We ride off into the morning light, the sun’s rays golden over farmer’s fields with an occasional palm tree jutting out of the horizon. The air is cool for a change and I wrap my scarf around my shoulders and neck to shield myself from the wind. A few motorbikes pass us and an occasional farmer. Fifteen minutes later and we are at the admission gates for Angkor Wat. Today there isn’t a soul in line at quarter to 7 in the morning. The crowds are all at the temple, dispersing after watching the sunrise over it. Today I am here alone, except for my tuk tuk driver who drives me to Ta Prohm, my favorite of the sites I’ve seen here. The temple dates back to 1186 A.D. and is left in almost the same way it was found, a mix of Spung trees and stone, each merged with the other. I pass through the stone gate and wander down a shaded path listening to the sounds of the forest. Light rays shine through the canopy making certain areas glow in heavenly beams. Yellow leaves flutter gently from tree tops and birds call in the distance. They sound like monkeys here letting out out loud whoop whoops from the green. I make my way around the temple slowly, savoring views of the giant trees and fallen stones of ancient times. I step up to one giant, gently placing my hand on its mighty trunk and whisper, “Hello tree”, as I gaze up in wonder.
I’m not sure what is about trees that I love so much, especially ones hundreds of years old like these. On all my travels I seem drawn to them, from the ancient yews in England to the mighty Sequoias in California, I’ve stood before them touching their bark and marveling at their presence. Here I am, walking beneath the trees of my dreams, feeling revived in their shade. How long I have pictured this place, and now it has become a reality. A few tourists trickle by from time to time, but I mostly have these moments to myself. I’m glad I came this morning to see this space one last time. I walk through the rest of the temple grounds and get lost in the maze of doorways choked by tree arms. I focus on being in this moment, savor the air on my skin, the sites, the sounds as I slowly make my way to the exit.
These few hours are my favorite in Siem Reap though I’ve had other memorable ones as well. I, like everyone else that comes, watched the sunrise over the famed Angkor Wat. Yet I did it quietly on the other side of the bridge away from the hundreds of tourists. A perfect view spread out before me, away from the masses. A burst of color from oranges to blues, created the perfect sky over the building’s silhouette.
On another day, I traveled into the countryside with a photography guide and had a look into the people and way of life here. I saw the poverty interlaced with the beauty, the pollution and the pristine. I smiled at the children’s faces. I was blessed by a 77 year old nun, her face told the story of a long life and smile lines of a happy one. I met shy monks in the forest and loud tuk tuk drivers in the city. My favorite people in Cambodia were the children though. They crowded the streets as I drove by and gave me high fives from the roadside. They flashed their peace signs and curious smiles.
I made new friends out on an ATV adventure, cruising through paddy fields at sunset and later danced with an Argentinian man to the loud music on Pub Street. I let go and had a few drinks, choking on tequila as it hit my throat, a ball of fire I wasn’t accustomed to. With sand in my toes and heat in my heart, we talked and laughed into the night.
I’m so grateful my hopes of visiting here have come true. I remember a few years ago, making a dreamboard with my best friend. Each of us worked into the night pasting images of the things we wanted to bring into our lives onto a big poster board. Remembering mine, it was filled with images of places around the world and Angkor Wat being a focal point.
That board was the beginning of projecting what I really wanted out into the universe. I started focusing on new goals, reading, researching and wondering how I could make them a reality. Now I have touched the trees of Angkor Wat and breathed the forest air around it. So before this year comes to an end, I have one wish for everyone out there. Dream BIG. You might just find yourself living the life you were meant for.
Admission – A one day pass to Angkor Wat is $20, I opted for the 3 day for $40. I overheard a guard saying the prices may go up soon to $30 for a one day. My tuk tuk cost $15 to visit 2 of the furthest temples.
Beat the crowds- To enjoy Ta Prohm in peace, visit before 9am. After nine o’clock the Chinese tour groups start arriving and it looses its peacefulness quick.
To watch the sunrise in peace, go to the right of the main bridge after you cross it and cut across the field to wait by the pond. The crowds are significantly smaller here. There were about 40 people where I was compared to hundreds on the other side. The only downside is the pond may dry up on the right side in a dry season leaving you with a photo without a reflection.
ATV: If you take an ATV tour, make sure to take a longer one. The one hour ride was much too short. We had just arrived in the countyrside and had to head back fast on the 1 hour tour.
Photo Tour: Eric d Vries leads great photography tours of the temples and the surrounding villages and countryside. I highly recommend him to all photographers wanting to find where the great shots are and who want to have an easy visit, eliminating all the guesswork.