It’s so dark... Blackness… I can’t see my hand in front of my face, but there are hundreds of voices all around me. The buzz of the jungle insects is constant. It’s been like this for almost an hour when I finally begin to see the outline of the world’s largest religious structure against the dark early morning sky. The cameras start snapping pictures and they don’t stop. Slowly the towers become more visible as the darkness fades. I can now make out the banks of the reflecting pool directly in front of me. The magnificence of the temple grows as the minutes tick by, and eventually I am able to completely behold the beauty and majesty of the scene in front of me as the sun rises. This is how I began my unforgettable experience at the Angkor complex - 5am with a front row seat to the main event. The sun rise tour at Angkor Wat.
The day was a long one. All in all I spent about 12 hours exploring the overgrown sprawl of ruins and temples that is the Angkor complex. After the sunrise tour I rejoined the rest of my group to begin the real tour at 9am. This excursion started with a trek though the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor Thom. The city was an endless collection of intricate buildings, statues, and carvings, all seeming to be more incredible than the last. After lunch we headed back to Angkor Wat – the main temple – with our whole group and did a complete tour of the inner grounds and towers. The views from inside the temple were amazing. Dense jungle expanded out for as far as the eye could see in all directions. The overwhelming element of nature in Angkor only adds to its mystique and marvel. The next day we visited a peripheral site called Bang Malea. Although it was no where near the size of Angkor, this temple looked as if it came strait out of an Indian Jones movie. The majority of the walls and structures of the temple had collapsed eons ago, creating a vastly overgrown heap of rubble hidden within the jungle. Here we were free to explore the ruins freely. It was nice to break up the long journey back to Phnom Penh with this as a side trip.
In my experience, places that have earned the right to be called a “Wonder of the World” truly have a wondrous quality to them. Places like the Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, and Angkor have a unique combination of beauty, history, seclusion, and mystery that blend together to create an environment that can only be described as powerful. After experiencing it a traveler will never be the same again, and some one who has never experienced it will never understand. There is no way to describe the feeling of exploring the largest religious complex in the world which has been in almost continuous use for 1000 years and was once the capital of the most powerful empire in south Asia. It is simply something that needs to be done and felt rather than spoken or written about.