Raiding Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, at sunrise.

If you expect to be alone, you’re crazy. It’s about you and two thousand other people who’ve crawled out of bed early too, dragging the poor tuk-tuk driver off into the chilly morning to sleep in a tuk-tuk hammock and shoot the breeze with other drivers with equally crazy passengers as they wait for them to return.

First off, bring a dang flashlight. I have no idea what I was thinking – perhaps some magical fairy light would keep me from twisting my ankle on uneven stones from centuries ago. Along with the bumping along of many others, it’s easy to break something when you’re blind as a bat. Except, bats aren’t blind in the dark, really. At least they have echo location. We just have iPhone flashlights.

Secondly, let your eyesight adjust and beeline it to the middle of the pack as fast as you can and plant your feet in the middle of the temple – meaning, if you look ahead, find the central towers. Plant those feet like you’re a mighty oak and don’t you dare let go, even if someone jabs you ‘accidentally’ with their bloody selfie stick. Karma will get them eventually.

Once you’re rooted, find one of the coffee/tea/hot chocolate hawkers who will make their rounds through the throng. I recommend a hot sweet coffee, as it’s dark and heavy enough to act like jet fuel in your bloodstream and sweet enough to make your kidneys dance like they’re over hot coals. You won’t have to go to the bathroom because it’ll dehydrate you. I don’t really think the dehydration part is good, by the way, but you can always guzzle water straight up later, once the sun’s come up. I’ll take my caffeine as I can get it, paying half a Starbucks fee at $2 and getting a nice enough buzz to ward off my Grumpy Cat mood.

As you enter Angkor Wat over the stone bridge and through a stone gate, it feels vaguely like Temple of Doom than Tomb Raider. This is really true in the dark. I half expect snakes and skeletons to be hanging from the ceiling, but alas, only a few slippery geckos slide by.

Once you’ve held down the fort at your viewing spot, be ready for the sudden appearance of the dreaded selfie stick. Everyone on the planet has one, and they will be used, mostly unnecessarily, by people in the prime spot right on the edge of the lake. This means that your sunrise photos will have selfie flashes in them. So much for art, right?

As the red glow blushes over the quiet temple, we’re all pretty quiet. The sun starts to appear, making reds, pinks, and oranges drip across the sky as if a careless artist has slashes primary colors across a black canvas. It creeps ever higher, letting the navy blue and dark purple sink low and the yellow and sky blue enter the scenery. Honestly, for all the insanity of the jostling crowd, it’s a magnificent sight to behold at least once in your life.

Though, I still prefer some really fantastic sunsets myself. I just don’t like mornings. We are still not friends.

We spent close to two hours puttering around the inner courts of Angkor Wat, marveling at the beautifully carved walls, the ins and outs of various passage ways, and the stones with grass sprouting from them like gray hairs in old men’s ears. As the sun creeps around the horizon line still, a soft mist rises from the damp grass, and birds gripe their morning songs from the jungle surrounding it.

Angkor Wat is sublime in that way you know you’re seeing a remarkable feat of human engineering and religious belief from centuries and centuries ago. I have not (yet) been to the pyramids of Egypt, but I have few words to describe how that morning chill bit into my skin as I stood on the temple’s ledge and felt the sun pour over the temple and me. We are an interminable part of this age. The stones won’t remember my feet, but I’ll remember where I grazed a shoe over the threshold of ancient wonder.

We left just as the sun grew stronger and hotter, headed toward the 216(ish) faces of Bayon Temple.

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