The clock struck four, when Ben’s phone told us it was time to get our butts out of bed. Today was a special day, so I wasn’t in my usual pre-breakfast zombie-like state. Despite the fact that it was closer to my bedtime than my usual waking time, I felt energised. The infamous Angkor Wat was waiting for us.
After a quick tuk-tuk ride and the usual ticketing booth formalities, we commenced the walk towards that enchanting, world-renowned silhouette, our anticipation building with each step. The deep beat of jungle drums drifted through the air, setting the mood perfectly. The impressive crowd of tourists was in a quiet trance-like state, waiting for the stage lights to switch on and the star attraction to make itself known. For now, Angkor Wat was sitting in the shadows, lit only by a thin lip of burnt orange and fuchsia. And so we waited…
As we ensconced ourselves in the dewy grass and sat back with our sugar-loaded coffees, the sun slowly came out to play. The glassy dam between us and the Mother of all Temples captured her reflection in all of its glory. As Angkor Wat rose from her slumber, it seemed like she’d brought a mirror to her face just to make sure everything was in order before we snapped away like crazed paparazzi.
After the big moment had come and gone, it was time to enter the gates of Angkor Wat and take a closer look. She was more magnificent than I’d imagined – like a long-limbed lady covered in ornate henna tattoos. Her walls and corridors stretched far and wide, every inch of them covered in curious engravings, stunning motifs and precious sculptures.
The wave of tourists quickly dissipated, as people wandered off in different directions and got lost amongst the endless network of hallways and doorways. The architectural symmetry was simply genius, messing with my head like a giant mirrored maze. Every way I looked and turned, there was a stunning, rustic frame staring back at me. It was a photographer’s paradise.
Soon it was time to move on to Bayon, the next temple in our tour. We went on the hunt for our tuk-tuk driver, which proved to be a serious challenge. The carpark looked like it was hosting a tuk-tuk rally. At this point, we realised we should have photographed our driver and his vehicle before wandering off.
Eventually we heard our voices being called in the distance – once lost, we’d been found. After a short drive, our team of three was delivered to the doorstep of Bayon, which captured our attention immediately. Decorated with 126 mammoth faces, it’s thought to be a narcissistic shrine to King Jayavarman VII, the mastermind behind the Temples of Angkor. Witnessing the majesty of his vision, I couldn’t help but think he had the right to be pleased with himself.
Next, it was time to tackle the popular Temple of Ta Prohm. A perfect union between divine ruins and mother nature, it was nothing short of spectacular. The roots of the silk-cotton trees had grown through the temple walls like veins keeping a heart alive. I could see why Tomb Raider had been filmed here. The atmosphere was truly magical. I found myself being transported back to the 12th Century, when Ta Prohm had housed hundreds of dancers, high priests, gold, pearls, silks and beyond. It sounded like a dream.
Over the course of the next couple of hours we went on to view a few more historic sites. They were all dwarfed by Angkor Wat and its cool cousins. As my husband put it, “It’s hard to get excited by foreplay after sex.” Having said that, watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat proved to be a memorable, must-see moment. In hindsight, we should have bought a three-day pass, so we could better appreciate the lesser known attractions and work our way up to the main event.
To complete our once-in-a-lifetime experience of Angkor Wat, we decided to see the grounds from a different perspective – “gibbon view”. I’d been craving an adrenalin rush for a while and Flight of the Gibbon sounded right up my alley. Guiding us through a series of sky-high zip lines, tree houses and bridge walks, it certainly got my heart pumping. I’m usually good with heights, but when our tiny 150m-high platform started swaying in the wind, I quickly conjured up an escape plan. Surely jumping towards the nearest branch and holding on for dear life would save me?
After three hours of flying between the trees, our group finally had the swing of things. I was racing across the barely-there bridges and dangling from the wires like a pro-gibbon – no sweat. I could see why Flight of the Gibbon was killing it on Trip Advisor. The experience was the right kind of challenging and certainly thrilling, offering a change of pace to the temple tours. And, by the end of the day, I was all “templed out”.