For the past few years, Cambodia has become one of the most popular destinations here in Southeast Asia. History and culture being the main drivers, it is home to thousands of temples that were built during the Khmer Empire. The biggest temple complex in the whole world can be found here. Located in Siem Reap lies the Angkor Wat, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that has been beautifully restored, thanks to the contributions of agencies and organizations from different countries. The Angkor Wat, built by Khmer King Suryavarman II, was initially a Hindi temple. Eventually, it had been made as a Buddhist temple.
Most travel guides would probably tell you that visiting the Angkor Wat to witness the sunrise is a must. Let me tell you, they are right.
Getting a glimpse of the highly anticipated sunrise is very tricky if you have no clue where to go or where to stand though. Being the biggest temple, the Angkor Wat complex is comprised of a moat that surrounds the outer wall that surrounds the three galleries that surrounds the temple mountains. Talk about getting past a few of those.
Leaving the hostel at 5am, the road leading to the Angkor Archaeological Park is very dark with the absence of street lamps and sunlight. Upon arriving at the Angkor Wat, you’d be welcomed with thousands of spectators scattered along the edges of the moat at the west entrance, facing the outermost wall that surrounds the Angkor Wat. I was initially surprised that there were a lot of people at that early hour. They just kept on arriving.
Quite frankly, I was one of those who didn’t have a clue as to where I should place myself. I was “delivered” by my Tuktuk driver without being given a recommendation–not that I’ve asked nor expected any. I had to stay there initially, relying on where “the people were.”
From the outside, you could barely see the temple mountain, which is supposedly highly visible in the much anticipated sunrise.
Instinct brought me to go inside, but still, that wasn’t enough.
The view upon entering the outermost wall of the Angkor Wat Complex (that wall past the moat)
Leaving for the first gallery of the central structure, I realize that indeed, that’s the place to be. Hundreds (or maybe a thousand) of people were scattered across the water basin that shows the beautiful reflection of the Angkor Wat. The anticipation that day was quite nerve-wracking because of the weather forecast that the sun might not even shine at all.
More than 15 minutes past the estimated sunrise, the Sun finally appeared.
Seeing the sunrise was really amazing. Especially for me. I think it was my first or second time to witness the sunrise. I can’t even remember if I’ve seen one before that day.
After the sun has risen, the huge crowd dispersed quickly.
The Guide Book Rip-Off
Some time during the waiting game, a few guide book sellers have been marketing their items. I had thought about getting one but didn’t really put so much attention to it at that moment. I thought I heard someone selling it for a dollar, but I wasn’t really sure. When the time finally came for me to buy one, I actually thought that I got a good price (now, I can’t remember if it was $9 or $12) after my so-called expert haggling. I mean, the book was supposedly “$27”. Unfortunately, the typical tourist-rip-off broke my heart. Indeed, the book is $1 only which I found out minutes later upon walking towards the inner courtyard of Angkor Wat. And worse, it’s a replica.
Do you know that unsettling feeling when you’ve been cheated and you felt like a fool? They probably just needed the money. But to resort to that? And how about the author’s effort and hard work?
I had to go out again and release that kind of feeling (I settled in one of the libraries). At that point, in spite of having the magnificent Angkor Wat in front of me, I just had to take a moment.
One of the more peaceful places to reflect is just outside the main galleries: the library. Small and not congested with people.
Images of the Angkor Wat
After I’ve collected myself, the time had come for me to “be present” and truly explore the Angkor Wat. With its overwhelming size, the intricate stone carvings everywhere, and the inscriptions that I don’t understand at all, there was so much to take in all at the same time. Overwhelming is an understatement.
This hall leads to the innermost gallery/courtyard (front) and half galleries/courtyards on either sides.
One of the “half” galleries
One of the libraries inside the Angkor Wat
Within the innermost courtyard is where the temple mountain resides. Consisting of five peaks, this temple mountain was built to represent Mount Meru, which is said to be the home of the gods and the center of all universes.
One of the many bas-reliefs featuring the devata (a Hindu term of god/goddess).
Stone carvings of the Apsara/Devata (a mythical creature of the Hindu and Buddhist mythology) and inscriptions in the columns. The inscriptions, mostly written in Khmer, have been left by the pilgrims through the years.
When I started heading out, I realized that I wasn’t able to take as much of it is I had expected. Maybe it was because of what happened earlier that day. Or maybe, it was because the Angkor Wat is truly overwhelming. Either way, I knew in my heart that my moment there wasn’t enough.
A vision of Angkor Wat in the morning. This image is “against the light” because the temple faces the west, having the sun shine behind it instead.
An image of the Angkor Wat complex from across the moat. The moat (water surrounding the outermost walls) represents the ocean while the wall surrounding it represents the mountains.
During my visit at Siem Reap, I didn’t think that I would go back to Angkor Wat more than once in the same trip. It was the first place I went to when I got there, and surprisingly, it was the last place I’ve visited on the day of my departure.
I realized, I wasn’t able to see it with the sun facing it. That must’ve been really lovely. Of course, given the technicalities that it’s facing the west, I should’ve visited again in the afternoon. Well, that didn’t happen for me.
After learning that some of my new friends wanted to see the sunset on my last day, I decided to join them and not let the opportunity pass by.
We were quite late. You could see almost everyone leaving once we had arrived. The sun had probably set, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see the aftermath.
Guess what, it had set, quickly. And we were literally the last people to arrive and leave. The colors that it left behind is something that I would still treasure though.
Leaving the Angkor Wat behind for the second time around felt better this time. Maybe because I wasn’t really expecting anything this time around. That little moment of spontaneity was a good way to cap off my trip.
A. Seeing the sunrise
1. Leave really early and be there at around 5:30 am.
Tuktuk – better if you have it arranged by your hotel/hostel. This costs $15 for a whole day trip.
Ticket – for a 1 day pass ($20), you can avail the day before (late afternoon, so that “day 1” would count starting day after) to see a sunset and see the sunrise the day after. I bought the 3-day pass ($40) because I wanted to do my own version of “temple run”. I didn’t run, though.
2. Go inside, further inside.
This means, pass by the moat, enter the first wall, then enter the second wall.
3. Perfect sunrise spot?
Go to the leftmost part of the water basin across the Angkot Wat if you want that perfect view that includes the reflection in the pool. But if it’s too crowded, just being there is enough. Savor the moment.
B. Be cautious of being ripped off with the guidebooks.
It’s a fake and it costs $1. But if you’re generous, then give your bucks to the honest one.
C. If you can, see it in the afternoon.
D. And if you have more time, be there to see the sunset.
E. The Angkor Wat, being the symbol of Cambodia, means that it is the most popular destination here.
So be prepared and expect a lot of tourists. Lots and lots of them. Don’t worry, that’s what others are probably thinking when they see you and the rest of the crowd. Oh tourists!:)