Day 03/01 - Close-Up Cambodia
We were up for dawn again on Day 03 except that this time, we wanted to see it at Angkor Wat. This has become something of a must see experience and so we were hardly surprised when, as our tuk-tuk bumped through the gloom, we joined an eerie procession of other tuk-tuks bearing tourists to the entrance of the temple.
Inside, people were scrambling for the best positions. We weren't really sure where to go really but Vannak had given us a choice bit of info the day before. He'd told where the sun would rise at this time of year. At spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun rises directly behind the temple making the main gate the best place to view the sunrise. At this time of year though, it was to rise far over to the right. Main gate viewers would see the sun rise to the right of the temple. The best place was over to the temple's left and that's where we headed.
We had the steps of one of the outlying buildings all to ourselves and waited for dawn. The sky was pitch black except for a faint glow in the east. The moon was a sharp crescent and the night was so clear you could see the new moon in shadow. Through the darkness came the flashes of cameras and here and there the laughter of some of the louder nationalities represented there.
The sunrise was spectacular and it really put the temple into perspective. Here was this edifice, the handiwork of 80,000 people and the largest religious complex in the world. Yet, it took a simple sunrise to make it look much like a child's attempt at model-making. It drove home to us just how magnificent our God is and how banal are even our greatest attempts to emulate his creative ability.
Back at the hotel for breakfast we rationed our last remaining hours: a couple of bikes would help us spend an hour roaming through local villages, a dip in the pool would take up the rest.
The villages were great. We just went where the path took us. We stumbled across a large school, perhaps junior high age. The teacher was leading chants of something in Cambodian. Outside children were digging in what looked like a patch of dirt - their dreams of vegetation taking root only in their imaginations as we watched. We found ourselves in front of a temple complex being built and chatting with a young Buddhist monk in a saffron robe. Standing looking at a grass house, we were invited in for hot tea and the host answered our questions about the shrine he had in his garden. A woman restoring a statue of Buddha got up to open the gate to her garden when she saw us watching over the fence. It was great to simply wander and be welcomed everywhere without question, without hindrance.
Too soon afterwards we were at Siem Reap airport having checked in and were enjoying a coconut shake at a coffee shop while we wrote postcards. We'd recognised a couple there who we'd seen in a restaurant in town. They looked pretty miserable for some reason. Later while sipping our shake, a woman spoke to an airport official and we overheard her story. She'd come to collect two tourists who'd arrived for the flight having left one of their passports at the hotel. Despite sending a driver back for it, they'd only got hold of it once their flight had left. Sure enough, a moment later, the very couple we'd seen before came out of the terminal building. What a complete nightmare. We talked about what we'd do if it happened to us.
But it hadn't and a few minutes later we were walking across the tarmac to our waiting Vietnam Airlines plane...