Phnom Bakheng is a popular sunset point. In the evening, a jostling crowd of 200-300 tourists makes it difficult to find a vantage point. And even if you do, it is impossible to get a second, third angle. So I decide to go there early in the morning. Since it sits on top of a hill, I see no reason why a sunrise would be any inferior to the sunset.
It takes a 20-25 minute steep hike to get from the base of the hill to the base of the temple. Instead, I ride the bike up the winding path that is used by elephants (elephant ride is a popular activity here). I park the bike at the head of the path, and climb the huge ancient steps that take me to the uppermost level of the temple. Phnom Bakeng, state temple of the first capital of Angkor - built like the mountain temple at Bakong - is in ruins. Very little remains. Though what remains shows enough to imagine the glory it must have been a thousand years ago.
At 5:00 in the morning, there is not a soul around. The shuffle of my feet wakes a cuckoo somewhere who then promptly produces a suitable background score. Down below, Siem Reap is still asleep under a blanket of heat. Up here, the air is crisper and smells of an early morning.
I have planned to setup long exposures and use the powerful flashlights I have lugged up “to paint” the ruins of the inner sanctum. It is not to be. The horizon is already bursting red and fuchsia and gold and orange. I need to improvise, It is one of those mornings. The ones I live for.
Phnom Bakheng at 5:15 am
Back in July 2009, NatGeo published an article on Cambodia. Since I saw Robert Clark’s photos, I knew it was a matter of time before I would be here. One of these photos has been taken at Phnom Bakheng, and I would be lying if I say I was not trying to copy it. (The photo is part of a slide show and cannot be linked. It is the third photo in the second strip.)
I must confess, I got what I wanted…