Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

When it comes to time of day, I don’t have too many preferences. I mean, obviously 7pm is pretty sweet, 1am needs some kind of award for excellence, and 12 noon deserves a special place in everyone’s hearts, but beyond that I’m not too fussed.

However, 4am is hands down the worst time of day. 3am and you might still be awake and in the last throes of a whiskey-fuelled creativity orgy, 5am and you’re likely waking up with birdsong and the sense that, yes, today will be a good day. But 4am, man, 4am blows. You wake up and feel like you’ve never slept, it’s still totally dark outside, and you want to punch in the face the man who invented this god-awful time.

So I wasn’t feeling good when I woke up in my hostel dorm in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at 4:16am (apparently I’d hit 2 lots of 8-minute Snooze without realising). By 4:30 I was downstairs in the lobby saying sleepy hellos and good mornings to the three European girls I’d be spending the morning with. We were going to watch the sun come up at Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world.

Dawn at Angkor Wat Outside Siem Reap

We weren’t alone. I’m not sure if our tuk-tuk driver had modded his vehicle out but we overtook a bunch of other tuk-tuks on the drive to the temple. He drove as if we’d see a big “game over” screen come up if we didn’t get to the finish line in 1st place. Even so, we still weren’t close to being first there. And by the time the sun had started rising, there must’ve been 500 people standing along the main lookout, including the irritating photographers who’d brought tripods and therefore decided they were entitled to stand at the front.

Angkor Wat at Dawn LOTS of People (1)

After a while, we splintered from the hordes of tourists at the main photo-op spot and wandered around the temple itself. Irish Mona and I stuck together, with the other two of our quartet doing their own thing. It was warm, but not unreasonably so (that’d come later in the day), and wandering along pillared corridors taking photos of the sun rising up behind the trees was just…nice. Really, really nice. And quiet, which was also nice. You might be getting the impression it was all-round nice, which it was.

Angkor Wat Inside at Dawn

The temple itself started as a Hindu structure, but is now considered both Hindu and Buddhist, with monks doing their thing even while us tourists were gawping. That feat of ground-sharing is impressive when you imagine Christianity and Islam doing the same thing. I mean, try to picture Muslims laying prayer mats inside a cathedral or Catholic priests molesting children inside a mosque — it just wouldn’t happen.

Monks at Angkor Wat

Normally when it comes to being out and about during the day I’d rather be by myself. That way I can go at my own pace and not have to dawdle around waiting for whoever I’m with examine every stone of every pillar in every corner of the temple, but thankfully Mona was just as anti-dawdle as I was. We stuck together for that entire day of temple trekking, but we were still sharing the tuk-tuk with our Dane and Croat companions who’d won the International Dawdle Championships 7 years in a row, so we still had to wait for them anyway.

I’m not sure what point I’m making here – taking your time is a good thing after all? If you don’t want to travel alone, make sure you only pick people who complement your adventuring style? Monks are cool? I don’t even know. One thing I do know is that while 4am is indisputably awful, getting up at that time to see Angkor Wat at dawn is definitely worthwhile. You should do it.

Angkor Air Balloon Landscape

Note: names have been changed. The only Mona I know is a character in Friends.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Great story. Too bad the photos won’t show up. I even opened another tab, refreshed and tried a different blog and I’m able to see the images. Wish I was there sounds like a great time despite the 4am alarm clock.


    1. ambigram0 says:

      There we go – should be fixed!


  2. Yes, now I see them. Thank you. I love that first shot with Angkor Wat silhouetted in the background.


  3. cyrusdogood says:

    Reblogged this on PlanetSellas.


  4. Great story! And I know what you mean! It reminded me of getting into a Greyhound bus in Australia at 4 a.m. It was full of sleeping twenty somethings who had turned off the air con while they got a free night sleep AND travelled at the same time. That smelled bad! Didn’t even get to see a great dawn.


  5. Ken Brown says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable tale. Incredible setting…good to see you managed to visit at the quiet time!

    Glad to have found, eventually, someone like me who likes to write comic anecdotes about their travels! 😀


  6. Ahhh lovely. We did the sunrise just this week and I know what you mean about early start. I was worried about sleeping in, so I hardly slept the night before. Not to mention the rock hard bed that causes insomnia! We got to the temple an same thing…. Crowds. We missed sunrise through. Sky was clear and stars out, so we thought it would be fantastic. Turned out to be misty fog and thick cloud along the horizon, so the early start was all for not 😦 oh well we still got to go through the temple and see inside, which was great.


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