In the pitch black darkness of what cannot even be described as early morning, our group headed out to the iconic Angkor Wat at 4:45 am to see the sunrise over the five pillars of the structure. The only light we had while walking across the causeway and through the gateway into the complex was a crescent moon that was mostly covered by clouds, and flashlights that the various tour groups were carrying to help navigate to the interior without twisting ankles or falling into the crocodile filled moat*
Here is what I was envisioning, picture the opening scene of The Lion King but with and ancient temple silhouette in the foreground. Out of the darkness a flood of orange, pink, blue and yellow burst out from the horizon and the jungle starts singing in praise of a new day. I reality the sun didn’t come up anywhere near the temple, more like 3:00 right of it, and by the time it was light enough to see the temple you aren’t even looking at it anymore because the scene going on with the locals catering to the tourists is far more interesting. While on other parts of this tour, we’ve been bombarded with children selling anything from bracelets to flutes, morning at Angkor Wat offers what tourists really want, coffee, breakfast and sometimes whiskey.
Because its so dark and there are so many people at the event, you can’t see them milling throughout the crowd, but because its 5:00 in the morning everyone is silent so you hear “coffee, tea, breakfast, whiskey.” Drinking hot coffee and sweating at 6:00am is something I would never do at home.
After the sunrise, we went back to the hotel, had some breakfast and pondered what to do with the rest of the day. Somehow it quickly became lunchtime so Leonie and I went to the markets to eat and get some souvenirs (okay, she bought souvenirs, I mostly bought stuff for myself).
In the afternoon a group of us hired a boat to go visit the floating village and market. Built on the largest lake in Southeast Asia, the floating village finds people who live their lives on the water. Filled with one or two room houseboats, the residents use boats to trade, pray, play basketball, and drink. The sight of the smaller transportation boats between the larger dwelling boats is one that has obviously given inspiration to the cities in scifi movies like The Fifth Element and Star Wars.
Watching another sunset from the roof of the boat, we near the end of one of the greatest days on this trip. Only in my smallest wishes did I ever thing I would be in Cambodia getting to experience such an amazing friendly culture of people who despite a lot of disadvantages, seem to have happy lives. As I am writing this, we are driving to Phnom Pehn, the capital city, and the road is littered with small homes on stilts without doors, beds, gates or lavish furnishings but they are smiling, chatting with friends, playing, commuting to work and just living life without needing more.