Temple day. We rose at before seven but after sunrise, in a blatant disregard for the tourist creed of Siem Reap: You must see the sunrise from Angkor Wat. You can go there during the day, but it’s nothing compared to the awe-inspiring sight that awaits you at dawn.
Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of Angkor. It’s on the national flag as a representation of all things Cambodian. There are an abundance of ruined temples to visit in Angkor city, but the Wat, with its imposing cones looming before a mirrored moat, is what brings in your run of the mill tourist. Like me.
There was a time when an unquenchable yearning would rise up in my stomach – the feeling that I have to do this one thing, or everything else I see or do will not count. This feeling was the driving force behind many of my trips in my early 20s (see, I can say that now, because I’m 30 this year). For example:
- Kissing the blarney stone in 2003. A crumbly rock that drunk people pee on at night. After I did this, I got sicker than I’d ever been before. Coincidence?
2. Going to the casino in Monte Carlo (2004) wearing something I can now recognize was inappropriate. I spent 15 euro on entry, 7 on a drink, and 10 to lose at slots. And the whole time, I had the nagging feeling that I didn’t belong.
3. Taking a 4-hour train ride each way to Swansea just so I could say I’d been to Wales. It rained the whole time and the most exciting thing I saw was a cartoon museum.
4. Visiting the bone church in Prague. Except wait – I’ve been to Prague twice and never made it to the church. Missing the Kutna Hora Ossuary has haunted me ever since, despite other people telling me that it was kind of lame. That’s easy for them to say – they’ve been there.
When we cycled to Angkor in the morning, I was gripped with concern that missing sunrise would be one of those things I would regret. But once we rounded the bend and glided past Angkor Wat, I was less concerned. It was still spectacular in the early morning light – I didn’t need a blazing ball of fire rising behind it to complete the experience.
There are three types of passes to Angkor – 1 day, 3 days and 7 days. In the interest of time, we had a 1-day pass, which was enough for me. Even on our rusty bicycles we managed to take in Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat, and Preah Khan, all before one o’clock.
According to my sources (Lonely Planet), wild monkeys roamed the grounds of Angkor. My secret wish was to see some. I was rewarded just after lunchtime, when we spotted a gathering of tiny monkeys on the side of the road. Two young Cambodian kids were selling bunches of bananas for about 10 cents. The monkeys greedily snatched whole bananas out of tourists’ hands, tossing them away when new ones were proffered. One monkey leapt onto the Cambodian girl’s head, pulling her hair. She casually brushed him away. Rabies? What?
We returned to Bung Kao, where front desk man greeted us.
“You go to Angkor Wat?”
“Yes,” we said.
“You go see sunrise?”
“No.” I shook my head regretfully. Here it was. The dressing-down for missing Cambodia’s greatest treasure.
“Ah,” he said. “Is better. This morning, four people get up 5 o’clock, go to sunrise, see nothing. Too cloudy.”
Relief. Strike that one off my list of regrets.
Here’s another monkey shot to wrap up the post. This one was hanging around Angkor Wat, taking up shade and freaking out the Koreans.