The car ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was squishy with four of us sitting at the back — maybe five, even, if I count the fact that my cousin was pregnant. Yet it was a pleasant ride, for we all bonded. What’s nice about road trips, too, is that in the event of hunger strikes, food and fruit stalls are always readily available. If you’re Khmer, you’d know that a road trip isn’t complete without having bags of exotic fruits in the car. Sliced mangoes dipped in salt, sugar, and chili peppers were my favourite!
The sceneries were very picturesque. I enjoyed soaking in the beauty of my surroundings, especially the statuesque sugar palm trees lining the fields at sunrise — a national icon in traditional Cambodian paintings — and observing animals go about their daily lives in the wee hours of the morning. Away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, the countryside was a breath of fresh air.
And finally, after years of dreaming and planning, we got to visit Angkor Wat — together as a family. It was a scorching hot day with many tourists resting at the footsteps of the Temple in complete exhaustion, and we knew that with Mother Nature against our human threshold, a single day wouldn’t be enough to explore the magnificence of Angkor Wat.
Yet after a brief round of exploration, skies darkened, thunder shook the grounds, and rain began pouring heavily. We all took refuge within the walls of Angkor Wat, many of us getting wet through the cracks and openings of the old Temple. Huddled close together in the quest for warmth and safety, we looked on in silence. And for me, it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
My sister and I jokingly blamed our mother for the heavy rain.
“It’s because of you and your prayers, Mom,” we laughed. “What did you pray for?”
“Nothing,” she said with a look of innocence. “Just for it to cool down and rain a little.”
In all honesty, I’m not sure what my mother was chanting or praying upon entering the sacred grounds of Angkor Wat, but whatever it was, the gods of the Temple sure answered her prayers. We all got a good laugh out of it because we knew her ways, and she’s one funny woman.
The following day, we visited the Bayon Temple along with other temples along the way. To my surprise, the Bayon was empty this year — so much so that I could capture photos anywhere I wanted without tourists hanging in the background. And then I understood: It was of course way too hot for anyone to travel in Cambodia this time of year.
It was also on this day that we got to dine authentically in Siem Reap, Khmer style. At lunch we ordered food from stalls and had a picnic by the water in front of Angkor Wat! The Khmer food was delicious — stuffed frogs, grilled chicken and fish, and prahok being my favourite — and the scenery was absolute eye candy.
Visiting temples in Angkor was a treat as well because I’d often stumble upon local artists, who I enjoyed getting to know and supporting. In the strokes of every artist, there’s a gentleness that softens all that is cold and hard in our world, ultimately reminding us of all the beauty that remains.