If you’ve seen Angkor Wat at sunrise, you’ll relate to this

This article was created for The Travel Project by Kristen Schoeck, a frequent traveler, photographer and videographer who has visited 38 countries across five continents.

How many times do you get up early just to see the sunrise? For me, it rarely happens, even though it is a wonderful way to start the day. However, I recently made an exception. This was not just any sunrise - this was the sunrise in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This was the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

My alarm went off at 4:30am. It was pitch black outside. In a sleepwalk state, I grabbed my tripod and DSLR and headed into the hotel lobby where I was to meet up with my group.

At 5:00am, I ventured down the road that leads to the temple. As we reached a forested area and a large moat my senses told me the temple was nearby. We headed to the west side of the temple where I set up my tripod. There was a large crowd of people, as if we were watching a sporting event – only everyone was silent as if we were in a church. This is afterafterallall the largest religious monument in the world.

I stared at the temple in awe, trying to make out the faint details in the dark. With every passing minute, it gradually became lighter, as if someone was turning on a switch.

The sky turned shades of dark blue, light blue, golden yellow, and finally burnt orange. Then, the sun emerged from behind the temple and cast a ray of light into the reflective moat, as if to say “behold!”. Everyone in the crowd, all from different countries with different languages, unanimously said “wow” – the universal word for when there are no words. The sun peaked directly over the top spire, which only happens during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes – a testament to the genius architecture of Angkor Wat.

Angkor-Wat-Architecture

The moment was magical. In fact, it was more than that. Just being here was a magic in itself. Just a few decades ago, I would not have been able to travel here. The country was recovering from a brutal civil war and landmines surrounded the temple. UNESCO added it to the World Heritage list in 1992, and only 7,000 intrepid tourists visited. Now, two million per year. The temple was never truly “discovered” because the Khmer people always knew it was there. However, they did not go inside due to superstition. But now, it was time to venture into the temple.

As I explored the temple in the afternoon, it got increasingly hot. In fact, hot was an understatement. It was burning. On top of that, I was wearing pants. I persevered, and climbed the highest tower of the temple, a 70-degree angle, and I pulled myself up step by step. I made myself believe that I was Indiana Jones, trying to avoid booby traps and find the buried treasure.

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The next day, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of Angkor. I grabbed my camera and headed to Ta Prohm as soon as I could, trying to get there before the humidity rose.

There it was, and I was the only one there. It was as if I was a real explorer. The temple looked like its natural state when explorers first arrived: overgrown trees, giant roots, moss, and rubble. Inside, there was a monk with a basket of bracelets. He mumbled a prayer in Khmer, closed his eyes, and tied a bracelet around my wrist. He bowed in prayer and I bowed back. I read that the bracelet represents many blessings.

I already had many blessings – I was not only in Angkor Wat, but I was alive to tell the story. The bracelet was the same color orange as the sunrise. That moment that astounded me. It will forever remind me that every day when you see the sunrise, it is a blessing. I vowed that from that moment on, I would get up early and watch the miracle of the sunrise.

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