The time for the first milestone of my trip had come. This ancient Hindu temple I had heard of, somewhere in Cambodia. It was the first image in my head when I embarked on my journey to Southeast Asia. And I was now here in Siem Reap to experience it.
The temple grounds were larger than I had imagined. I had mistaken this site to be one temple – and then I learned that there were the options of 3-day and 7-day passes. I read the sample itinerary in Lonely Planet, and decided to opt for the 3-day option.
The closest town, Siem Reap, was about a 20-minute tuk tuk ride to the temple grounds. Since I had arrived alone, I originally had no idea who I would be touring the temple with over 3 days. However, it all fell quickly into place as Dev arrived into town, and two other friends. And just like that, a group was formed.
The first day was spent touring a few temples I had not heard of: Bayon was the most memorable. This temple had numerous smiling faces of kings.
I found a majestic tree behind one of the temples – out of this world!
A pool on the temple grounds, covered with lush green plant life.
Later in the day it starts to rain. It makes the temples more mysterious.
I meditate on the water drops running down along the ancient temple walls.
The climax. I woke up 4am to go see sunrise at Angkor Wat. One problem: it was pouring. I could hear the loud pattering on the roof of my hostel. Our group had doubts about going, but we decided to give it a shot.
It was a bit cloudy still, and it wasn’t the iconic orange sunrise, but it stopped raining, and it was beautiful; it was my own unique experience.
We had hired a tour guide for this epic day. My first urge was to run around the temple and scope it all out; our tour guide however, spent 45 minutes at the front steps, explaining the textbook history of Ankgor Wat. He was intellectualizing. I wanted to just experience. But I remained patient, and it became more interesting as we walked along the temple walls, with the Hindu epic of Ramayana perfectly preserved along the temple walls.
Along the entrance I encountered a giant statue of Vishnu. Familiar, yet different from all the Vishnu statues I had seen in my life, but still reverent.
After we had explored Ankgor Wat, our driver took us to Preah Khan, aka “Tomb Raider” temple, made famous by the movie with Angelina Jolie. I wasn’t expecting to have any more excitement left over after seeing Ankgor Wat, but this temple was out of this world. It was surrounded by giant trees.
This corridor below had been reconstructed after being found in ruins.
As I walked around the temple, I could see how nature was eating the temple – the trees growing into and crumbling the walls of the temple.
Below you can get an appreciation for the roots of these large trees.
And here I am sitting in the rubble.
The third day of our tour involved going about 60km out of town. The main attraction was “The River of a Thousand Lingas”.
It was about a 30-minute hike to the top, but we stopped a lot to observe the natural beauty.
When we finally did make it to the top, we were confused. Where were the lingas? Did we go far enough? Then looking into the river, we saw carvings. There were the lingas.
Walking along the river, I had a greater appreciation for all the lingas that had been carved from the river bed; now submerged by the sediment.
After our hike, our driver took us to another temple, Banteay Srei, aka “The Lady’s Temple”.
The reason it was named so was because the carvings were so intricate, it was said it could have only been done by the hands of women. And indeed, these were the most intricate carvings I had seen – it’s a feat to see how deep the carvings were. The redness of the stone also made it stand out from other temples.
I gained a lot of appreciation for Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples I never knew of. The other temples were a blend of Hinduism and Buddhism – two religions I identify with. These temples are time capsules of a moment in time, when kings from this civilization were leaning in between Buddhism or Hinduism.
Ankgor Wat has been the only temple that had remained purely Hindu. I recalled stories carved along the temple walls that I had learned as a child from watching the Ramayana video series. The entire series filled a shelf with twenty VHS cassettes. I was grateful in that moment to my parents for exposing me to these stories, which I was reading off the wall of an ancient temple.
After three days of exploration at Ankgor, I then began to prepare for my next milestone of a silent 10-day meditation retreat by shaving my head.