The most traditional way to spend a morning in Siem Reap is watching the sun rise behind Angkor Wat. It’s a cliche for a reason; it was well worth the early morning.
My Tuk-Tuk driver picked me up at 4:45am in total darkness. We left town and drove towards the temple complex, still in complete darkness. It felt surreal to be in the Tuk-Tuk with cold air blowing on my face but seeing absolutely nothing.
When we pulled up the crowds were just starting to form, so I was able to get a spot right down by the water. Based on pictures, I always assumed a big lake spread out in front of the temple, but in fact it’s more of a little pond. From the right angle you can get the perfect picture, but it’s definitely not what I expected.
After the sunrise it was time to explore the temple. The upper section of the temple didn’t open for a few hours, so I grabbed a quick breakfast with the view of the temple (a traveller faux pas, I know), and went on to explore the lower level. I managed to right right at the front of the line for the upper temple, and when they finally opened it up I was first up the tiny, ancient staircase. You weren’t allowed to wear shorts in the temple, so I did have to run and buy a sarong, but some friendly Americans saved my spot in line after having to do the exact same thing. The upper temple was very cool and had great views from the top, but in the future I’d probably use that time at some of the other temples instead.
Next was Bayon temple, one of my favourites. It’s famous for almost 200 faces carved into the temple. I had a really good time sitting on one of the many ledges and people watching while taking it all in. It’s possible I also took a quick nap on one of the ledges, a necessity after a late night and such an early morning. Bayon is walking distance from a few more temples in the inner loop so I could take my time and wander between them. It wasn’t totally clear how to get to each one, but there was enough tourists and guides around to help out with directions. I had minor difficulty finding my Tuk-Tuk driver in a sea of similarly coloured Tuk-Tuks, but somehow in the heat and the sun I managed to find him.
I also visited Ta Prohm, the temple made famous by Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. This one we had to drive to, and it was similarly packed with tourists filing through it. There were two potential routes to take, so I chose the longer, less busy one and managed to avoid most of the crowds. The temple was nearly crumbling under massive trees whose roots had grown all the way through the ruins.
The day was completely packed with temple-exploring. Somehow it was only mid-afternoon when we finished up at the last temple, but I guess after the early start it was already a long day. Two days was not nearly enough to explore Angkor Wat, but it was definitely a good start to exploring. I’ll definitely need to go back. Even sweaty and exhausted at the end of the day, I was sad to see the end of Angkor Wat and drive back into town in the back of my Tuk-Tuk.