It was 5 a.m. in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Dottie and I were following our guide, Mr. Sohun (pronounced “Sun”), in total darkness down what appeared to be a deserted dirt road surrounded by jungle.
Sohun had picked us up at our hotel at 4:15, taken us to get our photo I.D. passes for Angkor Wat at a central pass office, then he and our driver took us off into the jungle. Our quest was to be in position to photograph the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest and most famous at Angkor, built as the funeral temple for Suryvarman II, who ruled there from 1112 to 1152.
As we trudged along, I inquired, “Where are we?”
“This is the back way. We avoid the crowds,” Sohun replied.
So, we marched on, hoping not to step on a night-hunting cobra or fall into a bog full of crocodiles.
Suddenly a large shape, materialized out of the darkness, silhouetted by a million stars - the imposing walls of Angkor Wat.
Sohun led us around the side of the enormous temple to where several thousand tourists had already set themselves up, shoulder to shoulder, on the shores of a pond in front of the temple entrance.
Shortly after elbowing our way into the gathering, the eastern horizon began to glow red and orange. Then, the grand, surreal essence of Angkor Wat appeared before us, and in a mirror image reflected off the pond. A cacophony of cricket sounds created by thousands of photographers followed, until the sun itself rose from behind the ruins.
As dramatic as the sight was, I couldn’t help yawning and looking to see if there was a Starbucks nearby.
We spent the next several hours walking up and down ancient stone steps in awe of the skill and intense labor that it took to build this massive structure to host the remains of just one person.
Walking about one temple was excellent exercise, but by the time we made it through a few others, including nearby Angkor Thom and the Ta Phrom temple, built in 1186, it was early afternoon. The temperature was in the 90s with humidity to match.
Awe gave way to “Aaah! This heat is killing me.”
Nearly 11 hours after rising in the dark, we made it back to our room at Phum Baitang, an amazing hotel resort built in the style of a Cambodian thatched-hut village surrounded by rice paddies and water buffalos. There, we fell into a sleep nearly as dead as that of the original Angkor Wat inhabitant.
There is a whole lot of Wat to see in Siem Reap, but the ancient temples and ruins are not the only highlights. Once again, we found the best parts of our experience were the people (of Cambodia), unfailingly friendly, considerate, and interested in engaging with us.
More on Cambodia next week.
Much closer to home, Capt. Rick Powers at Bodega Bay Sportsfishing is finding full limits of Dungeness crabs (10 per angler) every trip, along with full limits of rock fish and lots of lingcod. He is also offering Christmas gift certificates for your favorite angler ($140 for a combo crab and rock cod trip). Call Rick at 875-3344.
Sturgeon are starting to bite inside the north bay near China Camp. Call Keith Fraser at Loch Lomond Bait Shop for current reports and to get fresh live bait.