Phnom Penh was followed by a trip to Siem Reap, and on the way there, we stopped at this awe-inspiring ancient bridge called the “Kampong Kdei Bridge.” Built in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII, it was recognized as the longest bridge in the world with corbel stone arches. Notice the Naga head.
At Banteay Srei.
Monkeys were everywhere in Angkor! I fed them bananas and found them to be quite amusing characters. One even sat on a motorcycle and checked itself out in the mirror.
I met these three beautiful children at a local village in Siem Reap. When the boy’s mother put him down and walked off to attend to her tasks, he began crying, and when I picked him up and carried him, he stopped and stared at me intently with a shy grin on his face. (He was naked by the way.) Moments like these tugged at my heartstrings, for they served as reminders that love and compassion extend beyond socially- and politically-constructed identities, and are universal in nature. Suffice it to say, we became friends after that.
My first time watching a live Apsara dance performance. The dancers were adorned with decorative accessories, making them appear like enchanting goddesses. The dance was breathtaking, too — elegant, graceful, feminine. Such grace of movement!
Angkor Wat, dating from the early 12th century, is the largest religious monument ever built. Upon entering, I was rendered speechless, for it was beautiful — and almost hauntingly so. I experienced, at once, a deep appreciation for the beauty of Khmer architecture and a feeling of sadness for the loss of what once was an exceptional civilization. Angkor Wat is undoubtedly a long-standing remnant of an extraordinary empire, carrying within its walls spirits of the past.
I remember how peaceful I felt praying at this holy site. (Not to mention how surreal it felt to be praying in one of the most ancient temples in the world.) I was also blessed by a monk who tied a beautifully-scented red ribbon around my wrist, adorned me with holy water, and chanted prayers offering me blessings. It was both a sacred and heartwarming moment for me. I continued wearing the ribbon until I returned to Canada, at which point to preserve it, I snipped it off and stored it in a treasured place.
Carvings of Apsara dancers. Such intricate details of carvings are spectacular and are found at every nook and cranny of Angkor Wat. If I were to trace every single detail of this temple with my fingers, it would probably take me many lifetimes.
Final goodbyes to Angkor Wat.
Gateway into Angkor Thom. It was at this site that I began to feel sick. I don’t think there was a moment more comical during my stay in Cambodia than emergency tuk tuk-ing to a washroom, only to be greeted by a baby gecko on the wall, on top of feeling as though I was physically disintegrating and on the verge of saying goodbye to earthly life.
At Prasat Bayon, which lies at the heart of Angkor Thom. Notice the giant stone faces.
Apparently, this was one of the sites where Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) was filmed.
From atop the Baphuon is a magnificent view of the ruins. This temple is known for its built-in reclining buddha statue, which can be easily overlooked if not keenly observed.
In retrospect, when I entered Angkor, a “city” of over 400 square kilometres which served as the heart of the Khmer Empire from approximately the 9th to the 15th century, I was at a loss for words. Home to countless abandoned temples, Angkor was so majestic it was humbling, and I feel blessed to have had the chance to witness it at least once in my lifetime. And to think that I’d only seen a small chunk of it!
Here’s a traditional Khmer dish called “amok.” My first taste of it (besides what I can recall from childhood) was in Siem Reap. This version of “amok” consisted of fish and veggies steamed in coconut milk curry and wrapped in banana leaves. It was so delicious, I ate the whole thing! From that point on, it became the dish that my body and soul longed for.