THE ANGKOR TEMPLE COMPLEX sees around 1,000 visitors in a day, many of whom swarm the western gate at 5:30 a.m. to wait for the 6 o’clock sunrise. I did not know this before we joined them. We rented bikes the night before and left our homestay pedaling at 5 o’clock, following the line of tuk-tuks and stopping only for a breakfast baguette sandwich along the way. We were, on some level, trying to recapture the magic of witnessing the exclusive sunrise of Indonesia’s Borobudur. This is, of course, impossible. What made Borobudur lovely was its Buddhist tranquility; what defines Angkor Wat are the crowds.
We nonetheless had charming 10-hour, 35-kilometre bike ride through the park’s grand circuit, and now feel qualified to identify the distinct personalities of each ancient monument: the fine details of Angkor Wat, the mighty ruins of Angkor Thom, the impossible mingling of tree and stone at Preah Khan, the reflective waters of Neak Pean, the distinct pockmarked bricks at Pre Rup and Medan. These millennium-old broken statues, now culturally enmeshed with 8-year-old hawker girls and women eagerly shouting “Sir” and “Lady” without stopping for breath, are all we can do now to appreciate the power of a Khmer people once lived.
V took most of these photos, so much credit goes to her.