I’m sitting at a bar. Hardly surprising really. I find myself at bars a lot. Travel and bars go together like Yin and Yang, providing refuge in order to pass down-time. Cold local beers provide familiar comfort, like the company of an old friend as you sip, contemplate your journey and people watch. I’m at Singapore’s ‘Changi’ Airport. I’ve been here hundreds of times before. It’s like purgatory – it’s never your destination nor your point of origin – a transit world of power outlets, WIFI, expensive bars and comfortable chairs. As I sit here sipping my over-priced and under-poured red wine, I glance down at my shoes. Red dirt still clings to my sneakers, taking refuge in the rubber grooves of my sole. It’s Cambodian dirt. Hot, dry, powder-like dirt from the ancient Kingdom of Angkor. I smile as I see this and my eyes wander to my ‘I love Cambodia’ bracelet on my tanned wrist as I begin to think of Angkor.
Overall, what a journey it’s been. Bustling Bangkok down to the calm azure waters of Koh Samui. Across the border to Siem Reap then down to Phnom Penh before the final crossing in to Vietnam. We’ve seen so much and had so many experiences. But, after all this, one place has stayed with me… Angkor.
The fallen Angkor temples are an incredible site. Peaceful, huge, ancient and eerie. The area to explore is simply enormous. Forrest blends with red, dry dirt and then green pastures that suddenly open up to reveal giant temple structures amidst the trees. You really do feel as though you’re in an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie, moving through the dense jungle and stumbling across an ancient city. Nature fights the stone temples as the giant tree roots twist and split the rock, seeking out any crevasses or weaknesses in the stonework to exploit. Then, in a blend of twisting wood and ancient rock, the old trees strangle the temple buildings, reclaiming them like a python constricting its prey.
This incredible place is only a short distance from the charming village-like city of Siem Reap. The main mode of transport for exploring the site is a ‘Tuk Tuk’. In Cambodia, Tuk Tuks are not vehicles like in Thailand or India, it’s simply a small motor scooter towing a covered trailer with two seats in it. The small engine struggles to gain momentum from a stop and sometimes the trailer fights the scooter causing the driver to do an involuntary wheelie. Nevertheless the slow, laid-back pace of the Tuk Tuk is a relaxing and proper way to move around Angkor.
As you approach Angkor, you begin to get the feeling that you’re being watched as the giant Buddha faces on the gates stare at you and cautiously watch you approaching. From these faces, giant stone serpents stretch out toward you lining each side of the entrance. The serpent’s body is broken up by many figures who stand appearing to guard the main gate. This truly would have been a threatening welcome 800 years ago. It’s even said that at this point, guards inspected people’s toes and if they were missing any, they were denied entry in to Angkor. The ancient ritual of cutting off prisoners toes created a useful and permanent criminal ‘record’ that would warn others of their miss-doings. These gates are surreal and remind me of the scene from the movie ‘The Never Ending Story’ where the gates open their eyes and shoot down predators who pass through.
After you pass under the gates of Angkor, you will be amazed with the ancient city, full of temples that reach for the stars. You will ascend the temples with awe, climbing their giant stairs that seem as though they were not built by or for humans. Their stairs are far too big and too great for the step of any mere worldly creature. Simply put… After you pass through the gates, your senses and mind will be assaulted and overwhelmed by these amazing ancient temple ruins and will leave you questioning the validity of the limited version of history we think we ‘know’. It will leave you pondering… “What on earth was Angkor all about?”
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