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The temples of Angkor

Is it possible to lose yourself so completely that you find your own source at the other end of the circle? What is the face of bliss? How many moments make up a decade, a century, a millennium? I don’t know the answers, but I can tell you that in the temples of Angkor I started to ask the questions.

Traveling always takes one across physical and sometimes cultural distances, but this vacation was easily the best I’ve ever had thanks simply to the sense of being transported across time. The various temples are anywhere between seven and eleven centuries old; and on many time has clearly left its mark.

Yet there’s a timelessness about many of the better preserved temples – one is very much aware that these monuments have witnessed the course of human events for a time so long that it’s hard for us to imagine. A thousand years ago gunpowder had just been invented, and so had fire arrows.

The temple builders were either Hindu or Buddhist, and it is really a wonder to behold how some things have withstood the test of time. The depiction of the Buddha’s face, for example, is carved on many of the temples’ towers and is instantly recognizable – truly an icon that has stood the test of time.

The setting of the temples – they’re in a huge complex set some distance away from the nearest city (Siam Reap) – which helps in capturing the sense of history. Apart from the tiny stalls that are set up near most temple entrances, the few motorized vehicles, and the fact that you get cellphone signal everywhere, not much about modern life has encroached upon these ancient wonders. There are still vast tracts of land and forest between the temples – and each temple within itself is huge. When I walked the long bridge towards the Angkor Wat temple, I could sense how grand a vision its builder must have had.

In case some of you who know me are wondering, yes, I did take photos; and they’ve been quietly getting their space on my photoblog. Start here, and keep going forward.

My one thought when I returned from Cambodia was this – it’s surprising that a place like Singapore gets maybe five or ten times the tourist traffic as Cambodia; but this was easily the best holiday I’ve ever had in South East Asia. It’s a must visit place – if you haven’t been there, do keep it on your travel list.