Located North of Siem Reap, in Cambodia, the temples of Angkor were originally built in the early 12th century as the capital of the Khmer Empire. I found myself in Cambodia in 2015, with Angkor Wat just around the corner.
We awoke while it was still dark and left the hotel to meet our tuk-tuk drivers, who we had arranged the night before. Their names were Kaka and Ta. They picked us up at 5am and we cruised through the dark streets in the back of the open-air vehicles. It was still dark when we arrived. We drank coffee and waited with crowds of other people for the sun to rise over the ancient temple of Angkor Wat. And when it did, it was like magic, a step back in time.
Once the sun was up, we were free to explore inside the main temple. Monkeys had made their home in the temple walls. Some were very bold and fierce, stealing items from our handbags unawares. It was quite funny to witness the tourists shrieking in terror as the monkeys hissed at them! I steered well-clear and thankfully, had nothing edible in my bag.
After we had explored inside and out, we joined Kaka and Ta once more. We drove through the forest, past elephants, tuk-tuks and bikes, to have a breakfast at one of their friend’s restaurants. We were served fried rice with an egg on top, under a large shade cloth. I positioned myself conveniently in front of the fan, to have some relief from the sticky humidity.
The next stop was Angkor Thom. We climbed up steep stair cases to see ruins of door frames, which looked like magic portals into different times or places. At the top, looking down, you could just imagine an ancient civilisation going about their days here. It was a humbling experience. This place had once been the peak of civilisation. Now, all that was left was remnants of buildings, lost but not quite forgotten.
The last temple we visited was Ta Prohm, a ruined city overtaken by giant trees and strangler figs. The roots twisted in and around the stones and nature had truly taken hold. The temple was still in the process of restoration, so it had the feeling that we were discovering it for the very first time.
Back at the tuk-tuk, the drivers were having naps in their hammocks, which had been strung from their vehicles to escape the midday heat. Children approached us, trying to sell their products. They had a cold look of desperation in their eyes, hardened by the realities of life. I felt sad for the children, who were at work from such a young age. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help feel that money should be put towards schools and education rather than giving cash directly to the child, which would no doubt pass into corrupt hands. The world is very much out of balance.
By midday, we were exhausted, and we drifted off to sleep as the tuk-tuk carried us back to Siem Reap. That night, we feasted on Amok, a traditional Cambodian meal of fish curry steamed in banana leaves with coconut milk and served with rice. We dined in a restaurant with white napkins and pretty fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, quite a contrast to the usual street food to which we had grown accustomed. I slept well and was thankful to have the luxury of a good food, a safe bed and opportunities to explore and broaden my mind.
Have you been to Cambodia? Where were your favourite places?