Siem Reap: Angkor Wat at Dawn.
I've said it once, and I'll say it again: if you are ever in the general vicinity of Cambodia, you need to go to Siem Reap to check out the Angkor Temples. I know that sounds crazy--oh, I was just in the general vicinity of Cambodia last week!--but come on people, Thailand is right there so why wouldn't you go? It's just like Mexico, but cleaner and with better food. And the beaches aren't bad, either. And just so we're clear, by "not bad" I mean "better than the ones in Mexico." Well, at least if you like your beaches to include things like, oh, golden sand, hot sun, warm water, etc. (If you prefer your beaches otherwise, I would humbly suggest that you are, in fact, missing the point of a beach ...)
(Side note: for non-dawn pictures of Angkor, look here and here.)
And--to get back to my point, or at least to further approach my point--when you do go to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples, you need to get up at dawn to go watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. (To clear up some confusion, Angkor Wat is the biggest and most famous of the Angkor temples--but there are a lot more ... you can't use the names interchangeably. Well, you can, but you'll sound like a jackass. Whether or not you're okay with that is something you'll have to figure out for yourself.) On the plus side, I guarantee it will be one of the coolest things you'll ever see. On the negative side, to get there at sunrise, you'll have to get up and on your way somewhere between 4:30 and 4:45 AM, AKA "at the ass-crack of dawn." Although now that I write that, I'm not sure why anyone would ever refer to the ass-crack of dawn. I mean, where do you go from there? The full-moon of the afternoon? The sphincter of sunset? Yeah, I didn't think so.
Anyway. Angkor at dawn. Yes, you have to get up early, and yes, no matter how early you get up, you will have been beaten to the front gate of Angkor Wat by anywhere from one to six hundred Korean and/or Japanese tourists. But don't worry, it works out. When we pulled into the parking lot (it seems a bit strange that ancient, moldering jungle temples HAVE parking lots ...), I was a little annoyed at the fact that about 50 tour buses seemed to have beaten us there. There's a place in front of Angkor Wat where there's a little pool where you can see the reflection of the temple, which makes it THE picture-taking spot; I had been planning to take my pictures from there, but I was worried about having to push my way through rows and rows of people to do. (I mean, I totally would have done it. I just wouldn't have enjoyed it.) (No, I take that back--it would have been fun.)
Either way, I never even got the option, because the crowds all seemed to stop at the main gate. I wasn't sure why, since I figured if you were going to get to Angkor Wat at 5 AM, you might as well take a picture, but later I realized it was probably because they wanted an actual picture of the sun rising over the temple, whereas I only wanted the silhouette at dawn. So while it looked very crowded, once I got on the path toward the temple, things thinned out remarkably. So much, in fact, that at one point I was actually able to get in front of everyone else there (as far as I could tell) and take a picture with no one else in the frame, which is difficult at best at any tourist attraction in Asia, and which I would have thought was completely impossible at one as overrun at Angkor, but here's the proof:
(Side note: depending on the camera you have, you might want to bring a tripod. My camera has pretty serious image stabilization, so I was able to take this by kneeling on the ground, but I had to take six or seven shots to get one that was usable. My friends who had standard point-and-shoots had a really hard problem getting decent pictures in the light--or lack of it.)
A shot featuring the reflecting pool I mentioned above. You can't tell, but in the middle of the day there would probably be one to two-hundred people taking this exact same shot on either side of you; at 5 AM, there's only ten to fifteen:
This shot is same-same, but different. (That's a Southeast Asia joke, for the record: people say it there all the time. Except one girl, who told me "same-same, but better," which made me laugh. I still didn't buy her postcards though. I mean, how many postcards I'll never send of Hoi An do I need?) Anyway, in this picture the person standing next to me took a picture at the same time with her flash on. What she thought the flash on her tiny little Casio camera would do to improve the picture I have no idea--nothing, I strongly suspect--but it created a pretty cool effect:
Approaching the temple itself, with my friend out in front of me ruining the picture. (Thanks, Mike!)
One more, sans-Mike. It's bright out, but the sun hasn't actually come up yet:
Remember how I mentioned that you wouldn't be alone? This is what I mean. Remember, this is like 5 AM. Although I am a little jealous of the person in the hot-air balloon:
Inside the temple, it's still pretty dark, which also led to some cool photo ops. Because really, why else go a famous UNESCO world heritage site if not for the photo opportunities?
Last shot, which was maybe the coolest thing. At this point, I'd climbed to the top of the temple and walked to the far side, where I sat there by myself and watched the sun come up over the jungle. This picture doesn't quite do it justice, as you can imagine:
Next, Tonle Sap Lake! Which is cooler than it sounds! Which wouldn't be hard! Because, you know, most things that involve the word "sap" just aren't that cool!
Previously, on my vacation:
- Siem Reap: the Angkor Temples.
- Ang Thong Marine Park: the Video.
- Ang Thong Marine Park.
- Koh Samui.
- Tay Ninh: The Cao Dai Temple.
- The Cu Chi Tunnels.
- The Mekong Delta.
- Saigon: the Random.
- Saigon: Reunification Hall.
- Saigon: the War Museum.
- Saigon: the Streets.
- Hoi An: The River.
- Hoi An: My Son.
- Hoi An: the People.
- Hoi An: the Streets.
- Hue: Zoom, Zoom.
- Hue: the River.
- Hue: the Imperial Tombs.
- Hue: the Imperial Palace.
- Hue: the Streets.
- Halong Bay: the Videos.
- Halong Bay.
- Hanoi: the Random.
- Hanoi: Water Puppets.
- Hanoi: the "Hilton."
- Hanoi: the People.
- Hanoi: Zoom, Zoom.
- Hanoi: the Streets.