Sunday, 27 January 2013

Travelling and temples

After spending two weeks travelling alone in China, I had the impression that solo travel was very solitary. I spent lots of time talking to myself, since I knew no one and there weren’t many English speakers around.

It seems that circumstances can make it a much more social experience: here in Cambodia, and also in Vietnam, there are tons of Western travellers, and it’s not hard to have a chat with someone or occasionally, find a dinner buddy. I’m starting to get the hang of this solo routine!

Today, for example, I encountered two young men fumbling their way through the dark, as I was, to reach the sunrise spot at Angkor Wat, the standard for all temples in this area. It turned out that they were from suburban Washington, D.C., one of my old stomping grounds. Even better, one was teaching English in Shenzhen, China, the city near the Hong Kong border where everyone goes for discount goods. And better yet, the other was a serious Baltimore Orioles fan – gotta love it! I watched the sunrise with them, then went on with my plans, delighted by the chance meeting.

 And last night, I had dinner with a teacher from Norway who is staying in my hotel and offered to show me the way into town. It was delightful to pass a few hours learning about life in a place I’ve never visited.

And that’s just the people. The temples are another story entirely, one that will be continued. I have just scratched the surface with a brief look at Angkor Wat, bordered by a lily pond and rising out of the jungle like a wedding cake gone wild. Amazing stone work, all done before mechanization.

This afternoon, I rented a bicycle and rode down to the Angkor National Museum to learn more about the background of the temples and the symbolism they contain. The Khmer people were once Hindu, but converted over to Buddhism under a king that ruled more than 8,000 years ago. Angkor Wat was originally built in homage to Vishnu, the Hindu god, but became a Buddhist temple over the years.

There are so many stories, I don’t know if I’ll ever keep them all straight, but tomorrow, I’ll have the help of a guide. I’m preparing to stuff my head full of information!

Now, it’s back to town to find some dinner and check out the night markets.

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