Our small group rises before the sun and piles into the small mini-van to drive the 20 minutes to Angkor Wat. It’s sunrise at the temple; the sun scheduled to make its appearance at 6:10am today. We slip through the still busy streets, everyone groggy, the air cool enough that jackets are thrown on over shirts and sweaters. Our van weaves along roads lined with kiosks and shops beginning to come to life for another day or business, hawking temple trinkets and kitsch. The rice fields are still dark, quiet, and if you listen hard enough you can hear the stalks inching toward the sky.
By the time we get to the temple, many others are already there. Apparently, sunrise at Angkor Wat is a tourist mecca. People of all races and nationalities are bustling about, sipping hot cups of bad coffee or pungent tea, checking their camera lenses and batteries. Our guide, Mr. Rong, escorts us through the throngs of tourists and vendors and ushers into the inner fields of the temple compound, urging us to decide where we want to be for the sunrise. Telling us to stake out a spot and claim it before someone else does. The sky is still dark, a deep black-blue, and no stars are visible, but still I can see the dark outline of Angkor Wat. It is massive and casts a looming shadow over the fields and moats that surround it. People are everywhere, sitting atop stone walls, parked near the reflecting ponds, lounging upon the stone steps to the ancient library. Everyone is here for the same experience: to see another day break over this mystical site, this site that has witnessed over 1,000 years of mornings.
Walt and I wait near a wall, close to the library as the sky shifts from black to eggplant to navy…a most amazing array of the shades of blue. The temple, like some exotic dancer, slowly emerges from the darkness, a great stone city shaking off the night and rising up from the earth to meet the day.
Sadly, on this morning there is no real sunrise. It is too cloudy. But the light created from the heavy sky is diffused and eerie; with every minute the scene brightens and bit more of Angkor Wat can be seen.
People chat and whisper together, the sound of camera shutters opening and closing echo through the morning air. There is a feeling of collective awe as we marvel at being at this place, in this moment, bearing witness to a scene that has unfolded so many times before, with or without spectators. To think of all the sunrises and sunsets, the masses of people who have walked these paths and fields, to gaze upon the spires and stupas of such an enormous structure boggles the brain. This spiritual site, this holy place that was built over 300 years by artists and stone masons who meticulously cut and fitted stone, provides a magical place for faithful or the curious or just the plain adventurous to visit, to marvel, to contemplate and to be silenced. It is the heart of Cambodia. Sunrise or not, this morning’s visit back to Angkor Wat was an experience to lift the spirit and feed the soul.
In the future, when we look back at the dozens of pictures shot in that quiet blue light, I know none will be able to capture the mood of that moment, standing in a place that has seen it all before.