Sunrise Over Angkor Wat

It’s black as pitch when the alarm goes off and I peel my eyes open. I tiptoe out of the apartment, careful not to wake my sleeping flatmate, then trip down the stairs outside in the dark.

My friend Johanna picks me up from the partially lit street. Her work as a travel writer and reviewer for LuxuryAndBoutiqueHotels has resulted in my sharing a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat, provided by the Amansara Resort, the most exclusive hotel in Siem Reap. The tuk tuk driver and guide greet us with fresh coffee, fruit and pastries. An excellent way to start the day (at 5am).

We reach Angkor Wat and turn away from the main entrance and approach the temple from the East. Our guide lights the way with his torch. It feels like we’re sneaking in as we step over barriers and enter the very dark stone temple. Angkor Wat is eerie and quiet, far different from what it will be in two hours time when the sun is up and hoards of tourists and worshippers flood the halls.

For now it’s just us. Our footsteps on the stone floor are quiet. I feel like an explorer as though I am the first person to grace these halls in thousands of years (though Angkor Wat was never lost – it’s been in almost continuous use since it was built).

Our guide uses his torch to highlight incredible bas reliefs and Asparas (heavenly nymphs). The etchings are the originals and seem as sharp as the day they were carved. The windows are barred with ornate columns. In the torchlight, our guide points out that the shadows they cast replicate the skyline of Angkor Wat.

Columns at Angkor Wat

We carefully climb the steep staircase of a small library in the temple grounds. The narrow steps and small doorways were designed, not for teeny tiny feet, but to force the visitor into a bow, compelling them to show respect at the state temple and holy place.

We eat our fruit and pastries as we watch the sky. Flying bats are replaced by winging  birds and the darkness turns to light. The sunrise itself is nothing spectacular but the experience of being almost alone in Angkor Wat is a special one.

Angkor Wat

Our Amansara guide has more in store for us. He leads us through the Bayon Temple at Angkor Tohm, it’s smiling faces looking down on us.

Bayon Temple

We are shown the marvels of nature at Ta Prohm where the trees are reclaiming the temples, growing over the walls. These same roots also keep what remains of the temple intact.

Ta Phrom

It’s nearing 9am and time for a second breakfast. Our guide takes us to Sras Srang, Amansara’s private cafe housed in a traditional Khmer wooden house. We are shown around the garden where fruit trees flourish and herbs and vegetables are grown and used in cooking.

We are served fresh tropical fruit, including milk fruit plucked from a tree in the garden. It looks like a large purple plum but inside is the texture of a rambutan. Nom Ben Chak fresh noodle soup followed. The flavours of green curry, lemongrass and a hint of coconut are just what I need, having been awake for five hours. Sticky local pastries finish off the meal and our morning.

Breakfast Sticky cakes

As I lie by the pool in the late morning, I thank my lucky stars for the people I meet and the lucky life I lead.

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