A Sunrise Over Angkor Wat and A Conversation with Strangers

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The alarm goes of at 4:40 am and I turn over in bed.

Today is the day – the day I finally get to visit Angkor Wat. I contemplate the idea of sleeping in a few minutes longer, but quickly decide against it. This is a big day!

With my eyes still half closed, I throw on some clothes, grab the pineapple and strawberry jam sandwiches I made the night before, and go downstairs with Sam to meet our tuk-tuk driver.

It is pitch black out and too overcast to see the stars, but the light of a half moon guides the way. No street lights here.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat at the Temples of Angkor outside Siem Reap, Cambodia
Sunrise over Angkor Wat at the Temples of Angkor outside Siem Reap, Cambodia

We take the road that leads out of Siem Reap and head towards the temples of Angkor. The way is lined with thick forest on either side, and a blue mist hangs over the land. For the first time since I’ve set foot in Cambodia, I feel a bit of a chill.

As we drive along the moat that surrounds Angkor Wat, the lights of tuk-tuks twinkle in the water a neat row of flames leading the way to the Kingdom’s most famed temple.

Reaching the entrance, we hop out of the tuk-tuk and join with a few hundred people who have also risen early for the occasion. I had worried that the moment wouldn’t feel special with so many visitors in tow, but standing there under the cover of dark with countless others who are just as excited to be there for the first time, it feels like it’s our shared secret for the morning .

With no flashlight in hand, we stick close to those who came prepared, and we walk down the stone path and through the ancient gates.

Most people seem to have congregated on the left side of the temple in front of the pond, and we too find a spot to watch the magic unfold.

And we wait.

Pink and blue sunrise over Angkor Wat with a half moon overhead in Cambodia
Pink and blue sunrise over Angkor Wat with a half moon overhead in Cambodia

“El lente de la camara esta empañado.”

My ears perk up.

I hear Spanish, and not just any Spanish. This is the Rioplatense accent if my life depends on it. The two individuals are either porteños (locals from Buenos Aires), or from Uruguay just across the river.

I hesitate like I always do when I hear the language. Should I say hello as a fellow Spanish speaker or is that too intrusive? I am a complete stranger… A few moments pass and I can’t take it any longer. I haven’t spoken to a native speaker (aside from my family) in months!

¿De dónde son?” I ask, and the woman’s face lights up with a smile.

I learn that the woman and her husband, a couple in their mid-sixties, are in fact Uruguayan and live on the other side of the Río de la Plata.

Both architects by professions, they are touring Asia and have been lured to the temples of Angkor by the architecture.

They tell me about the modern architecture movement in China, and how last week they were riding the metro up and down Beijing to visit the buildings leading in the movement.

Her husband is wearing two knee braces and has to use a wheelchair to travel long distances, but that hasn’t stopped them from coming here. Everything they say oozes passion for their chosen field, and I can’t help smiling back at them. While architecture may not be my chosen profession, I can relate to them in the sense that I feel like I too am doing something pretty special.

We continue chatting until we both realize that the sun has already come up and it is time to part ways.

I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the sunrise that day, but I will remember my conversation with these two strangers.

How about you?

Are you good at striking up random conversations with strangers?

Join the Conversation


  1. says: budget jan

    Generally I don’t (my husband would disagree with that), but sometimes I just can’t help myself and start talking to somebody. It could be anything that starts me off but mostly it is overhearing a conversation where they are lost and I know the way, or if they are looking for something in a shop and I know where it is, or where they can get it. I’ve talked to random strangers like Vietnam War vets on the NYC subway, Ordinary people I’ve met on the sidewalk or in McDonalds in NYC, people walking the Cinque Terra tracks, people on buses and boats (to swap info). I will walk up to any stranger and ask them a question. Even if I can’t understand them they usually point and mime and I get by (hmmm – maybe my husband is right?)

    1. says: Audrey

      I like that you talk to strangers with such ease. 🙂 That’s something that I want to start doing even more during this trip – you just never know what stories you’ll get to hear… 😉

  2. What a fantastic photo of the sunrise. I’m not a native Spanish speaker, but if I hear someone speaking it in a non-Spanish speaking country, I often can’t help jumping in. It’s fun to practice.

  3. I’m not very good at chatting up strangers, but I always enjoy when moments like this happen. I think it’s easier when you come across folks speaking your own language in a totally unexpected place. Some people have a knack for it, though, and I’m always envious of their natural ease and charisma.

    1. says: Audrey

      I find it so strange to hear Spanish spoken in this part of the world, so my ears always perk up at the sound of the language. I wouldn’t say I have a knack for striking up conversations, but it’s something I’m working on. 😉

  4. You’ve triggered the memories of my Angkor Wat Sunrise, Audrey. It was very special day for me too… Right after the sunrise I went to see Ta Prohm while nobody was there yet… That was one of my best travel days.

    The story of a man traveling in a wheelchair is inspiring.

    1. says: Audrey

      It’s a rare thing to have a temple all to yourself! By the time we reached Ta Prohm it was packed, though we did luck out visiting the ones further out of the way.

  5. says: Wends of Journeys and Travels

    I still remembered the moment I went off to catch a glimpse of my Angkor sunrise and I was rather surprised of the friendliest of people, imagine, people from all over the world, strangers who love to talk about nothing but sunrise.

    Yes. I remembered also managing to walk passed holes and cracks in the pitched black dawn haha, i forgot to buy flashlight before heading there. 🙂

    Love this article.

    1. says: Audrey

      I bet your sunrise was just as spectacular. It was a pretty cool experience to share it with people from all over the world. 🙂

  6. says: Zhu

    The picture is amazing. Lucky girl!

    I also tend to talk to people easily (baby Mark is also a great conversation starter!). Canada taught me that: Canadians are pretty friendly and easy-going and chatting with strangers is fine here. French are more suspicious (“what? What do you want? Is this a scam?”)

    1. says: Audrey

      I think I would also be a bit more suspicious if someone started talking to me back in Toronto. But I was surprisingly okay with it when I visited the Maritimes… Maybe it’s something about strangers in big cities…

  7. I have never experienced anything as beautiful as the sunrise over Angkor. Didn’t converse in a conversation when I went, although I nearly told an annoying woman to shut up as she wanted to make everybody believe that she doesn’t regret not having taken her camera as it will be in her memory and that cameras in fact spoil the moment. Yeah right… 🙂

    1. says: Audrey

      Oh geez, I don’t understand why people like that need to force their opinions on everyone else around them… I’m so glad I brought my camera along – and that I didn’t have someone like her ranting next to me while the sun came up.

  8. says: Sam

    That’s a lovely story! How strange and also comforting it must have been to hear your own kind of Spanish on the other side of the world.

  9. says: Amanda @ Living in Another Language

    Wow… GORGEOUS! I could NEVER get the hubs up that early, but I’d love to go see this sometime!

    1. says: Audrey

      Or you could stay out all night, and then go watch the sunrise. Then technically, you wouldn’t be getting up… 😉

  10. says: Sofie

    It depends… When I feel like the other person wants to strike up conversation as well, I go for it, but when the other person doesn’t seem ‘inviting’ I sometimes chicken out…
    I would suggest going for it though. Had some great conversation that started by just saying “hi”!

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s a good point. If they didn’t seem friendly, I wouldn’t strike up a conversation either – even if I heard Spanish.

  11. says: Agness

    I know the feeling. I remember myself standing in front of the Angkor Wat early in the morning, sleepy and tired until I saw this incredible sunrise! That woke me up immediately! There is nothing better than bumping into some random people who turn out to be from your native country. It feels great to meet fellow Polish travelers, but unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often :((((

  12. says: Dean

    I can’t wait to do this later in the year. So excited to visit Cambodia! 🙂 …and no I am not very good at striking up conversations with strangers. They generally have to start and then I’m fine.

  13. I love chatting with strangers, you meet so many interesting people that way. We have also received great travel tips from strangers! A couple that we met ONCE in Barbados, they are from London, they are coming to meet us on our RTW in Peru! With facebook and email its so easy to keep in contact! We are going to Angkor in January 2014 while my parents are visiting us!!

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s so great that you’re going to meet up with friends you made during a previous trip! Aren’t travel connections wonderful?! 😉

  14. says: Arjen - On My Way To Freedomland

    Wow, you were lucky with the sky! Yeah I love talking to strangers and for me it is a big part of the beauty of traveling alone. I traveled with a friend as well but some how you talk less to strangers if you are with someone. It is also something you learn to do on your travels. I remember when I came home after my first travel, I talked to everyone.

    1. says: Audrey

      That’s true. When you’re travelling with someone else you don’t end up striking as many casual conversations. I’ve noticed that during this trip as well, but that being said, I do like having someone to travel with. 🙂

  15. says: Suzy

    I love those conversations with strangers when you travel. A grand site at a certain time may have brought you there but it’s those exchanges that keep the day in your mind forever.

  16. says: prasit khotchakhot

    Never been to Cambodia. Last year a group of educators from Siam Reap visited Kalasin to sign a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in education administration. After completing the task they extended an invitation for us to pay them a visit in the future. Up until now we have not got any appropriate time to take a trip to Siam Reap.Your article here make me come back to ponder over making a plan- a dream. And I will follow my dream.

  17. says: apol

    my sunrise wasn’t as spectacular 🙁 We were kind of late and the sun was almost up when we arrived.

    I can relate to this feeling of striking conversation with strangers. There are times when I hesitate, there are times when I just go with it… and the view becomes less important than these people.

  18. says: Edna

    That sunset photo is gorgeous!! At the same time, I love that you walked away with more than just a sunset photo 🙂

    I’m good at striking up at random conversations if I’m in the right mood (especially if someone’s given me a good opening, like mentioning Pennsylvania or something I’m interested in) but my dad is PRO at talking to strangers. We went to Disney when I was 12 and I’ll always remember how he made friends with everyone around us in every single line we stood in. Every. single. line.

  19. says: Ceri

    I LOVE striking up conversations with strangers. 🙂 I always figure I’ll regret it if I don’t say something and it’s amazing how many interesting people you meet that way. Your photos are really gorgeous. It sounds like such a beautiful moment you captured with the other people there.

  20. says: JT

    Chanced upon ur article. Am hoping for clear skies tmr morning so I can catch the sunrise over Angkor. But the interesting bit in your article bout talking to strangers caught my attention.

    I am Asian and staying in a dormitory full of Europeans and they seem to be getting along fine and I just find it it easier to just keep to myself. They leave me alone too. Could it be a culture thing where the Europeans are more open about socialising or maybe it could be the language. I cant speak as fast as them and my accent is kinda asian tinged.

    Easier to be left alone but kinda lonely too esp when others are having fun just feet away from you.

  21. says: Bunty

    Just as spectacular and magical as the sunrise over Angkor Wat, is the sunset on top of Phnom Bak Heng.

    Your connection with the couple is indeed once in a lifetime. Angkor will be there tomorrow as will the sun, but the smile that you caused at that moment can only happen once.

  22. says: Todd

    great sunrise photo! I end up meeting random travelers in every country I visit, which is such an important part of the experience for me. In some cases we’ve become friends and visited each other around the world.

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