One of the appeals of The Philippines is that almost…
I woke up to the steady beats of the introduction to Papa Roach’s Leader of the Broken Hearts. Sluggishly, I turned off the alarm so as not to disturb my roommates. In a moment of weakness I contemplated slipping back into the welcoming arms of slumber. But, I forced myself to push back my blanket and tumble out of the bed. Using my phone as a torch I quickly dressed and retrieved my bag from my locker before stumbling to the hostel reception.
When I arrived the previous evening I had struck up a conversation with one of the guys in the dorm. He was from the Netherlands. He apologised in advance for if he woke me in the morning. He had met another Dutch guy and had organised to go for the sunrise at Angkor Wat the next day. I asked if I could tag along and split the cost of the tuk-tuk with them. He agreed. So that’s how I found myself standing in front of the hostel at 5am.
I could hear the tuk-tuk before it arrived. It is a very distinct noise and quite possibly how the vehicle gets its name. In the chilly pre-dawn the three of us clambered into the carriage. The wind-chill was uncomfortable as we travelled the busy road alongside cyclists and more tuk-tuks. It seemed that we were not to be the only ones at the temple that morning. The guys both already had temple passes that they had purchased the day before but I needed to buy mine. We stopped at the booth on the way and I left the tuk-tuk to joined the line. As I waited for the line to move forward I weighed up my ticket options and decided that since I was only in Siem Reap for two days it didn’t make sense for me to buy the 3-day pass when it would cost the same as buying two single-day passes. I wasn’t sure if I’d want to come back the next day anyway. With my single-day ticket in hand I walked back over to the tuk-tuk for the rest of the drive to the temple.
The street was lined with empty tuk-tuks patiently waiting for their passengers to return after the sunrise. We pulled up to the entry and disembarked. I could see many others doing the same. Through the dark we followed the crowd. Some had enough foresight to bring torches. The small patches of light illuminated the path just enough for us to pick our way over the narrow stretch of uneven pavement. The edges of the bridge fell away into obscurity. Without those lighting the way perhaps we would never have known about the edge until it was too late. As I gazed into the darkness I shuddered to think about falling into the cold black water below.
The silent tourist wave flowed into the complex. Slowly ebbing toward the temple that was hidden from sight. There was not even the moon to cast a shadow that night. I could see movement ahead. Pinpricks of torchlight leading off to the left. People were leaving the stone walkway. When we found the stairs next to us we followed them down to the grassed area and to the gathering of tourists at the square lake edge. All of the prime photo locations had been claimed so we moved closer to the temple away from the water.
After trying a few test photos and coming up short I turned my camera off. I left the boys and wandered to the wall of the stone fence surrounding the actual temple. I could see the silhouette of the massive structure appear before me as the sky slowly transformed from black to pink to pale yellow. The thin clouds highlighted in gold overhead. Angkor Wat was finally being revealed. I could hear clicks behind me and see camera flashes when I turned back to look at the crowd across the lake. A tightly packed group of maybe a thousand all vying for prime position on the water’s edge. I smiled. It could only be described as a circus and in that moment I was glad I hadn’t joined them. I turned back to enjoy the moment of the sunrise in the peace and quiet inside the temple ground, where so few others had ventured.