tuk driver, we set off into the darkness with the warm wind blowing through our hair. Beads of sweat were already forming at our temples and it was only 5:00 a.m. Man was it dark. The only light came from our tuk tuk’s headlight which illuminated the bumpy dirt road about 3 feet ahead of us. It was hard to believe in the darkness that the sun should rise triumphantly behind Angkor Wat in less than 30 minutes. Our driver let us off at the front gate and pointed to where he would be waiting for us.
Enveloped in the darkness, I had to fish in my bag for a small flashlight to illuminate the way across the stone causeway that crossed the moat to Angkor Wat. Savoring the peaceful quite, we positioned ourselves at the reflecting pool and awaited the sun’s grand arrival. Alone in the darkness we felt as though we were the first people to discover this captivating place. As the first rays peeked up from the horizon it was magic. Blues, purples and pinks radiated into oranges and yellows. Of course with the oranges and yellows the silence was broken by the first onslaught of tourists coming to see the sunrise. Lucky for us our timely driver had the inside scoop and delivered us to our own uniquely serene experience. As the sun rose slowly into the sky, the sweat began to poor off of our knees. Knees! Really?! Who knew that you could have wet spots on the front of your pants from sweaty knees! That’s Cambodian Heat for you.
We had never really heard of Angkor until we started planning for our trip. We read the book One Year Off by David Cohen and thought the place sounded interesting. In the interim we had friends visit Angkor who raved about it. We had no expectations and were blindsided by the mystery, beauty and triumph of the area. Angkor has many temples, all amazing in their own ways, that really are the gems of Southeast Asia. The temples were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. The most commonly known, Angkor Wat, was built in the early 12th century and was a significant religious center (first Hindu then Buddhist).
Complete with its magnificent face towers, the fortress of Bayon was one of our favorite temples. The haunting faces gaze down at you from above. Are they smiling? Are they laughing? Are they judging? Only you know which one it is at the time you are there. What have these faces seen? Love and hate. Peace and bloodshed. Devotion and disbelief. What an inspiring sight to ponder in our journey.