In order to experience as much of Angkor as possible, I decided to buy a three-day pass. I assumed it would be more than enough time.
I was wrong.
It’s simply mindblowing how much there is to see; even while trying to plan a route I felt overwhelmed by the sheer scale and scope of it all. Apparently at its peak, Angkor sprawled over 1,000 square kilometers – ten times its closest rival at the time (Tikal, Guatemala). Trying to cover even half that would be like trying to see Paris in your lunch break. It just can’t be done.
…But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t gonna try 🙂
I started off bright and early at 4:30am, grabbed the best “granny bike” my guesthouse had to offer, and headed straight to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
…Or so I thought. For the past six weeks, not even one single day had been cloudy – but of course today was the very first. And it wasn’t just a little cloudy. The sky was so completely overcast that you couldn’t even tell when the sun had risen.
I was pissed.
I waited until the majority of the other disappointed tourists had given up, then spent a few hours roaming the grounds on my own.
Honestly, it was pretty anticlimactic – especially after the incredible evening before. The dreary, dark weather just dampened the whole experience, literally pulling a shade over the hundreds of blue-skied photos I’d been anticipating for the past month and a half.
I was so disappointed that I even considered going home; forfeiting the day’s ticket would’ve meant $20 lost, but it also would’ve meant not wasting my “first impression” on such a visually mediocre day.
But I decided not to. Instead, I continued along the “mini circuit” route, riding into the huge walled city of Angkor Thom – once the capital of Angkor. The next temple on the list was Bayon, arguably the second most famous.
Same story. I snapped a few photos, but just didn’t have the kind of excitement that such a place would normally inspire. Plus, on top of the weather, it was completely overrun by Chinese tourgroups all screaming at the top of their lungs. This handily soiled whatever vibe the place had left.
So I decided to cut my losses after all, returning to try my luck another day. That is, until something happened.
At the last possible second, my prayers were suddenly answered. The clouds parted. The sun came out. The overpowering tourgroups packed into their coaches and headed back to town for lunch. It was as if someone had reached into my brain and flipped the “good vibes” switch to “on.”
Even though I’d just finished at Bayon, I turned right back around to see it again – and this time, it was an utterly different experience.
The bright yellow sun lit up the 800-year-old faces, bringing them to life right before my eyes.
Without all the yelling, I was free to climb about the ruins accompanied only by the soothing sound of the jungle. With unseen tropical birds echoing in the distance and magnificent stone faces towering overhead, it was a scene that felt almost alien. A scene that could only exist in a movie or video game.
But I assure you, it’s real. Real enough to give you goosebumps.
The rest of “day one” I spent following the typical mini-circuit route, with just a few short detours to especially exceptional-sounding temples.
But I’ll save those for tomorrow 🙂
Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place in March, 2012.