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Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunrise Temple Tour

Rising at 4.15am is not something I do regularly; in fact I usually get into bed around that time. I am a complete night owl and I really like my sleep (when I can get some sleep - but that's another story). However I was excited to go back to Angkor Wat for sunrise as I'd heard it was really spectacular. April, Laura and I were fairly quiet as we got ready and got out, climbing into the tuk-tuk by 4.35am. Travelling through Siem Reap in the dark and cold, we were anticipating a beautiful sunrise.

As I mentioned in another post, we got ripped off for tea and sandwiches (USD6); the first stall open opposite Angkor Wat does a great trade but if you are there early it's probably best to bring your own food or wait til all the stalls are open. We did try to haggle but they were having none of it. When the others opened we could have gotten tea at a third of the price.

Tourists filed in through the gate in the dark and most seemed to take up a place on the right near the lake. We soon saw why this was - Beautiful pink flowers open in the dawn light. I have a photo but it really doesn't show you how amazing watching the petals unfurl is.

I think it may have been the wrong time of the year for sunrise (as it moves around the temple) and honestly I found sunset alot more rewarding. I'm not Hindu but there is an enormous sense of peace about this place, hard to believe in a war-torn land. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the architecture of the place, the craftsmanship  - sure we can build airplanes and fancy buildings, but without machinery - these temples were built. A testament to the men of that time (and women? Who knows?)

Afterwards most people headed back into town; we had booked our tuk-tuk to continue onto the other temples whilst they were quiet. You can walk it, but some are many kilometres apart so you won't get as many covered in a day so even for the fittest hikers I would recommend using a tuk-tuk or bicycle. We had also bought our ticket the evening before for sunset which included the following day (USD20) - and was enough to do the short tour circuit - (our hostel gave us a map - but this is also good)

Guide books tell you to buy your ticket after 5pm but the office closes at 5pm so be there about 4.30!
So we continued forward to Bayon (the gates are extraordinary, I took my time looking at all the different faces, wondering what they were communicating!) We were approached by a little boy in Bayon who offered to show us around. He told us he was five, but he must have been more like ten. I asked why he wasn't at school but he didn't answer me. April indulged him and let him be her guide and of course afterwards he asked for money. He did have alot of facts and he was a darling but this really isn't encouraged - and he asked for more money after she gave him USD5. I'd imagine earning this money encourages them not to be at school so it isn't ideal. Families do live inside the grounds and have to make a living but this isn't the right way.
Some of the temples are more demanding than others  - since restoration work has been completed you can now climb to the top of Baphuon, but be careful and ensure you have excellent footwear - the steps are slippy and narrow (we went in rainy season) and people have been injured (apparently one died!) after falling off them. The only thing to break your fall is more rock - a little disconcerting!

There are other interesting sites within the walls of the city of Angkor Thom, such as the terrace of elephants, which I loved and the Wall of lepers. Also just before these there was a cafe area where we stopped for some pancakes and coconut milk. It was a little more expensive than town but really not too bad relative to Western pricing. The service was great - always with a smile! You can also buy big bottles of water along the way for USD2 (excessive price but handy when you're walking mid-morning in the sun).

There are alot of people selling their wares within Angkor Thom and around the site. Some are extraordinary. I had to travel light but one guy was painting large tile images outside Bayon and his work really was beautiful. He was charging something like USD15 for a piece. We went onward to Ta Keo and Ta Phrom, famous for portrayal in the first Tomb raider movie. It would be interesting to know if the Hollywood bigwigs contributed any money to the restoration of the temples? Much work is ongoing and most is credited to foreign investment, particularly from Japan. It is fascinating to see how the trees have uprooted rocks or grown around them - it brings another quality to the place and I hope they don't remove all of them.
We finished our tour around 12.45 (after arriving around 5am). You could get more done in the day, but it gets pretty hot around midday and we were rather fatigued (and temple-d) out. I'm really glad I did it, and I'll never forget either sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat. I think sunrise wasn't quite so spectacular for me as I'd seen sunset first, but maybe different times of year bring different effects.

It's definitely worth reading up on the history beforehand, and also the layout so you have an idea of where you're going and what you're doing. It's also definitely worth continuing on after sunrise to beat the crowds, who seem to start arriving around 9am.

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