Flashback March 2016
Day 3 begins at 4:45 am with a pickup from Sok Manea, a tuk-tuk driver referred by TripAdvisor and the web. We travel in the dusk to the Angkor Wat temples. The early morning air is crisp. The climate is duplicitous, I didn’t bring a shawl and should have. It’s cool in the morning, teeming with heat the rest of the day. I purchase a 7-day pass and two checkpoints later I am one of the swarming fireflies descending upon the temple grounds.
Imagine going to a SummerStage concert at Central Park, except you have to arrive in the dead of night to get the best seat. Everyone is moving in the same direction through the temple’s western gopura toward the terrace and moat, all to capture the iconic image of Angkor Wat reflected in the lotus flower pool. Hundreds of people are lining up with their handheld phones, tablets, and cameras positioned to click at the exact moment. One man brought a chair to position an expandable tripod so the image would be tourist free. Very few people were actually present in the moment.
There are no words that can properly express the feeling of entering Angkor Wat the first time. The temple is everything you can imagine and everything beyond what is imaginable. As you roam through its corridors and galleries, you can only feel the presence of the past, the spirit of its inhabitants, the greatness of this structure in its own time, and feel completely at peace. It helps of course if you are one of the first few to enter, as I was. The fewer people (aka tourists) around the better and more enriching your experience will be.
Wildlife in the complex includes dragonflies, sparrows and other small birds, cats, and monkeys. Gibbons and their offspring scale the temple walls and inhabit the surrounding trees. They are as tame as the squirrels back home but I would approach with care.
Walk through the temple from west to east and you find yourself in a peaceful garden sanctuary. It’s like walking into the pages of a fairy tale book.