Angkor Wat: Temples and the Jungle at Dawn

My tuk-tuk driver picked me up at the hotel at 5 a.m. Sunrise would be at 6 a.m.

We drove through Sieam Reap, joining a steady, silent stream of tuk-tuks. Then we drove through the jungle, dark and mysterious on each side. Occasionally the headlights revealed twisted vines in monstrous shapes; I dreamed of snakes, snakes everywhere, the following night. Mostly, though, I was surrounded by the smell of the jungle: earthy and green, but also surprisingly sweet.The tuk-tuks rounded a corner and along a great, still lake: the rectangular moat of Angkor Wat. At the corner I could see a long line of headlights parting the darkness. My driver dropped me off at a great stone causeway that crossed the moat. It was at least 50 feet across, and guarded on this end by two large stone nagas, the seven-headed serpents who guard all Cambodia’s waterways. The nagas’ long body formed the balustrade across the causeway.

There were many other tourists  but most were polite and quiet. I suspect the truly obnoxious people are not morning people, so they’re still mostly asleep. Thank god.

Across the causeway, a vast open green space opens up, with Angkor Wat’s towers just starting to be visible against the night sky.

Note: all pictures were taken from later in the day. This is both because my camera couldn’t pick up such subtle shades of light and dark, and because I was just enjoying the moment and not taking pictures.

The field was crawling with tourists waiting for Perfect Sunrise Photo. I took this photo:

And then went into the temple.

There were no guards, no officials, no one to tell me where to walk or how quickly or which direction. Only about ten other people had given up on Perrfect Sunrise Photo, so we had the place to ourselves. Jungle birds were making strange noises – one sounded like a wooden building creaking in a terrible storm – and I heard monkeys but never saw them. Far away, but still audible, a traditional Cambodian band was playing. A vast white air balloon (very touristy, not worth the price, just takes you and down, no real flying) bloomed in the west.

One of the best things about Angkor Wat and all the other temples was how casual it was. There were no guards in any of them; and as you can see in the photo below, someone has tied his horse up right outside Angkor Wat. Nobody seemed to mind.  It was perfect.

By the way, I apologize for the photo quality. I don’t know why but most of my photos from this day were blurry.

After sunrise had blossomed and it was getting a little hot – no shade trees at Angkor Wat – I went back to my tuk-tuk drive. We had told me where he’d be, but that turned out to be about an acre full of tuk-tuk drivers. I hadn’t really gotten a a good look at my driver – it was dark and I was excited about Angkor Wat – so I wandered around. I couldn’t find him. Almost all of the drivers were asleep, some in ingenious hammocks strung upinside the tuk-tuk, so I couldn’t count on him to recognize me. I eventually gave up and sat dejectedly near the entrance. Eventually another driver took pity on me and found my driver for me. I woke him up and we went on to the next temple.

I found these Buddha faces to be rather disconcerrting:

My favorite were the temples that were partially overgrown with trees (sralao trees, I think)

Shrines to the Buddha, which are still in use by local Cambodians, were common, and each one had incense burning at it:

I’ll share more later, but this is already a long post!


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