Our third day in Angkor Archaeological Park, we are early to rise once again. Leaving the hotel with breakfast boxes in hand. We make the dusty, bumpy ride out to the park along back roads, entering the west gate, right next to Angkor Wat. Winding our way through the blissful, cool forest, the sun sprinkles us with its early morning glow. Ta Keo Temple, the sandstone temple-mountain, greets the morning sun as it’s done for almost 1100 years, since being started by Jayavarman V in 975.
After a magical visit to Banteay Srei, it’s difficult to write about Banteay Samre Temple. Not because it is any lesser, but because the earlier experience was so magical. We finally tore ourselves away from Banteay Srei as more people were showing up and the heat was steadily increasing. The tuk-tuk ride was welcome relief as we got to enjoy some more of the gorgeous countryside and some welcome early morning breeze. As we traversed the countryside, schoolyards were filling with playing children, while others walked or rode bikes along the road, all in their immaculate uniforms.
After an enjoyable day off from temple visits, we’re up early again – 4:30am – to visit Banteay Srei Temple, also known as the Lady Temple. After devouring the breakfast boxes that the hotel was kind enough to prepare for us, we are greeted by Mr. Sim’s big, bright smile in the early morning darkness. He’s been our tuk-tuk driver throughout our visit. It’s going to be a good day. We pull out of our quiet Siem Reap neighborhood and wind our way out of town, the dusty streets rolling out before us. Bleary-eyed as we bump along the potholed streets, we smile at each other. The morning coolness, the faintest hint of gray light on the Cambodian horizon, the smell of woodsmoke as breakfast kitchens awaken – it feels like a dream.
We only know we’ve arrived at Ta Prohm Temple, the next destination on our visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park, when we see the empty expanse of gravel out before us and realize that it is a parking lot – with no cars in it. Along one side are the usual vendor stalls with a few vendors milling about and a crowd of children playing. Mr. Sim, our tuk-tuk driver, points and tells us “go in through the east gate. I pick you up at the west”.
After our beautiful, early morning visit at Angkor Wat, we hopped into our tuk-tuk. Our driver, Mr. Sim, whisked us away to our next destination, Bayon Temple, before the bulk of tourists had emerged from their walk around Angkor Wat. We all had big grins on our faces as we drove through the Angkor forest, enjoying its coolness and the wind on our faces. Mr. Sim pulled over as we approached the south gate of Angkor Thom, allowing us to take a quick family picture.