On my fourth day in Siem Reap, I finally made it to Angkor Wat. I was biding my time for new people to show up at the hostel so I wouldn’t have to go alone. True to form, Su kept me updated on the situation and gave me an intro as soon as the guests arrived.
Initially I made plans with two women each traveling solo, but another guy who called himself “Silly” told me he was planning to go for sunrise. It would mean leaving the guesthouse at 5:00am but when it occurred to me that I could avoid the hottest part of the day I was sold. Luckily the others didn’t seem to mind that I bailed on them.
The tuk tuk arrived right on time and whisked us off to procure tickets and and take us to Angkor Wat temple. We were some of the first people to buy our tickets, but I forgot to consider that many others would have multiple day passes or would have purchased their tickets the night before. The shockingly large number of people had beaten us to the reflecting pools but we still got a pretty good spot. And then we got to wait.
We totally lucked out on the weather, it was the first clear morning in days. When we arrived at the temple our iPhone torch feature was needed to navigate but soon the sky was turning pink. I had managed to snag a spot in the front row and for awhile managed to wait patiently for about twenty minutes, but then I noticed that Silly had disappeared. I got anxious about finding him again and abandoned my seat to look around.
And now we arrive to the danger of waking up at 4:30am: I am as dumb as rocks when I am not well rested. When I couldn’t find him immediately I told myself “Well, it’s pretty light and I already got some pictures with the pink. It’s not like there is much else to see.” I decided to head back to the tuk tuk in case he was there.
That’s right, I missed the sunrise itself because I forgot that the sun actually rising in to view was a crucial part of the experience. Luckily I realized my mistake before I had walked all the way back. I returned to position before the sun had gained too much height and Silly was there looking for me.
Over the next five or six hours we explored Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm and I got to know Silly better. He is British and I believe his name is Sunil, and he is so committed to his nickname that he has it tattooed on the inside of his lip. He was in the middle of four months of traveling before heading to New Zealand to play in a Rugby Club Team. He is in his mid twenties and had undergone heart surgery a few years back.
This led to a discussion about how we both believed that travel isn’t something that should be put off until later in life. His father had disapproved of his plan to travel the world until they had a serious talk post-surgery. Experiencing a life threatening health issue so early in life really brought home his point that you can never be sure that the opportunity will still be around.
Additionally, many of the most exciting destinations for travel require good physical fitness to get the most out of them. The vertigo-inducing selfies with Machu Picchu in the background are hard-earned after an hour or more hiking up stairs. The best Great Wall experiences involve hiking at least 5 miles under the hot sun. And Angkor Wat Park is a hell of a lot more fun if you have the stamina and mobility to explore it properly.
After hours of walking and scrambling and climbing, we were both exhausted. Each temple is a stunning feat of architecture and design, and you would need at least a week to do them all justice. Alternatively, you can hit up the main ones and just tell yourself that nothing can beat Angkor Wat so surely you aren’t missing out. That’s the path we chose and I do not regret the ensuing nap one bit.