We roughly tore ourselves from bed at 4am, meeting our Tuk Tuk driver downstairs in order to see the famous Angkor Wat Temples at sunrise. Bleary eyed and bushy tailed, we watched as the early morning darkness crept by Siem Reap from the open air of our cabby. As the rain started lightly tinking the makeshift ceiling of our Tuk Tuk, we arrived at about 5am and waited (mosquitos thoroughly enjoying our patient legs) as the morning began its ascent. The sun rose and a myriad of pinks and oranges surrounded the clouds and the dark outlines of the 12th century temple, a 7th wonder of the ancient world. Its contours, at first blurred and obscure from the darkness, became sharp and wondrous before our eyes.
We crept inside the quiet stones that rose like mountains over us, hugging us inside like giant strong arms. Many hallways were still dark, their shadows beckoning us into secret corners we felt we were discovering for the first time. The air was stuffy, even as we climbed into the open center courtyard, congested heat packed in tightly by the stone walls. Ruins in heaps piled high, green thick moss claiming the surfaces, fluorescent green juxtaposing the broken, bleak gray stone. In some areas, the trees had grown beneath and around the stone, seeming to come from within it, as if the temple formed new life from the inside. The giant roots gripped onto the stone, entwining it in its harsh grasp, demanding the air and sunlight that shown in short rays through the colossal columns above.
We visited about seven temples in the area, some bigger and more crowded with insatiable tourists (such as Ta Prohm: the one from Tomb Raider), others smaller and desolate. For the entire day, the rain poured down on us splendidly, and sent the tourists scurrying. We felt lost in a world of harmony that was intentionally formed and found in the architecture of the peaceful Hindu complex designed so long ago. It is curious to think the temples lay abandoned for so many years, forgotten, their majesty and brilliance left undisturbed and perfect. Even amidst the ruins, there was a feeling of greatness and getting lost within the walls was the only way to see and experience its true beauty.
We looked all around us at the gray sky and the gray stone, surrounded by a world so bleak, so beautiful. We climbed hundreds of stone slats that were so thin, some barely constituted stairs. The puddles at our feet reflected the giant stone faces half hidden, half smiling down at us knowingly. The most incredible images were the ones in which they used so many different, simple shapes in its construction, each fitting together like a child’s building blocks. And we felt like children, splashing through puddles; the faceless statues became us, the silent halls echoing with our laughter. Each piece of stone became our backdrop for a photo shoot, each crevice a place to squeeze through. Instead of Legos, we had stones; instead of a playground, we had Angkor Wat.