The early morning air hangs heavy over Angkor, promising another scorcher of a day. There's no breeze, no lingering sunrise and, remarkably, no crowds. We've somehow managed to hit the sweet spot, arriving just after the dawn crowds have departed en masse for breakfast and right before the next influx of tourists swarms over the ancient archaeological park.
Instead of arriving with a coach load of tourists, we come by tuk tuk. The Cambodian park's main drawcard, Angkor Wat lies dead ahead, drawing thousands like a magnet across its grand moat. Instead of joining the flow, we face the temple, do some stretches, and head in the opposite direction.
Golden rays of sunlight pierce through the surrounding jungle, narrow dirt trails lead off the main route where crumbling jungle-clad temples lay like Lego discarded by a distracted toddler. My 10-year-old daughter and I jog slowly, still not fully awake after the early start. We're on Anantara Angkor's new temple running experience and are getting a completely different perspective of the 163-hectare UNESCO World Heritage site.
As far as I can see in every direction, we are the only ones on foot. Locals, including pint-sized children, ride by on bicycles and motorbikes, some heading for school; others for the temple. It's Pchum Ben, a special religious festival, when Cambodians visit local temples to remember deceased relatives, taking turns to bring food to give to the monks or to throw into the air in the hope it somehow reaches loved ones.
We're being followed by one of Anantara's tuk tuks. The driver tails us as we run – a reassuring presence in case we need a drink, a cold towel or to take a break. We've only managed to push out perhaps a kilometre and already I'm drenched in sweat. Spotting a narrow side road, we make a detour and stumble across a small, red temple. I later learn this is Prasat Rorng Ramong, a single brick tower temple where Indra can be seen on his three-headed elephant carved into an ornate sandstone lintel. We do a loop around the deserted temple and jog back to the main road.
Once there, our tuk tuk driver tells us he has to go and repair a punctured tyre – a casualty commonly suffered by the local two-wheeled carriages pulled by motorbikes – and will meet us at Bayon Temple. Pushing on we cross the South Gate of Angkor Thom, otherwise known as the Victory Gate. We run across a bridge lined with stone faces; 54 gods to our left and 54 demons to our right, each carrying the body of a seven-headed naga.
Our final destination is Bayon Temple, with its hundreds of smiling faces. This popular Khmer temple is typically crawling with visitors but this morning it's just us and a few selfie-loving Chinese tourists. We poke through chambers, gaze at the giant stone faces and line up for a photo nose-to-nose with the sculpture of King Jayavarman VII. Heading back to the main road our tuk tuk driver awaits (front tyre as good as new), bearing water and cold, scented towels. We've retraced the paths of the ancient kings of Angkor and now head back to the Anantara Angkor to laze like royalty by the pool.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Anantara Hotels and Resorts.
Anantara Angkor's temple running experience is tailor-made according to fitness levels and can combine a cycle and run of between three and 18 kilometres, or a trail run and brisk walk from $US100 per person or $US150 for two people. The price includes entry fee to Angkor, transportation by tuk tuk, water, energy drink, snack and cold towels. A fitness trainer and temple guide can also be arranged at an additional cost. See anantara.com/en/angkor-siem-reap
Anantara Angkor offers 39 luxury suites surrounding a tropical pool overlooked by an oversized sleeping mother and child sculpture. The boutique resort offers unlimited complimentary tuk tuk transport, personal mobile phone, complimentary in-suite bar, daily fresh fruit, savouries and sweets and complimentary daily drinks in the resort's traditional courtyard. From $291 per night including daily buffet breakfast for two. See anantara.com/en/angkor-siem-reap