Why Angkor Wat Deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for Instilling Harmony to All who Visit
At 3:30 a.m., when other tourists were stumbling home from a late night at the bar, Julia and I strapped on our headlamps and started biking the 15 km to Angkor Wat from our hostel. We wanted to catch the sunrise over the temples, a scene worthy of postcards. There were no street lights, there were no cars; just two biker chicks headed to the famous temples of Angkor.
It was pitch black when we reached Angkor Wat, but we knew we were there because we saw the flickering flashlights from the guards. We happily parked our bikes and almost skipped over to the temple entrance, ready to be meditate on the lawns of Angkor. A guard flashed his light directly into my still-sleepy pupils, and asked, "Ticket?"
Julia and me: "Don't we buy tickets here?"
Guard: "Where is ticket?"
Us: "We don't have one. We need to buy one still."
Guard: "No ticket?"
Us: "We want to buy a one-day ticket."
Guard: "No ticket? Uh-oh. We have problem."
Us: "What do you mean?"
Guard: "Ticket booth not here. Ticket booth there." (points to darkness)
Us: "We didn't see a ticket booth when we biked."
Guard: "You come on wrong road. You take left turn and buy ticket then come back here."
After futile efforts to convince him to let us in just to see the sunrise, we realized that he wouldn't let us through without tickets and that there were two roads from Siem Riep to Angkor: one that we had taken, and one that all the other tourists take because it passes the ticket office (the road signs had been invisible to us because there were no lights).
We raced back 8 km to the ticket booth, watching somberly as cars drove on the opposite side (of the right road). We bought our tickets and pedaled as fast as our bikes could handle, while tuk-tuks and cars filled with tourists heading out to catch the sunrise passed us.
We were so relieved that we made it in time to see daylight break over Angkor, but both of us were disappointed by the un-magnificence of the sunrise (sunset is probably better, and that day was a bit foggy).
Angkor's serenity is indescribable. The atmosphere is awesome – once you climb the hundreds of narrow, steep stone steps leading to the tips of the temples, it's easy to lose yourself in the ocean of green treetops and the silent peacefulness. Each temple has its own unique flavor; my favorite was Ta Prohm, a temple that has trees growing out of its stones, the roots crawling through windows and splitting ancient doorways. Julia and I biked to all the temples that we could fit in one day; there are some tourists who buy the week pass, and still claim that 7 days isn't enough to capture everything Angkor offers. If you do plan to visit Angkor, I recommend buying the 3-day or week pass and spending the mornings of each day exploring the temples. After lunch, it gets too hot to be enthusiastic about biking another 5 km to see the next temple, so retire to your hostel and enjoy the missed temples the following days, or revisit your favorites.