Angkor | Overwhelmed, Humbled

Angkor is a funny thing. You go there because you want to connect with the mysteries of this earth, see the grandeur of these famous towers, and absorb a sense of history, time, place.

Granted, this is somewhat delivered, but comes with a sharp price, for you are not alone at Angkor. In fact, you are one of thousands: a target. You cannot take but two steps without being hassled to buy something. Tiny children will flank you, chatting extensively about their “cold drinks” and postcards, and it is not easy to shake them. In fact, save for the few occasions that you are actually inside of a temple, you are continuously being pestered, which certainly strips some of this luster. This, added to the extreme heat, makes Ankor exploration a rather draining experience on the whole.

Of temples, however, there is no shortage; there are literally thousands. Granted, the main image emblazoned in our minds is always that of Ankor Wat, the grandest of all. We talked our tuk-tuk driver (and guest house manager) into taking us well before dawn, and though there were many people outside of the Wat watching the sun rise, few ventured into the structure’s walls until well after light break. This gave us a good half hour with Ankor Wat, almost entirely alone. Though you cannot crawl into the main towers, you can scramble about the smaller ones and watch as the stones turn slowly yellow. Just as in Borobudur, we enjoyed this play on light, as briefly as it lasted, and even managed to stumble across some fellow Lithuanians when more people bagan trickling in.

I imagined the scenery as it was during its inhabited days, as well as its forgotten ones, when the sweeping forests ate the temple nearly whole, cradling it away from prying eyes. After Ankor’s “rediscovery” in the nineteenth centrury, many of the temples were restored, with the notable exception of Ta Phrom, which proved to be our favorite temple (aside from Ankor Wat), despite the thick crowds. As the guidebook says, “the stunning [temple] has a magical appeal.” Trees and plants have become part of the temple, winding their roots tightly around the walls and ceilings of the structure, which appears to be in a state of near collapse, though delicately so.

The temple hopping seemed endless, but enjoyable nonetheless. Also included in our itinerary were the temples of Bayon, Ta Nei, Thommanom, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Bat Chum, and Prasat Kravan, among others. We quickly lost steam after Joshua nearly cracked his head on a low door, which doubled him over for quite some time. After nearly a dozen hours of exploration, we collapsed in bed, maximally exhausted, but having accomplished a longtime goal…

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