Monday. It was THE day. I was so excited I didn’t have to force myself to wake up after sleeping for just less than four hours. I was so ready for the pièce de résistance of the trip. Or so I thought.
We were picked up by Cheak, our tour guide, half an hour before six in the morning. Leah had arranged for that for two reasons: first so that we can maximize the sole day we had at Siem Reap and second, so we can catch Angkor Wat’s famed sunrise.
Before I continue, let me just get this out of the way: Cheak is the best tour guide I have EVER met. We were fortunate that Frankie, another friend, had been to Cambodia a few months before us as he had the pleasure of experiencing Cheak first. (That didn’t sound right… ). Frankie had only good words for the guy so we contacted him via Facebook and booked him for our own trip. Friends, I am telling you, if ever you are going to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat (I keep telling people that everyone in the world should.), Cheak Chuom is your guy. He is so personable, warm and friendly; the entire day with him was such a blast. His English was really good too (He goes on night school to study the language.), his every word was enunciated well enough that I can’t think of a moment we had difficulty understanding him. I also did a quick check when we got home and confirmed that everything he said about all the places we visit were true (Ako na ang nerd.). Oh, he takes good pictures too! (Pimp lang? Haha!) Kidding aside, add him up in FB when the need arises. (Pictures of him later…) Seriously, you can’t go wrong with this dude. He even sent well wishes days after the trip. Awesome guy.
So back to that Monday.
We were so desperate to see the sun rising that we didn’t even have breakfast. The plan was to go to Angkor Wat, catch the sunrise and go back to the hostel afterwards. We arrived at Angkor Wat just minutes after leaving and we were welcomed by an outline of the main entrance of the temple with the subtle light of the emerging dawn. It was pretty much dark still, but there were already throngs of people inside. Cheak led us to a corner just behind the main wall where he thought we can get a good view.
All smiles waiting for the crack of dawn.
We waited for I think about half an hour when we decided to move towards the main temple to snap some pictures. By that time, I was growing impatient because all I was seeing was an orange sky. That, in itself, was not bad – actually, it was very scenic and dreamlike especially with the superimposed view of the temples – but it seemed it was falling below expectations.
But we kept on waiting…
Don't get me wrong, it was gorgeous...
...but not quite what i was expecting...
I told myself “Uhm? That was it?”. Even Cheak was resigned that we will not be seeing the sun the way he wanted us to see it attributing it to the weather or some clouds. Then, suddenly, our co-tourists started crowding and yelling the words “There it is! There it is!”. True enough, there it was…
...until we saw this. <3!
It was just… surreal. I don’t recall myself seeing the sun that way before. It was so bright and huge, but not glaring, not blinding. Only then did I understand what the raves were all about. It was beautiful.
Mandatory group shot. :)
After taking some more snapshots and a few more moments of utter amazement, we were just itching to have breakfast. Cheak had other plans for us, though. He convinced us that we head to our first stop first so that we won’t have to deal with a heavy crowd. He led us to Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm, also known as Jungle Temple, is one of the more famous of the temples of Angkor Wat. A Buddhist monastery and university built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII during the 1100’s in honor of his family and his mother, it attributes its fame from the publicity it got from Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider and the fact that it is the only temple that still had visible traces of the flora that engulfed it when it was abandoned a long time ago.
In front of Ta Prohm.
Of the many stories Cheak shared about that place, one that I found the most interesting was about this small hollow tower we went to. He told us it was a place where people told the gods what one aspired for. What made it mystical for everyone was that no echo can be produced inside except for when one pounds his or her chest with his or her fist. (For a Physics graduate, I was baffled. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation for that phenomenon, but I just didn’t have it then. Physics friends! Help!). As Cheak explained, people used to light incense, pray, and fist-bump their chest to send the message to the heavens. Freakishly cool.
Ikaw na Cha, ang pasaway... Hahaha!
A good part of the morning was spent exploring the place. They weren’t kidding when they said it was going to be an experience. It was just the first temple we saw during that day, and I was already floored. The roots embracing the ruins were enchanting. The architecture was gorgeous and absorbing. It was also the start of the Angkor Wat photo-shoot field day. Hehehe… (A separate post is dedicated for that. )
Ta Prohm was the only temple the restoration group decided to leave untouched. I'm glad they decided to keep it that way.
Glorious construction inside Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm's bas relief and ruins.
We left Ta Prohm craving for more of what Siem Reap had in store for us.. We dropped off Cheak in front of his home so he could have breakfast as well before the van got us back to Siem Reap Hostel. We were welcomed by a buffet spread of cereals (muesli!), toast, pancakes and fresh fruits and juices. It was already 10 AM.
Breakfast of champions. :)
Next: Temples, temples, temples and oh, have I mentioned temples?