4am. Anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t participate in 4am, you’re lucky if I participate in 7am. Frankly, to me, 4am doesn’t exist. But, somehow I found myself willingly setting my alarm for 4am for the next morning, with a tuktuk and driver already in place for a pickup from our hotel. In Cambodia, this could only mean one thing, the somewhat cliché experience that is an Angkor Wat sunrise.
Very few times in my life have I ever hated my alarm more, it was just as horrendous as I predicted it would be. As I scrambled, bleary eyed, for something to cover my shoulders with and put my charged camera battery in its rightful place, I contemplated crawling back under the covers but had to will myself not to.
As we stumbled down the stairs and into the foyer to find our tuktuk driver, we stepped out the front door and I remember feeling slightly disorientated by the fact that it wasn’t cold – in the UK, spring, summer, autumn or winter, 4am was cold. Our driver was illogically happy for this time of day too, why is he smiling so much?! We climbed into the tuktuk and began our pilgrimage to Angkor Watt (via the booking office). I love tuktuk’s, truthfully they are probably my most favourite mode of transport. Though not the most comfortable, the most efficient, or the most express route to your destination, I have an appreciation for how laid back and hippy-esque they are, all the fresh air, the brightly patterned awnings, the way that many tuktuk drivers are in no rush to get anywhere, it just feels very easy going, this morning though, was a tuktuk experience like no other.
We were very quickly aware of how many other people were also insanely awake at 4am, suddenly, the race was on. We had to get to the booking office before we could enter Angkor World Heritage site, as did probably ten thousand other people that were racing us to get prime position for sunrise (I have no idea how many people there really were, but ten thousand seems about right!). We arrived at the booking office, practically jumped out of the tuktuk and, whilst trying to look calm and collected, so as not for everything to turn into chaos, we paced towards the nearest queue. Luckily, the half-asleep group in front of us had chosen to stand in the wrong queue and were sent to another line, we were in and out of there, inclusive of a very fatigued, bleary-eyed looking photo for our photo ID, in no time at all.
We climbed back into the tuktuk and as we neared our destination, I began feeling more and more internally competitive. No! Don’t let him overtake us! We arrived at the carpark, our tuktuk driver told us, in broken English, that we needed to go that way, and he’ll wait here. We followed the crowds along the walkway, over the bridge and the floating pontoon, fighting off the many vendors all telling us that we needed coffee and breakfast, and could very vaguely see the iconic towers of Angkor Watt through the darkness. There were probably one hundred people already there, the extra-committed photographers had set up their tripods in the perfect spots and were already sipping their coffee. Not bad. We managed to find a decent spot, behind a sitting photographer, it was just like being in the front row. Now to stand there for an hour and a half until sunrise.
I’d like to say that time flew by, but it didn’t. Once you had your spot, you couldn’t move, for fear of the people behind you moving forward (the crowds behind us were now at least ten people deep in every direction). Eventually, the black sky started easing and the towers became more visible, everyone with cameras, phones, tripods and selfie sticks, all poised and ready. The Sky was overcast but suddenly revealed a beautiful purple. There it was, the shot everyone was waiting for. Angkor Wat in all its glory, silhouetted at sunrise.