This was the very moment I was bitten by the travel bug.
I remember hiring a bike for $2 and with a black and white, freshly photocopied map, I set forth in the darkness to see the famed Angkor Wat.
It was unusually sticky but cool at 5am. I grabbed a 50¢ coffee by the roadside and pedaled towards the general direction of the complex, trading my usual don’t-care-for-the-world music and headphones for a true moment of stillness. Slow and steady I went, as the surrounding forest began to buzz with life, at the chant of an eager rooster. The wheels of my bike was all the while as obedient to the peace as I was.
In no time I rounded the corner and turned into what I thought was the right road but my instinct told me otherwise. This would be one of the first of many moments that I could have been overwhelmingly lost in my travels but obliged to fate instead. Afterall, there are more than one road to a destination and so they say. I headed back and immediately saw the thousands of people, peppered along the bridge walking towards the entrance. The Khmer beauty stood like a giant fortress surrounded by gentle water and I was instantly enthralled, picking up my pace at the whim of the rising sun, the water picking up the yellows and oranges in its reflection, along with the silhouette of a mighty past.
In my excitement to cross the bridge, I quickly launched myself away from the bike, my woven trousers catching the end of the seat and ripping. I didn’t care if I had a gaping hole across the back of my pants though, which I later endured the feeling of, on my way back.
At nearly 6am I arrived at the bottom of the first wooden steps of the Angkor Wat, which replaced the sketchy stone ones. I realized I didn’t even lock my bike, but continued to head towards the center as a multitude of people gathered around the lake inside. At this point, the sun has not peaked or even peeked behind the famous towers: one of the most photographed structures in the world, but lit up the sky like an overture in a musical.
There were more offers of fresh, hot coffee but I instead dodged and skillfully maneuvered my way through the tourists to get a good vantage point. I straightened my turban and snapped this picture, proud that I crossed a border; through the scams; through the traps and into this beautiful moment.