This morning, our goal is to watch the sun rise over the grand Angkor Wat temple. Our day begins at 4:30 am, and we have a quick coffee and pastry in the hotel lobby and depart promptly at 5:00 am in the predawn darkness with our guide. Tuk-tuks and taxis pour noisily into the streets and form a bustling, long column, all united a common goal: to reach the ancient temples of Angkor Wat before dawn. We find a seat on the grass, sit quietly, and await the sunrise.

As we wait, we hear owls calling to each other from forests of kapok and banyan once so dense and overgrown that this abandoned city of stone lay unseen and unknown for centuries, until stumbled upon by French naturalist Henri Mouhot in 1860. A few hundred of us are now sitting on the lawn, looking at our phones and cameras and talking quietly.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Photo: WT Asia Operations Manager Lisa Filippini

The stars slowly fade, the sky grows pink and gray, and the stone towers of Angkor Wat are revealed, rising eight stories before us. The air is thick and warm and moist. After an hour, the blurred ball of an orange sun rises slowly between the towers. We then join our guide for a walk through the perimeter galleries, viewing murals carved in sandstone a thousand years ago and still crisp.

sunrise over Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Photo: WT Photographer Dan Heller

Slowly we pass through the halls and heavy stone entryways, a labyrinth of passageways leading us to the heart of a great Hindu temple. High above the forest, we sit on the stone steps and gaze out over the landscape. The ruins are so massive, we now can see only a few visitors and feel alone in a forgotten time.

Sunrise over Angor Wat, Cambodia
Photo: WT Resident Photographer and Photo Editor Brian McGilloway

-Text by 2-time WT adventurer Jerry Coe, Vietnam and Cambodia Private Journey.

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