Siem Reap is a big tourist destination featuring the Temples of Angkor, the 8th wonder of the world. The temples were built by the great Khmer Kings, rulers of a once mighty kingdom. Dozens of temples sit gracefully hidden in trees. Many of the temples were built inside a once large and populous city that housed a million people when London was less than sixty thousand. The temples are like large palaces, but home only for the Gods. They are intricate and detailed, ancient and crumbling. Angkor Wat, the most famous, is the largest religious structure in the world. I spent a few days exploring temples, either by tuk-tuk or bicycle, watching sunrises and sunsets over fading and falling walls. One of the mornings I woke and left at 4:00 a.m. to bicycle to the temple and arrive before sunrise. I was plagued with hundreds of ant bites that swelled and pussed and itched across both feet, ankles, and legs, and some days afterward I had to walk barefoot everywhere because the rubbing of flip flops against the bites was too intense. I traveled inside and out of the sacred sites, resting on the scattered stones strewn about in the shade. Some temples were huge and mighty, mazes of corridors and hallways. Some were overgrown and over-run by trees whose massive trunks split in two, growing down both sides of thick walls, swallowing the stones in to their wooden bellies. It was all spectacular, a donder of the world indeed.
I returned home each night past dark exhausted from long days of exploring temples, walking every hallway, gazing at every tree that grew over the walls, noticing every fallen stone. It was a chaotic mesh of jungle and stone, trees and rocks battled in matrimony. Some were incredible, and I wish my pictures did any justice at all, but pictures rarely do. Certain temples there reminded me of the jagged and craggy peaks of the Grand Tetons, and what it must have taken to build such enormous structures, dozens, perhaps more than a hundred temples encased in a few square miles, each of thick stone, carved out faces of Gods or animals or symbols, and the empty holes once housing precious jewels looted by the Khmer Rouge, and some of the temples themselves torn down by soldiers to signify the death of religion in their new kingdom. I have seen many temples in my life, but few places really stand out, the Temples of Angkor are among those few places. How lucky am I to have seen such places in my life? I know that thousands upon thousands each year visit there, yet, how many people will I meet among those thousands and thousands? How many will I meet who will have experienced a fifth of what I have thus far, and a tenth of what I plan to? I know that many, many people have traveled far more than I, and there are so many amazing places I have not yet seen, maybe never will see, but let me enjoy all I have done, all I have seen. It is a worthy list in its own right with empty paper left still to write upon. I’ll be writing more soon.angkor wat granny climbs top sanctuary to pray to buddha still stunning and waiting at angkor wat corridors heavenly nymphs crushing and holding angkor thom temple roots of trees john tiong chunghoo