Like so many other bleary-eyed early-risers, we find ourselves standing in the dark waiting for sunrise to reveal the iconic temple of Angkor Wat. The sounds of frogs, crickets, and insects surround us. The murmuring crowd and the music playing in the background, don’t take away from the magic and the anticipation.
Hundreds of people gather in front of the pond to the left of the main walkway leading to Angkor Wat, hoping to capture the temple’s reflection as the sun comes up. We’d like that too, but we’re here for more than just a perfect photo op, so we disengage from the mob and cross to the right side of the walkway. There can’t be more than 12 people on this side. There’s a pond here too, but there are reeds that obscure the reflection. We don’t care. The intimacy and solitude on this side is worth the sacrifice, if you want to look at it that way. And, we don’t.
Was it worth getting up at 4:30am to view Angkor Wat at sunrise? Yes. Without a doubt. It’s a beautiful and magical experience. What’s equally important for us is the wonderfully cool morning air that comes with an early start. Over our last 7 months in Southeast Asia we’ve learned to appreciate early mornings, cold drinks, shade, and air conditioning in a way that I could not have previously fathomed. They play an important role of every planned outting and activity.
Once the sky was lit just enough to navigate by, we began our explorations. The feeling of having the magnificent monument almost entirely to ourselves is as amazing as you might imagine. The sheer scale, architectural beauty, and detailed decoration is incredible. Truly a masterpiece.
Angkor Wat, meaning “Temple City” or “City of Temples” in Khmer, was built in the first half of the 12th century and dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It is meant to be a miniature replica of the universe representing an earthly model of the cosmic world. The central tower symbolizes the mythical mountain, Meru, with its five towers correspond to each of the peaks of Meru. The outer wall represents the mountains at the edge of the world, and the surrounding moat the oceans beyond.
Ankor Wat is the centerpiece of Angkor Archaeological Park, which contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Beyond the main temple you will find many other beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples to explore, more than 100 stone temples in all.