Sunrise at Angkor Wat, 2013

a dark angkor watA small number of us shuffled bleary-eyed at the dark hours of 4 AM onto the bus, and back to Angkor Wat. We were going to catch the sunrise — one that, when lucky, is supposedly so vivid that it’s as if the sky were “an exploding volcano of ruby red magma” (Steven’s description).

tourists in the wingsWe weren’t the only ones. It was cold, in the high 30’s, low 40’s. We puffed small clouds of condensation, alongside dozens of other eager, amateur and professional photographers waiting in the wings for their next Instagram or 500px hit.

colors started filling the skyThe waning moon faded into gradients of blue and purple that began to color the sky, the silhouette of Angkor Wat traced in the background. Wrinkles of clouds folded in the peachy colors of sunrise.

angkor full sunriseIt had been an hour at this point, and slowly, but surely, the rounded head of the sun began to peek over the horizon. Inch by inch, it ascended.

my mom and IAlthough we weren’t able to see the “volcano”, we left Angkor Wat no less fulfilled. A perfectly still moat captured the sky.

reflections in the water

Siem Reap, 2013: the streets and nightlife

Snail cart

Snails were a common snack sold on the streets of Siem Reap. Wheeled carts overflowed with giant trays of snails parked alongside the roads, enough to pave a road with. The snails came cooked, and you could take home a small bag of chili sauce to go with them.

spice store

Storefronts of colorful spices and dried fruits could fill a library.

cherimoya cart

And one of my favorite fruits–cherimoya, or 釋迦 [shi jia]. Beautiful, custard-like deliciousness. Mmm. The cart owner patiently waited as Steven entertained our group with this fascinating fruit that you can’t find in the States.

a mid-morning nap

It seems like the most common form of transportation is these motorbike-carriage-things. Not sure if it’s because we’re in a touristy area or not.

sausage store

This fantastic array of sausages.

Dinner was back at the Sofitel–a rather standard buffet and underwhelming in comparison to their breakfast. The Cambodian desserts were delicious though!

khao dome and other dessertsI picked out some Khao Dome — coconut sticky rice filled with plantain and wrapped in banana leaves — and this coconut jelly with a gingko nut (can’t quite remember anymore?) center, also wrapped in a banana leaf. Couldn’t find the name of this dessert.

We were then treated to a private showing of the Aspara Dance. I was hoping we would be able to sit outside with the tealights and by the water, as I saw the night before. A treat nonetheless, considering  that this beautiful tradition was nearly wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, with 90% of artists and intellectuals eliminated during their regime.

apsara danceThe costumes of the Apsara are based on the devatas depicted in the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. Delicate steps ticked in time with palms and fingers gracefully drawing out a story, arms pulling in and pushing out like soft waves breaking ashore. A mesmerizing performance, although I wish I understood more.

pub streetOur night ended by hitting Pub Street and getting at taste of Siem Reap nightlife. Neon lights laced the river and the viewing decks lining it. Every restaurant was bubbling with tourists gaily clinking bottles of beer.

souvenirs, silk, shirtsMy mom and I spent the better half of the hour we were allotted to explore, at the bazaar of beautiful Cambodian scarves and embroidery. Dozens of these stands ran along the avenue at the riverfront, like a fortress. It was all so cheap — 3 scarves for $10 USD!