We woke before the sun on Saturday to go experience sunrise at Angkor Wat!
Tren, our tuk-tuk driver, was waiting outside for us with his brother, Pok, who was to be our chauffeur for the day as Tren had already booked with another traveling group. We saddled up in the back of the tuk-tuk with our boxed breakfasts courtesy of Cheathata and set off through the dark towards the temples.
Despite the early hours, the temple entrance was bustling. There were people making their way to the bridged entrance and others eating their breakfasts on the stone wall overlooking the moat. Drivers left behind attached hammocks to the inside of their tuk-tuks and settled in for a nap. Local tour guides in yellow button downs offered their services and tried to sell you guidebooks. Angkor Wat loomed in the distance.
While tempted by $5/head for a tour, we hadn’t planned on hiring a guide and were walking away when he said, “I know where all the good pictures are.” YA GOT ME, MAN.
Hiring Sukin, our tour guide, was the best money we have ever spent. He was so unbelievably knowledgeable about the history of Angkor Wat, so friendly and interested in our time in Cambodia, and true to his word, took some fantastic pics of us in all the c0oL sp0tS that we certainly would not have known without him.
While most of what Sukin told us was brand new information, it was fun to have a bit of knowledge and context from the Asian Civilizations Museum’s current exhibit, “Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City” for a little backstory.
Angkor Wat was built in the first half of the 12th century . While many of the world’s incredible structures took upwards of a century to construct, Angkor Wat was finished in just 37 years.
Every year every family in the region had to send one family member to help with the construction. Over 1 million people helped to build Angkor Wat from start to finish….WITH THEIR BARE HANDS.
Their only help came from elephants who were used to carry heavy loads to the temple. Sukin told us that most of the stones – sandstone and lava rock – came from almost 50km (over 31 miles!!!) away and while elephants lugged some of them, many of them were carried by individuals on foot.
I feel this way whenever faced with such magnificent architectural landmarks that were constructed before the use of technology and cranes and tractors. Isn’t it just unbelievable? For how advanced the world is now, it is absolutely jaw dropping how advanced and capable past civilizations were.
Sukin took us to the exact center of the temple marked on the floor with a mandala and had TT lay his phone compass down – the arm swinging to lie directly North. They used the sun to mark this exact spot during construction.
We climbed higher and higher as we made our way deeper into the temple. I found it incredibly interesting how steep the stairs were. Sukin explained that the stairs were SO steep because it was thought that the road to the gods was not easy and the common man should struggle to get up there. A commoner should be on his hands and knees climbing with effort, not strutting to the top like it aint no thang. There was a second non-steep staircase that the king used as he was considered one with the gods already.
After thoroughly exploring Angkor Wat, we said goodbye to Sukin
and loaded back into the tuk-tuk so Pok could take us to a few more temples.
Tah Prohm was really fun. It is located in the jungle so first off, it’s much cooler and was quite a relief to be shaded from the glaring sun. Second, Tah Prohm is where Tomb Raider was filmed with Angeline Jolie. The temple is engulfed by enormous trees – their trunks wrapping throughout the base of the temple.
At noon we called it a day – we had been out since 5am! The sun was way too hot and how many pictures of you peeking out of same same but different rock faces can you take? Plus it had started to get much more crowded than it was when we first arrived in the morning.
We ended the day with nachos and margaritas before collapsing in bed for a much needed nap. At night we returned to exciting Pub Street and hopped around from bar to bar, watching the World Cup, and deciding whether we were brave enough to try the fried bugs on sticks being sold to tourists by laughing locals.
Spoiler alert – we were not brave enough!