I have never experienced a level of heat in my life like the first day of seeing temples in Cambodia. A wake-up call of 3:30 AM was the start of our day visiting different ancient temples in the city of Siem Reap. We were out the door by 4:30, and although the sun had not even started to rise, the temperature was quickly approaching 90°F. Morale was high as we headed for Angkor Wat, the 900-year-old temple widely considered to be the largest religious structure in the world.

Watching the sun rise above Angkor Wat was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The light crept over the peaks turning the dark sky into striking hues of blue, pink, and orange. We all stood in awe at the picturesque scene before us and started to feel much better about our early start to the day. After stopping for a quick breakfast, we then proceeded with our tour through the temple. Our tour guide showed us the ancient carvings explaining their significance. What impacted me the most was the personal story our tour guide shared. He described coming to the temple to pray as a child and watching the guides giving tours to visitors. He explained that it had always been his dream to teach others about the history of his country, and he was so happy that the temple was starting to get the recognition it deserved after a long period of vacancy due to COVID-19.

We returned to the bus after our tour and were shocked to realize it was only 9:00 AM. We had a full day ahead of us filled with visits to even more temples in the area, including Ta Prohm or “Tomb Raider Temple” because of its feature in the Angelina Jolie movie. The heat index was climbing to a whopping 120°F. We tried to keep our spirits high as we baked in the midday sun. Climbing the countless flights of stairs felt like the workout of a lifetime. All in all, it was a very exciting day filled with the rich history and architecture of Cambodia.