There was nothing but darkness and tourists as we approached the steps by the waterside in front of Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. Our intention was to get there early and try and get a good spot, a clear view of what we had come to see without a line of heads in front of us. I managed to squeeze through the building crowd and find a patch on the final step, next to the water’s edge. I would be eaten alive by the mosquitos that had invaded the waters, but it was a small price to pay, in my opinion.
Slowly the sun started to rise, quickly the crowds started to gather. And as I sat watching the sky change from black, to purple and pink to orange, the silhouette of Angkor Wat in full view, the excitement rose with anticipation at finally getting to explore this mysterious looking complex. I imagined myself as Lara Croft finding hidden pathways and tombs. After the sun had brought its glow to the watchers below it was time for this very disappointing tomb raider to adventure to Ta Prohm. Our guide, Hang, had explained to us that we would start with what is known as the Tomb Raider temple first and we would visit the actual Angkor Wat temple last.
Wondering around Ta Prohm was fascinating, and the site is sure to make anyone feel like an explorer who has found a hidden tomb in the middle of the jungle, even if no secret passageways appear underneath your feet. Aside from the few tourists and a few scaffolding bars holding parts of the complex up, it felt like we were the first intrepids to venture into this hidden jungle climbing frame. After exploring the area, whilst dodging huge spiders, and singing along to Johnny Cash with our guide we headed over to Angkor Thom, and the temple of Bayon. As we approached we spotted a group of mild and friendly macaques by the side of the road, they had obviously realised that being nice to tourists meant being fed a constant flux of bananas and lotus roots, a far cry easier than going out looking for food. We eventually dragged ourselves away from the friendly monkeys when we realised that the more time we spent with these adorable animals, the more people were arriving by the coach load.
Climbing up to Angkor Thom, the stairs made to fit the feet of a three year old, I was blown away by the sight in front of me. Hundreds of faces of the Buddha were watching me from every angle. Every carving, so intricate and clear, which, considering this building was made hundreds of years ago when modern tools were not available, was astounding. The time and dedication it took to build this is awe inspiring. However exploring hundreds of years old temples in the Cambodian humidity is not easy and by the time we had reached the top of the complex we were all slowly starting to lose our energy, heat exhaustion didn’t seem to be too far away. Alas we dragged ourselves to the main attraction, Angkor Wat; however by the time our fatigued bodies reached the temple we were absolutely worn out, we tourists didn’t even have the strength to take a photo, a sure sign that the energy and enthusiasm present only a few short hours ago had been sucked away completely. Angkor Wat had turned into Angkor Not. The complex, even though it’s the biggest of the temples, is far less impressive than Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom so we were grateful that we had seen the best (in our opinions) that the attraction had to offer before we lost all ability to lift our feet up off the ground. Despite our exhaustion we knew that if we didn’t drag ourselves up the very steep steps to the top of the building then we would always regret it, so, one by one, we pulled ourselves up step by step. The incredible 360 view of the area was a small comfort to us and I just about managed to muster enough energy for a few more photos, then it was time for these weary travellers to climb down and head straight to an ice cold air conditioned bus. The moral of the story, listen to all the guide books, don’t attempt Angkor Wat in one day, take your time, relax, explore without the risk of dying from Cambodia’s intense humidity levels.