We woke up in Cambodia. What a wonderful feeling! Granted it was about 4 am since we had elected to see the sunrise over Siem Reap. We groggily got ready and met our driver at the appointed time. We still couldn’t see a tremendous amount of Siem Reap since it was dark. We first had to buy our tickets at a ticket area that was not near the Angkor Wat temple complex. It reminded me of Machu Picchu where you had to buy the tickets at the bottom of the mountain; you couldn’t buy them at the entrance to the park. We along with lots of other tourists waited in lines, got our photos taken for our tickets, and then trundled back into our modes of transportation.
Now, the light was beginning to rise; we could see a little bit more of buildings and trees. What a difference from Shanghai! No skyscrapers dotting the sky. The buildings were shorter and there was more vegetation. Then we approached the Angkor Wat complex. A large river or moat surrounded the temple complex. I learned that Angkor Wat refers both to the specific temple complex and the entire archaeological site. There are several temple complexes to explore in addition to the famous one.
Our driver parked us near the gates and we crossed the river, transfixed by the balustrades showing impressive nagas. We hurried to get to a good viewing spot for the sun to rise. We weren’t along; lots of tourists were also there to watch the event. We did some preliminary exploration but I was keen to find the right viewing place. We eventually found a section of the lawns in front to watch as the sun slowly rose up. I was actually not as blown away as I had been when I had seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It was only after the fact that I realized we were on the wrong side of the temple to see it light up.
Angkor Wat was impressive. It’s a series of temples that began to be built in the 12th century. They are still in use; we actually passed by several religious ceremonies. So it’s important to be respectful and dressed properly while you wander around. We were told that women should bring sweaters if they had bear arms; shawls were not sufficient. There are carvings all over the complex, showing gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There were lots of Apsaras, dancing female spirits. We headed towards the highest tower, where if you are dressed properly, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the entire area. It’s a steep climb up but well worth it.
At one point, we were looking out and I remarked, “Oh look. There are a bunch of cats wandering on the roofs.” To which my friend explained, “Those aren’t cats. Those are monkeys.” And she was right. There were monkeys. I had been noticing the smell of what I thought was cat urine but it was actually monkey urine. These monkeys were actually a little frightening. We saw a few up close. One climbed up steps and growled at another person, making it very clear that there were boundaries. Later, a monkey crawled on a woman and stole an egg from her. It’s very apparent; don’t have food out around these animals. They will get very aggressive.
After wandering the endless halls, we decided to take a short walk on the far side of Angkor Wat to see what lay in the area. We found a little temple there, also still in use as evidenced by the offerings. It was time for a mid-morning snack. I had gotten these little fig cookies where we bought our tickets. We did a monkey survey to ensure I wouldn’t have an issue. It was really lovely, sitting on the steps of the temple, staring back at Angkor Wat through the woods. It’s these moments that resonate forever.
That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about our adventures at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohn!