Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom
4/28/12 - 4/28/12 77 °F
I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say that most people who visit Siem Reap go to Angkor Wat at least once to catch the sunrise. My own experience in watching the sunrise is almost exclusively confined to one particular day. My home church (and many others in the area) has a sunrise service on Easter morning. Other than that, I have to admit that most days I'd rather sleep in. Sunrise is indeed a beautiful time, but unfortunately it's scheduled too early for me.
However, I've found that it's a bit easier to get up early and go to bed at a decent hour when I'm on vacation. When travelling internationally, I'm aware that I may never have the chance to be in that place again, so I'm more willing to do things I won't normally do and follow a different schedule. When I received the itinerary for the photo tour, I saw that sunrise at Angkor Wat was on the second day so I made plans to go to bed as early as possible the night before. I didn't want to oversleep and miss an experience at the top of everyone's "To Do" list in Siem Reap.
Nathan told me that we'd be leaving his hotel at 4:30 in the morning and to make sure I wasn't late since I had to come from my hotel. He also warned that my driver may say it's too early, but not to listen to him. I asked Saren if he could meet me at 4:15 and sure enough, he said I didn't need to be there that early. I insisted that I needed to leave then so he told me it was no problem. I actually got to the hotel about 4:20 and we all got in the van and were gone before 4:30.
I have to say, it was a surreal experience walking through the temple before it was even light out. I hadn't thought to bring one, but fortunately we had two flashlights in our group, so we kind of bunched together and made our way to the pool that still has water inside the outermost wall of Angkor Wat. Nathan advised us to get as close together as we could because many more people would be coming and if others placed themselves in the middle of our group, it would be more difficult for him to move among us and help. We all set up our tripods and cameras in the dark (I should probably practice doing that again -it was difficult to do without being able to see much) and then started taking pictures.
It's funny that even though you can't see much with the naked eye that early, if you set your camera on a 30-second exposure, a lot of light actually gets into the camera and you end up with a picture that looks nothing like what you can (not) see. I'm including a few pictures of sunrise (I took 64, so I narrowed down a lot for you!) here.
After sunrise, most of the visitors to the temple start streaming into the inner halls, so Nathan planned for us to have breakfast and wait until there were fewer people inside. Most people take pictures of the sunrise, try to see the inside of the temple in the cooler morning temperatures and then go back to their hotels for breakfast. I'd say by 8:00, there are actually very few tourists there.
After breakfast, we went to the newer monastery on the grounds of Angkor Wat and picked up a local monk whom Nathan has gotten to know, then went into the temple proper for some pictures. Several of the few people who were left on the grounds also wanted to take pictures of the monk and Nathan allowed it for a time, but eventually told these interlopers that we were paying for this experience and everyone seemed to understand and put their cameras away.
After leaving Angkor Wat, we all returned to our hotels for a well-deserved break. We had to meet up again around 2:30 to go to our afternoon destination, Angkor Thom.
I had already been to Angkor Thom on Day 2 (monkeys, elephants, Buddhas), but since I liked it, I didn't mind going back. In fact, by going with a couple of guides who've been there countless times before, they showed me some of the secret spots that I hadn't known about the first time.
For example, when I first visited the Terrace of the Leper King, I was kind of wiped out from the heat and just wanted to rest. I saw a few walls that had tons of carvings on them, took one or two half-hearted pictures and then put my camera away. But on Day 6, Nathan showed us the carvings behind the carvings. The Terrace was expanded at some point and the original carvings were covered over and protected from the elements - now you walk through a passageway that's about 3-4 feet wide behind the outermost wall to see these carvings.
I can't believe I've been back in Shanghai for three weeks, which means it's taken me much too long to get these blogs finished!!! Some people told me after reading my blogs from Vietnam that they wanted to travel there, just based on my experiences. I hope that I've piqued your interest in Cambodia as well. I hate to say this since I planned so long for Vietnam and really enjoyed it there...but I think I have to say that I preferred Cambodia. If you want natural beauty, Vietnam is definitely the place to visit (especially Halong Bay!), but if you want history, culture, fabulous ancient architecture, an easy time finding English speakers and an inexpensive location, go to Cambodia! I've said this in one of my previous blogs, but let me say it again - just don't go in April if you can't take the heat.
Well, I think that's it from Cambodia. I really enjoy reading your comments, even though I'm not always so good at replying to them. That's why I enjoy blogging - I can let many people know about what I'm up to without writing tons of individual e-mails. Therefore, if you have anything you want to tell me or ask me, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I've heard that now you have to register with Travellerspoint to leave a comment on the blog, so if you don't want to do that you can always reply to the e-mail I send to let you know there's a new blog entry. I hope to hear from you soon!