“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller.
When I was a little girl, I used to have an atlas. I was mesmerized by it, looking at all of the possibilities of adventure that lay ahead of me. I dreamt of places different than what I knew, of being in a new part of this amazing world, traveling and meeting people.
One of the places that called to me was Cambodia, more specifically Angkor Wat. There was mystery and romance behind the idea of those temples, their history so rich and full of wonder. Last year when I was given the opportunity to travel to Southeast Asia, I knew I had to see my longtime dream of Angkor Wat.
When I first arrived in Cambodia, I was ecstatic just to get a new stamp in my passport. The little girl inside me who dreamed about traveling to those sacred temples was overwhelmed with excitement. I’ll admit – I was nervous and a little scared traveling alone – I didn’t speak the local language and, well, I was on the other side of the world from my family and friends.
But after arriving, I held my own communicating the best I could with the locals and making my way to the house I rented through AirBnB. On my first full day there, I decided to head into Siem Reap and visit the National Museum. I felt in order to get a full understanding of Angkor Wat, I needed to learn more about the ancient civilization that once lived in the area; sure, I read a book and browsed the Internet for data, but seeing it firsthand from an archeological standpoint was something totally different.
The amount of history behind Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and the Khmer Empire is staggering, and gave me great insight of the mysterious and wondrous temple and people. You can’t really understand the sheer enormity of Angkor Wat until you view it in person.
A huge smile dawned on my face as I climbed out of the tuk-tuk and made my way to the steps of the causeway that led to Angkor Wat. Seeing the surrounding wall of it, I was in disbelief. The five pillars stood solemnly in the distance. I made it!
Walking across the first causeway, I was one of hundreds and hundreds of tourists that have also walked towards the sacred temple. The sun was beating down on me and the heat and humidity were stifling, but it didn’t matter – I was in awe.
Crossing over the boat to the first entrance of the wall, I really couldn’t believe I was finally there. I reached the top of the stairs and walked through the hallway they built through the surrounding wall. Even though it was hot as hell in there, I got goosebumps.
One temple in particular seemed to be calling to me. Walking up the stairs to Angkor Wat and seeing the ruined statues of lions as guardians to the sacred temple, you feel a certain amount of accomplishment and power. There’s a sense of wonder in the temple – it’s beautiful and romantic and impressive at the same time.
The temple represented so much in that moment; freedom, achievement, and the drive I had to make my dream a reality. Even though I was surrounded by other tourists, I was able to be alone, to be still, to listen to the depths of the sacred wonder. I walked quietly alone through the hallways of the temple, admiring the beauty and architecture of Angkor Wat. I walked through the temple exploring the Buddha statues, the details in the carvings, the breathtaking stories in the stones. I couldn’t help but feel the calmness and peace that flowed through there. Sitting quietly in front of a Buddha statue, I felt tears in my eyes; the magnitude of the moment was overwhelming and I was grateful to be able to have it, for the opportunity to se such a sacred wonder. It was spiritual for me, seeing Buddha standing in the temple, decorated with flowers and colorful sashes, at peace and enjoying the silence of the moment and being present.
One of the characteristics which stood out to me most of Cambodia was that the Khmer people believed in women’s strength. They worshiped female warriors and some of the kings relied on their wives for advice and guidance. As I stood there, I felt great respect for the people and for their way of life.
Traveling alone allowed me to take my time and take it all in, to appreciate the art and the structure of these great temples. I learned that even though I was alone, I’m as strong on my own as the structure of these great temples, and I actually enjoy it!
Angkor Wat will forever be in my heart, and here are some tips for your visit to Angkor Wat:
1) I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of Siem Reap before going to the temples- It’s $12.00 USD and you can get an audio tour for $2.00 (they have several languages). You’ll learn some pertinent info.
2) The entrance to the park can be purchased in one of three ways: a) $20.00 American Dollars will be good for one day. b) $40.00 American Dollars will be good for three days. c) $60.00 American Dollars will be good for seven days.
3) The National Park is open from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the day it gets extremely hot and can be dangerous to your health. It’s recommended you get there early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
4) Be sure to drink/bring plenty of water, mosquito/bug repellent, and an umbrella and hat to protect you from the sun.
5) Don’t feed the monkeys. Yes folks, there are monkeys, and they will get gangster on you.
6) Have fun!
About the author:
Cecilia Morales has worked in the I.T. sector for over 16 years. She has been a professional photographer for more than 10 years, and has been fortunate to travel across the U.S. visiting national parks, Central America, and South America (including the Galapagos and Machu Picchu). Through her travels, Cecilia’s had the opportunity to see different ways of life and culture. She thrives in positive and dynamic environments, and enjoys experiencing new adventurous activities. Cecilia looks forward to expanding her photography catalog traveling the rest of the world.