Sunrise at Angkor Wat
03/15/2010 - 03/15/2010 103 °F
This morning Soluy picked us up at 4:45 am to take us to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. When we met up in the hotel lobby we found out that Nat had gotten sick. This was surprising since we had all been sharing food (literally eating out of the same dishes) for 12 days now. The only thing we hadn't shared at dinner the night before was our drinks, and even then Nat and I had both had fruit smoothies (sinh to in Vietnamese; I'm not sure what they call them in Cambodia). In our little traveling group we call this "getting the king in the king cake." It happened to Dan in Morocco when we had all eaten the same tajine. Nat must have gotten the one paramecium in the fish amok or ice or whatever from the night before. If you don't know what a king cake is, google it and I think you'll get the metaphor. In any case, Nat was way too sick to join us, but at least he had a nice air-conditioned hotel to be sick in (Dan had to deal with "the king" on a cot in the Sahara).
Soluy lead us in the pitch dark to the edge of a small pond before anyone else had arrived and found us what she said was the exact perfect seat for taking photographs of the five towers of Angkor Wat reflected in the pond. She was right!
Over the next hour we watched the sky slowly lighten and the profile of the temple emerge. We also watched the shore of the pond fill up with dozens of other tourists. Soluy had warned us that we needed to get there early because Chinese tourists would try to push their way in front of us. In fact, it was (not suprisingly to us) an American who shoved his tripod, camera, and girth in front of me about a half hour after we arrived. The guy obviously knew he was being a jerk as he had a loud discussion with his companion about how if he moved any further to the right a tree would block his view of one tower and then turned to me and said, "I figure it's easier for you to move a chair than this tree." I noted that it was easier still for him to move his tripod, but clearly he figured getting his perfect shot was worth being a world-class asshole. In any case, he was only partially in front of me, and we had an extra seat since we had a chair for Soluy be she wasn't using it. The sunrise was incredible and Dan got some beautiful pictures. Chop also got a great picture of a woman practically climbing on top of me to take a picture over my shoulder.
After the sunrise, Soluy took us for a tour of Angkor Wat itself. I could see why she saved this one for our last day. It is truly monumental, with towers (gopuras) that must be several stories high, all carved to the very top, huge interior rooms with pools, steep stairs to symbolize the difficulty of ascent to heaven, and endless walls of bas-relief historical and mythical scenes.
Although most of these depict the ruling class or religious instruction, some do show daily life, such as people playing games or one of a woman giving birth. Again, adequate words to describe the site escape me, so I'll let Dan's photos do the talking.
We were all feeling kind of wiped out between the early morning and tiny breakfast we had grabbed on the way out, to say nothing of the incredible heat. After Angkor Wat, we went back to the hotel to check on Nat. He was still way too sick to go out so we planned a shortened day so we could see more sites but get back a little early for Chop to take care of him and get him to eat the rice porridge and coconut water that Soluy prescribed.
Next we went to the temples of Ta prohm, a temple that is surrounded by jungle that is growing right through the site itself. This is the site that really struck me as something out of a movie, and indeed it is. Part of one of the Tomb Raider movies was filmed here (Cambodian people love Angeline Jolie, by the way).
Next we went to Banteav Srei, which, although much smaller, was probably the most beautiful and intricately carved temple that we saw on the whole trip.
By this time it was early afternoon and Soluy conceded slyly that it was getting a little warm, at which point she pulled out a thermometer and showed us that the air temperature was 38.9 degrees Celcius. That is 103 degrees Fahrenheit, my friends! With incredibly high humidity! We were not disappointed to get back to the hotel a little earlier than originally planned.