Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sunrise at Bayon

After our disappointing sunset experience, my friends and I decided to go a different route for sunrise the following day. Bypassing the crowds vying for a picture-perfect sunrise at Angkor Wat, we headed straight for Angkor Thom.

As we rode out to Angkor Thom our tuk-tuk driver informed us that not many people go out there for sunrise. "No good view, are you sure you want to go there?" "Yes, we are sure!" But it didn't take us long to figure out why no one goes there for sunrise; as we approached the entrance to Angkor Thom, we were met with a road block.

Technically, the temple is closed to the public before sunrise! For a moment, I thought we were going to have to turn back and meet the masses at Angkor Wat. Without skipping a beat, our tuk-tuk driver moved the gates out of the way and we passed through with ease. (I love countries where rules are more like suggestions than actual laws.)

Angkor Thom is actually an ancient city complex encompassing several different temples. We hadn't really done our homework so we weren't sure where to go. Thankfully we had a tuk-tuk driver who, although a bit lazy, knew what he was doing. He took us straight to the gem of Angkor Thom: the Bayon Temple.
 From a distance, Bayon looks like a big pile of rocks, but up close you can see that all of the towers are covered in huge stone faces. Every tower has 4 faces, one facing each cardinal direction. 

serene and smiling faces surround you at the Bayon Temple

All of this was unknown to us when we arrived at 5:30 in the morning. Armed with 2 flashlights between the 4 of us, we headed off to explore the temple in the dark, having no idea what to expect.
Save for one lone photographer, we were all by ourselves in the temple. For a half an hour, we crept though the dark corridors, unsure what we would find around each corner.
The temple was completely silent, except for the occasional squeaks of bats getting ready for their dawn feast.
our first glimpse of the faces in the dark

As the first light broke through the darkness, the bats came out in full force. They were flying so fast that we could barely catch a glimpse of them, but we could hear them. It was a deep, bass sound a bit like a heart beat "vhoomp, vhoomp.... vhoomp vhoomp" zooming past us.
The sun slowly rose across the horizon and with it came the noises of a new day. First it was the bats zooming past us in search of breakfast. Then an orchestra of crickets broke the early morning silence with their chorus of chirping. And just as the sun finally broke free, we experienced a final, huge rush of sound. The cicadas - as if on cue - began to sound their deafening call from every corner of the jungle in unison. And in that moment, a new day had begun.
Slowly we began to make out faces and shapes surrounding us as we continued to explore the temple uninterrupted.
the ominous faces of the Bayon at dawn
elaborate base reliefs of the apsara dancers that adorn all Khmer temples
i always feel like somebody's watching me....

We had a full hour and a half at the temple before anyone else showed up. But as soon as the sun shone fully in the sky, we were transformed from intrepid explorers to just the average tourists. The crowds slowly filed in and we left our temple haven to join the masses.
The Bayon Temple in the early morning light

In a place as popular as Angkor Wat, it is virtually impossible to explore a temple on your own, but for a brief moment that morning we had the temple all to ourselves and it was serene.
me and my favorite Bayon face

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