At 4 AM on a November morning, my alarm goes off. I wake with excitement 1)brewing inside me. Today, I will visit the magnificent temples of Angkor.
At this hour, I would expect to wake to 2)tranquility, maybe even hear insects 3)buzzing in the distance. This, however, is not the case in Siem Reap.
The weather is dry and the temperature cool, which means Siem Reap's tourism population is at its high. Like me, it seems every other tourist has also risen early in hopes of discovering Angkor Wat before the 4)onrush of other travelers.
Located in northern Cambodia, approximately a 45-minute drive north of Siem Reap, Angkor is home to the remains of the famous temples that served several Khmer Empires注 from the 9th to 15th centuries.
Known for their 5)architectural style, the temples' mysterious stone walls are decorated with 6)intricate carvings and sculptures of mythical figures and stories that scholars and researchers still work to 7)unravel.
I want to see the famous temples for myself, so traveling to Angkor is a must.
Angkor Wat, the pride of many Khmers, is the only building to be displayed on any national flag. Built in the early 12th century, the wat (the Khmer word for temple) shares over 414 square kilometer of land with many other glorious ancient temples, such as the Bayon and Baphuon temples, as well as the famous Ta Prohm.
I will soon realize that no professional photograph, no exchange in conversation and no detailed piece of writing could ever do these temples justice.
The sky of the early morning is 8)pitch-black. The lack of streetlights would have made it difficult to see the road if it weren't for the headlights from motorbikes, 9)tuk-tuks, cars and tour buses.
My tuk-tuk driver, whom I booked the day before, waves me over as he stands to the side waiting.
I can hear sounds of engines 10)roaring and people chatting. My 11)adrenaline is going and the race toward Angkor is on! Other 12)vehicles are already passing as I 13)hop in the back of the tuk-tuk. My driver kick-starts his bike, 14)throws it into gear, and we are off.
Dust flies into my face as we 15)whiz past competing vehicles. The dirt road tries its best to 16)withstand the 17)onslaught of tourists who are fighting to get to Angkor before sunrise. The sounds of motors running and horns 18)honking add to the already 19)chaotic morning.
I hold my breath to avoid 20)inhaling the thick dust. I can feel tiny dirt 21)particles building up in my hair. Nevertheless, I am excited and more awake now.
Suddenly, my tuk-tuk driver stops in the middle of what seems to be a large dirt field. He points to my right where I can 22)make out a large, dark shadow in the distance. It is still dark outside, but I can see other tourists hurrying in that direction. I thank my driver and head off.
Along with hundreds of other tourists, I rush up the stone walkway toward the magnificent shadow ahead of me. I am on the grounds of Angkor Wat where local monks from hundreds of years ago once prayed.
I feel a sense of 23)intimidation washing over me as I walk past large shadows of unknown shapes. I can vaguely make out the temple's 24)silhouette, as the sky above slowly turns blue.
People from all over the world 25)scurry about the temple grounds, calling to fellow travelers to join them once the perfect viewpoint is claimed. I find my spot on a cool stone 26)banister, and wait for what is to come.
As the sun begins to rise, the intimidating shadows around us slowly disappear. The sun's rays introduce us to one of the most beautiful masterpieces in Southeast Asia—Angkor Wat. The temple is 27)overwhelming in size, and even from a distance I can make out the 28)unfathomable detail on the five towers rising above the entryways.
The shadows around me have now become the shapes of mythical creatures. Below the stone walkway to my left is a large pond of water that reflects the image of Angkor Wat under the glowing sun.
The chaotic buzz begins to disappear and I am suddenly surrounded by silence. We have all finished the race, and our prize is right in front of us.
I sit, admiring the magnificent buildings in tranquility and calmness. In the distance, I can finally hear those insects buzzing.
The leaves 29)rustle in the 30)breeze. As I gaze at the scenery around me, I think, “This is exactly what I wanted to wake up to.”