so now i was in cambodia and first on the list was angkor wat, the most majestic UNESCO heritage site there ever was. that is until i got to ha long bay, but personally i don't think it's fair to compare manmade buildings to natural sites. not fair to men or not fair to nature i am not sure about. luckily UNESCO differentiates between cultural – angkor wat – and natural – ha long bay, so they obviously also didn’t think it is fair to have to pick and decide who is better at making incredible rock formations.
our group had decided to do the proper thing and hire a private bus plus tour guide and get up at 5am for the almighty angkor wat in pond reflection at sunrise shot. we got to the entrance and were confronted with neon lights and insert - girls shrieking and fixing their hair – a camera. at angkor wat you get your very own customized entrance ticket. not that i cared much at this time of the morning, but i must proudly say i made a damn nice picture all disadvantaging factors considered.
what nobody told us was that in rainy season there is no guarantee for clear skies in the morning (the fact that monsoon rain comes only in short bursts and early evenings is an urban legend told to lure tourists to come in summer) and therefore no guarantee for a visible sunrise. we sat on old stones and waited and waited and all of a sudden it was light, but there were only clouds to now see and we all felt a bit cheated. no money back guarantee either and the pond view was actually much nicer a couple of hours later when almost everybody else had gone off for breakfast.
we went inside instead and in lieu of candles i lit some incense for my grandmother, a tradition i usually cherish, but after seeing a buddhist in front of the incense stand chanting and praying, my token of just lighting the stick felt a bit inadequate. so i went tourist all the way and got blessed by a monk with a little bracelet and some presumably wise words. for payment of course, but when in angkor wat you are a tourist no matter what you do.
i have already mentioned that my idea of quiet contemplation and meditation at angkor wat didn’t work out as planned and maybe it was a silly idea of mine to begin with (though my aunt swears she got to meditate at one of the temples!). in reality it was the complete opposite of peace and quiet. there were throngs of people everywhere: travel groups with matching hats and their respective leaders poking you with their umbrellas, families with screaming children (really you bring 4-year olds to look at stones and expect them to show interest? they are not lego!), and your usual assortment of south east asia hippies. mind you i was also wearing birkenstocks and lose cotton pants albeit without elephant print, but so i shouldn't judge. after hours and hours of looking at stones, stone faces, and pillars even the most architecturally enthusiastic person will get a bit temple tired, especially when you have to basically stand in line every single time you want to look at a new stone, stone face or pillar due to said throngs of people. so by the time lunch came around we were all exhausted.
after lunch however things were looking up – we were going to ta phrom, so in other words it was tomb raider time. honestly as much as i enjoy a female superhero/ game character/ whatever she is, i don't care much for lara croft. but i always cared for indiana jones and i have always cared for ta phrom itself. indiana jones well, because it's indiana jones and really if you don't care for indiana jones who are you and do you care for anything at all? and ta phrom, because to me that temple is just breathtaking. it has a soul. at least that’s what i felt when i first looked at one of my favourite steve mccurry pictures and i usually don’t think that a soul is a given for a stone temple.
again reality was different. any idea to pose as lara croft or indiana jones was quickly destroyed by a bunch of japanese kids and the korean police academy cadets because they were EVERYWHERE. look, i am not trying to sound mean and i am perfectly aware that they are probably writing blog posts right now about the masses of people in elephant print pants, yes, that was us!, that were destroying their view, but it was just so crowded. it could have ruined my mood, but then there were also the trees. trees you could touch. trees that were breathing and living and had made their ways through the stones over the centuries, claiming their territory and slowly returning it into jungle. trees that were gigantic and strong and by now pretty much part of the furniture. they are by now an essential part of this place, after all ta phrom is also called the jungle temple. seeing the trees became a reason for me that i want to come back one day. this time i will get up even earlier, ditch the pond reflection view, and try to catch a quiet sunrise amongst the trees.
we were almost on our way out when ash called me from somewhere and as per usual posed for a funny picture. i was unwilling, because really a picture of someone behind scaffold? but then i obliged. i took some more after he left, thinking that it was a pretty picturesque corner after all. only when i came back to my hotel room and looked at a picture above my bed did i realize that i had found the corner of my most beloved steve mccurry picture after all and only thanks to ash. thumbs up indeed.
all images by me and my new baby. except the this one above. thank you, steve mccurry for being amazing. if you are not tired yet of stone and tree pictures here are some more: