There are several historical locations that have haunted my dreams ever since the days of my youth, thumbing through my dad’s stacks of National Geographic magazine.
Like most boys my age, Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones were more than just movies; they were introductions into archaeology and ancient history. Flipping through photographic masterpieces, I was transfixed by the ancient cultures on each page. I loved the articles on nature and the deep sea, but ancient wonders always sparked my imagination.
Angkor Wat has always been a dream of mine. Before I started taking pictures or even traveling more than a few states away, I dreamed of this magical place on the other side of planet earth called “Cambodia” where they have massive temples shrouded in mystery. I wanted to go to that Cambodia-place and see “Anchor What” at first sight. Now older, a bit more experienced, and wholly less impressed by things than I was as a child, I am able to go see the places by which my dreams have been captivated since my youth.
The temples are absolutely incredible. It has been so hard to even begin telling my story and experience with Angkor Wat just for the mere fact of how enormously inexpressible it is. The Angkor Complex is massive and each temple is unique and marvelous. We wander, meandered, hiked, climbed endless stairs, tripped on tree roots reclaiming the temple for nature, and took a million photos, hoping to visually represent how absolutely incredible this historical site is. There were scams and people trying to get some extra cash here and there, sure, but the extraordinary size of each temple made it easy to trot off to a secluded area and take in the magnitude and mystery of the complex. The crowds at the main temple, Angkor Wat, were pretty large with everyone wanting to photograph the reflection pool at sunrise. Everyone has seen that photo, and we didn’t bother getting up at 4am to fight the crowds on hazy winter mornings. Crowds aside, I can’t stress enough how massive these temple grounds are. It is not difficult to get away from other people for a bit, especially at in the minor outlying temples in the Angkor Complex (except Ta Phrom which is also insanely popular…damn you Angelina Jolie).
What is particularly amazing when you tuk-tuk from temple to temple is how very different they all are. While Angkor Wat is spectacularly huge (almost 500 acres), the carved faces of Bayon are mesmerizing and enchanting. While the jungle reclaiming Ta Phrom displays nature’s awesome power, the intricate carvings and unrestored abandonment of Preah Khan feels like you’re exploring a temple of your own discovery in the jungle. Each temple has fascinating and enthralling differences, and really shines as a testament to the mysteriously wonderful and artistic people that lived here long ago. Many “biggest” and “most visited” locations tend to be too crowded with people for me to really enjoy a place, but Angkor was different. I would go back in a heartbeat and my fascinated longings to walk those sandstone walkways again have returned with a more vigorous fervor.
As jaded and unimpressed as adults become, I see it as my duty to maintain a childish fascination with the world we live in. I’m not saying that this is the best way to live, but it makes life, even the boring bits, more entertaining. Sometimes it’s a struggle to maintain a childish wonder and stay animated about experiences, but at Angkor Wat I was a child for 3 days and it was spectacular. All of the childish energy and bug-eyed smiles that I see in old pictures returned and stayed for the entire time I was in Siem Reap. My face hurt before lunch each day as we returned each morning with our three-day passes in hand. I smiled more than any other day (besides my wedding day).
Undeniably I am at a loss for words from Angkor Wat. The ancient temple of my dreams entertained me for three blistering days and I’m thirsty for more. We were well guided by a friendly driver who met us every morning to drive us diligently to my dream destination, and Stephanie battled through the heat because she could see the sheer bliss on my face. I’ve always felt lucky to be able to travel this awesome globe, but Angkor Wat will probably always stand out as one of the greatest locations I’ve ever experienced. Stephanie and I are already thinking about how we could add a quick jaunt over to Siem Reap on another adventure in the future. We went in winter, but have you seen the pictures from summer? I’m sold.