It was that moment before the sky starts to get light, a shadowy, gray space that makes everything feel shrouded in mist. The air was refreshingly cool on my face as the tuk tuk sped through streets that were normally choked with vehicles and dust. We passed through a set of gates, showed our passes to the guards, and soon were out of the city and surrounded by trees and grass. Behind the vegetation, curious domes reached toward the lightening sky.

First Light @ Angkor Wat

First Light @ Angkor Wat

We pulled up to the front entrance of Angkor Wat, the crown jewel of the 400 square kilometer complex of temples outside of Siem Reap. Here, the hubub of tuk tuks and tourists presented a sharp contrast to the silence of the city we had just driven through. Like moths to a flame, hundred of people thronged through the ancient stone gateway into the courtyard of the temple.

The sky was just starting to pink, and the masses fanned out from the gateway to find an ideal position to watch and photograph the most famous spectacle in this dusty corner of Cambodia: Sunrise over Angkor Wat.

We settled ourselves on the 900 year-old ledge of an outbuilding and watched as the pink deepened to magenta, orange streaking through the clouds like the jet streams of a flock of mythical birds. And slowly, slowly, like the syrupy heat it would bring along with it, a bright red sun peeked between two of the domes of the temple. It ascended behind one of them, casting long shadows into the courtyard and bathing the onlookers in rich golden light.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

The Sun Peeks Out Behind Angkor Wat

Despite the large numbers, there was a hush within the complex, the temple’s daily dance with the sun demanding and receiving reverence. As the sun climbed well above the temple, the sky mellowed from red, to orange, to blue, and the spell was broken, ready to be cast another day.

Sunrise Angkor Angkor Sunrise Dramatic Sunrise at Angkor Wat