A Vision at Sunrise, Angkor Wat

I had a vision.

Standing on the ancient stone of Angkor Wat, watching the red fist of a sun rise, reach up through the horizon’s haze to ignite the sky, to silhouette that crumble of bygone glory, to light the ponds in the earth red too, to make them become a mirror between the lily pads—there, I had a vision:

What would happen if everyone put their cameras down?

Few things get me out of bed before 7am, and watching the sun rise at Angkor Wat is one of them. Yes, it’s touristy. But it’s one of the wonders of the world (depending on what list you consult; on the List of Me, it’s there), and getting there before the tour bus hordes, when the day was still cool, early, innocent and young—that sounded worth it.

I didn’t expect it to be so goddamn beautiful. I didn’t expect the sun to blaze like that, be red and burning like that, to glare against the expanse of ruin and palms.

I glimpsed it as I came through the gates. I gave it a quick glance and a gasp. As I scurried along the stone wall, rushing past Apsara carvings and other tourists, I reached in my bag. I pointed the camera, saw the landscape through the viewfinder, clicked. I did this before I even looked at the image myself, gave myself time to soak it in, breathe it in—to simple see it.

We moved down towards a pool of water, “a very good place for photos” our well-meaning guide assured us. Through the politely jostling throngs, we could see that, yes, it was a good photo op. So good, in fact, it was the same image on the postcards that little girls in sweatshirts and messy ponytails clutched, tugged at you—“Lady, you buy, 10 postcards, $1″—a voice too low and raspy to belong to a child.

I watched us all there, taking turns and swapping camera, posing with smiles, embraces: “Look at me, I was here.” It seemed more important to get the photo, the proof, the documentation, than it did to bear witness to the immense and startling beauty of it—to just be there.

What would happen, I wondered, if we all put our cameras down, just for thirty seconds, and stood and watched?

I suspected a silence would fall. I suspected some of us might start crying. I suspected something huge would wash over us, come up from inside us, that kind of humbling you feel in the presence of the world’s greatness, that particular pang in your heart when you see something so beautiful it overwhelms you—a feeling you think is private but that really might be communal, like a great inkwell a monk tattoos from, writing our particular fates with shared blackness.

But that’s just a guess. Really, I wouldn’t be able to know, won’t ever know. We all kept clicking at the blaze of a red sun, in the shadow of Angkor Wat.

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8 Responses to “A Vision at Sunrise, Angkor Wat”


  1. 1 Keith April 16, 2011 at 8:15 am

    “a feeling you think is private but that really might be communal, like a great inkwell a monk tattoos from, writing our particular fates with shared blackness.”

    What an image!

    • 2 laurenquinn April 16, 2011 at 8:47 am

      Luckily, a healthy fear of Hep C is keeping me from getting one of these traditional Thai tattoo. ;)

  2. 3 Sukanya Ramanujan April 16, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Wow! I am so inspired now- great images!

  3. 4 Alouise April 17, 2011 at 2:22 am

    I always love reading your posts, you have such a great gift with words. This was really beautiful, and so true. We rush about trying to capture an image on our cameras, when we should take a moment to appreciate where we are.

  4. 5 Nick April 17, 2011 at 6:11 am

    Me like. A LOT.

  5. 6 Rebecca April 27, 2011 at 4:17 am

    As always, beautifully written post. I think we do rely so much on our camera memory cards these days rather than our own memories.

  6. 7 phillegitimate May 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

    I used to be a (little) better at turning the camera off, and at sighing and contemplating, but those days are over. I live in (frequently realised) fear of not having an adequate photo for whatever blog post I’m hatching, and so these days try to drown that fear in as many digital photos as possible. Just in case it wasn’t lame enough to be an enthusiastic blogger, now I’m the enthusiastic blogger that can’t put his camera away.

    Anyway, love your vision and love the whole direction of this journey. Inspiring stuff.

  7. 8 Sonia Ma February 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I felt the same today .


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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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