February 28, 2016

Visiting the Lost City of Angkor, Cambodia

At 4 AM the alarm went off. We had barely slept for four hours. Even after being a week in SE Asia, our sleep patterns were whack. But I jumped out of bed as soon as the alarm went off, as today was the day I was going to cross an item off my bucket list. Today was the day I was going to see the sun rise behind the magical Angkor Wat!
Being Canadians, we debated keeping a cardigan since it was so early in the morning. However, as soon as we left the hotel to meet our driver who was already waiting for us, humidity enveloped us. 

We drove off towards the temples in the dark, stopping to buy tickets. It was pitch black where our driver dropped us, so we turned on our flashlight and started walking in the darkness towards where everyone was walking. We reached a set of staircases where we could hear a lot of chatter. We quickly found a spot right by the pond, so that no one could come stand in front of us obstructing our view. People started gathering as time went by; while we stared at complete darkness, with only flashlights here and there, mosquitoes humming, and an anticipation in the air.
I was finally going to see the Angkor Wat standing in front of me at the first light of dawn! This wasn’t a picture online anymore; it was actually going to happen. It was almost like a lucid dream – the darkness slowly fading away and the silhouette of Angkor Wat starting to form in front of our eyes. It felt like time was moving in slow motion, but also if you blink your eyes you'll miss the magic unroll. 
It was a cloudy day – so we did not get to see the orange hues of sun rising behind the complex – but it was still enchanting to watch darkness turn into light; obscurity turn into clarity. Of course, it wasn’t as romantic as I might be making it sound – there were tons of people behind trying to take pictures; pushing, shoving. We were lucky however to have had a good spot without any heads obstructing our view.

the three towers of Angkor Wat coming out of darkness

After taking fifty odd pictures, we walked back to our driver, who was going to take us back to our hotel so we could have breakfast, then get on with our Angkor ruins tour. I remember walking back; I felt a bit disappointed that the day was cloudy, that I did not get to see the sun rise. Can I even check this off my bucket list? I thought. Sun rise is what I wanted to see. But when I look back at that day, the feeling of finally being where I had wanted to be – right in front of the mighty Angkor at the break of dawn was a miracle in its own way.

After breakfast, we set out again with our driver and guide to visit the different complexes of the ruins. Some of our stops consisted of below:

Banteay Srei:

Our first stop, and one that is a bit further away from the main Angkor Complex. It was a 30 minute drive to this one. Banteay Srei is a 10th century temple and was built with red sandstone which gives the temple a gorgeous pinkish hue, which you won’t find in other temples. 
Banteay Srei was made from red sandstone!

Ta Prohm:

This temple, to many, might be known for Tomb Raider. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that upon discovery, this temple was not restored and instead left mostly in the condition it was found in; swallowed by the jungle. The gigantic ancient trees growing atop the temples provide us with an excellent visual example of unkempt nature and man-made architecture intertwining and blending flawlessly, albeit creepily. Both eerie and cool at once, Ta Prohm offers some visually stunning adventure to curious minds like me! It definitely is one of the most magnificent things I’ve seen so far in my travels.
gigantic roots growing on the temples

Bayon Temple:

Gate to enter Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom was an ancient capital city of Khmer empire; inside which the Bayon temple was situated. Once you enter the gates of Angkor Thom - on both sides of the narrow road are jungles that took over the city. I have this fascination for ruins...for its mysterious aura; trying to imagine a life existed where now giant trees are in abundance. Looking at all the temples, that are still intact with their intricate details,  but have lost their original opulence. What once was a civilization is now a tourist spot. 
Bayon temple was my favourite, mostly because it was quiet when we were there, but also the mystery in the air seemed to have multiplied there. Maybe it was due to the perfectly carved serene stone faces all around us. The architecture and intricacy of the Khmer people are to be admired about.

endless corridors around the ruins

Phnom Bakeng

This temple is popular to watch sunsets, because it is situated high up. We hiked up the temple late afternoon and waited around to watch the glorious sun go down. 

Our guide during our tour was so knowledgeable and amazing - and also very used to the heat. Which we were not. I kept asking Umair how is he not breaking into sweat in 35c + humidity?! Every time he started telling us a story, I wanted to tell him to lets move in the shaded area to talk but he was so unaffected by the heat. 
We spent our evenings in Siem Reap in the pub street area where all the expats and locals meet with tons of eateries. We were only there for 3 days but I absolutely enjoyed our time there and would love to go back one day. The people - our hotel staff, the guide, the car driver, our tuk tuk driver....everyone was just so sweet and hospitable; with the warmest smile on their faces. 

Angkor Wat grounds
Angkor Wat during the day