Everyone has a different purpose for travelling to Cambodia, but whether that’s to feel the sand between your toes or indulge in the local hospitality, Angkor Wat will inevitably find its way onto your itinerary. Expecting to find myself frustrated by the crowds, I kept an open mind and found myself more than pleasantly surprised.
Wandering in and out of ruins at Angkor Wat is simply a breathtaking experience – awe-inspiring religious monuments that are stunning in both their intricate details and their grand scale.
It’s often suggested to put aside at least three hours in your day to explore the whole complex, and up to half a day if you want to leave no stone unturned. For early birds (like me), one of the most memorable ways to see the iconic monument is to catch it at sunrise. Just be prepared to skip that snooze button.
Are heights more sacred? It seems to be a common thread for religious monuments that getting close to the God in question requires a literal ascent of some sort. Crawling up the narrow stairs, I begin to wonder if I would’ve had what it took to be religious back in the day.
Among the forty-nine spires of Bayon, Angkor Thom, there are more than one hundred smiles. Look up from any angle and you will always find those smiles, there to symbolise love and tolerance in a country whose people have experienced plenty of the opposite over the years.
Exploring beyond the walls of Angkor Wat, I asked my tuk tuk driver to take me where the locals relax on the weekends. I found myself at a lake, with hundreds of families eating, chatting, bathing and swinging in their makeshift hammocks. I observed this little girl passing by, in search of abandoned or leftover food. She walked by those families one by one, staring with her precocious eyes.
It seems the only things that makes money in Angkor Wat, Cambodia are whatever can be sold to tourists. Travel packages, history lessons, sunset vantage points, smiles, and even young girls – everything you can think of is for sale. The local children get used to this life, while losing their innocence along the way.
Cambodia is a beautiful country, and learning about its painful history is not only a responsibility but a way to help its people move on and rebuild themselves. Visiting Angkor Wat really made me think deeply about the stories I heard from all the beautiful people I met.
Writer: Teresa Chen
Photographer: Teresa Chen