When it comes to time of day, I don’t have too many preferences. I mean, obviously 7pm is pretty sweet, 1am needs some kind of award for excellence, and 12 noon deserves a special place in everyone’s hearts, but beyond that I’m not too fussed.
However, 4am is hands down the worst time of day. 3am and you might still be awake and in the last throes of a whiskey-fuelled creativity orgy, 5am and you’re likely waking up with birdsong and the sense that, yes, today will be a good day. But 4am, man, 4am blows. You wake up and feel like you’ve never slept, it’s still totally dark outside, and you want to punch in the face the man who invented this god-awful time.
So I wasn’t feeling good when I woke up in my hostel dorm in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at 4:16am (apparently I’d hit 2 lots of 8-minute Snooze without realising). By 4:30 I was downstairs in the lobby saying sleepy hellos and good mornings to the three European girls I’d be spending the morning with. We were going to watch the sun come up at Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world.
We weren’t alone. I’m not sure if our tuk-tuk driver had modded his vehicle out but we overtook a bunch of other tuk-tuks on the drive to the temple. He drove as if we’d see a big “game over” screen come up if we didn’t get to the finish line in 1st place. Even so, we still weren’t close to being first there. And by the time the sun had started rising, there must’ve been 500 people standing along the main lookout, including the irritating photographers who’d brought tripods and therefore decided they were entitled to stand at the front.
After a while, we splintered from the hordes of tourists at the main photo-op spot and wandered around the temple itself. Irish Mona and I stuck together, with the other two of our quartet doing their own thing. It was warm, but not unreasonably so (that’d come later in the day), and wandering along pillared corridors taking photos of the sun rising up behind the trees was just…nice. Really, really nice. And quiet, which was also nice. You might be getting the impression it was all-round nice, which it was.
The temple itself started as a Hindu structure, but is now considered both Hindu and Buddhist, with monks doing their thing even while us tourists were gawping. That feat of ground-sharing is impressive when you imagine Christianity and Islam doing the same thing. I mean, try to picture Muslims laying prayer mats inside a cathedral or Catholic priests molesting children inside a mosque — it just wouldn’t happen.
Normally when it comes to being out and about during the day I’d rather be by myself. That way I can go at my own pace and not have to dawdle around waiting for whoever I’m with examine every stone of every pillar in every corner of the temple, but thankfully Mona was just as anti-dawdle as I was. We stuck together for that entire day of temple trekking, but we were still sharing the tuk-tuk with our Dane and Croat companions who’d won the International Dawdle Championships 7 years in a row, so we still had to wait for them anyway.
I’m not sure what point I’m making here – taking your time is a good thing after all? If you don’t want to travel alone, make sure you only pick people who complement your adventuring style? Monks are cool? I don’t even know. One thing I do know is that while 4am is indisputably awful, getting up at that time to see Angkor Wat at dawn is definitely worthwhile. You should do it.
Note: names have been changed. The only Mona I know is a character in Friends.