Some of us have a hard time to get up in time for breakfast, let alone at 4am to get ready to go to see sunrise over Angkor Wat. Yet, the tortuous alarm clock should remind us of how fortunate we are to experience sunrise over Angkor Wat.
A wise tourist will always arrange a pick-up a day before either using tuk-tuk or a taxi-- no one wants to wander the streets at 4am, groggy and already dreading the choice to make such a trek. While the only solace may be the cup of bitter coffee from your hotel room at 4:30am, you begrudgingly drag your feet to the tuk-tuk with the hope of your high expectations being met.
Although you purchased your tickets in advance, as all smart tourists do, the ability to fly past the ticket booth at 4:45am might not give you the thrill you hoped for. After all, a long night on Pub Street might still be reminding you of how foolish you were to plan this excursion.
As you approach the grounds of Angkor Wat, you are amazed by the number of people filling the foreground of the temple by the pond that gives you reflections of the Angkor towers. Foreigners dragging their feet with seemingly similar feelings of regret as your own, and warm and wide-awake Khmer faces happy to bring you everything from coffee to fried rice. If you are cognizant enough, you can even buy a beautiful painting to remember this momentous occasion. And while you are still in utter misery, something about the atmosphere begins to change your mood. Maybe you are happy to be here after all....
As the sun begins to show signs of life, beautiful oranges and reds peek out behind the majesty of Angkor Wat, you immediately realize the last hour or so of your life was a hideous mistake. Why didn't you jump out of bed and run to see this? Why didn't your mouth water at the delight of morning that came with that horrible cup of coffee? Your foolish begrudging attitude toward this event is washed away under the shadow of a powerful and awesome masterpiece.
Angkor Wat itself seems to come to life as the sun rises to the highest peak, aligned with the beauty and power it was built to represent. You envision Angkor in its glory, a place where thousands of Angkorians, not tourists, rise with the sun to live each day in such splendor. Angkor Wat has the ability to humble even the most proud man. It is in that moment of daylight that you fully understand the beauty in life, the purpose of man, and all that humanity seeks to uphold.
By the time you can see the full landscape and people begin to walk toward the entrance, you feel as though your life has changed. Your foolishness for thinking you should sleep in and just forget the whole thing is a distant memory, and gratitude for your tuk-tuk driver for convincing you this was a good idea is ever-present in your mind. Reality, the realization that you are on the grounds of the largest religious monument in the world, begins to settle in your mind. In a sense you have successfully freed yourself from preconceived notion of what you were told all about the temple--i.e., 10 things you must see at Angkor.
The ideas that drew you to the temple in the first place are the very same things you dismiss the moment you begin to explore the grounds of the temple. Such limitations constructed from tour pamphlets and guidebooks lack the ability to explain how Angkor enriches our souls. With our critical self reflections, we will notice, literally, the reflections, the golden, early morning lights illuminating on the walls of Angkor Wat. The process of exploring the sun rising, the birth of a new day, liberates us before we step our feet into the heart of the monument because then we will sense the humanizing reality and history of the temple.
The cool, chilling temperature early in the morning with misty atmosphere around the temple compound adds an extra layer of peace and tranquility that ones can reminisce for years to come. Don't let the early morning, the yearning for an air-conditioned hotel room, or anything else keep you from experiencing sunrise over Angkor Wat. An hour of misery will leave you with a life-changing experience you will never forget.
Photos below captured some of the mists, the lights, the people, and even the monkeys including the mom, the dad, and the child, enjoying their early morning serenity. These photos give us a complete sense of humanizing tourism with nature as our witness.