I hopped on a plane bound for Cambodia – an unfamiliar destination I stayed at for a few days. I became accustomed to wandering alone and that made most of my trips more thrilling. And like always, being alone has this incredible power to transform timid tourist into fearless traveler.
They welcomed me with those lovely smiles – contagious smiles cut across the faces of Khmer people. I felt like I was home, a bit of nostalgia I guess. The shady and tree-lined road made me miss home. The magnificent temples of Angkor Wat are the main draw of Tourism in Cambodia. I was astonished by those creative and spiritual architectural masterpieces – each could not conceal how astounding the place was. The brilliant creativity and artistic carvings are majestic, need not to say why there are thousands of visitors, travellers, photographers and students roving all over the place. On my time of visit, Cambodia was celebrating Bonn Pchum Ben, one of the most important Khmer holidays of the year. It is a holiday to honor the spirits of ancestors. Khmer people take trips to pagodas to make offerings of food, incense, and money to help ease spirits’ burden. This is a colorful and photogenic time at the pagodas. And it was an amazing experience to witness how they celebrate this event.
I bought a one day visitor pass for the Angkor Temples. That was a long day for me. Equipped with bottled water, extra clothes, eyeglasses, towel, sunblock, US dollars and camera, I started my 10–hour journey watching the dawn over the stone towers of colossal Angkor Wat. I leaped from temple to temple, eagerly listened to some brief history of Angkor Wat. It was heartbreaking though to see kids on the road selling souvenir items, sarongs, bracelets, flutes, and post cards. The temples, which plays a significant part in the spiritual lives of Khmer people, ironically together with the numerous tourists taking photos in front of those holy stones, also seemed to be a leading hunting ground for those kids – waiting for tourists like starving predators stalking prey. What’s more worst than bumping into those kids who politely asked for donations so they could continue with school? Eventually I felt so fortunate. I couldn’t imagine a little Gianella doing their job. During my visit, there were occurrences like blending up an emotional stew of sympathy, generosity, remorse and disturbance. I felt guilty for trying to avoid those kids though, but I’d rather hide from them than feel worse from constantly saying no. For someone like me who’ve spent most of my life living in a fast-paced, busy, and stressful environment, I was able to appreciate the simplicity of life Khmer people have. And those contagious smiles that never leave their faces despite their endless battle for survival made my entire predicament insignificant.
From endless temple visits, I’ve spent my last night with people whom I’ve bumped into Ta Throm Temple – a group of young (and not so old) Filipinos working in Phnom Penh, who happened to be spending the last few days of their holiday in Siem Reap too. It is always good to meet such amazing people, these people now I can call friends. As my journey comes to an end, I was ready to leave, yet sad to say goodbye. I didn’t know what to anticipate when I arrived, but I left with more than what I could have visualized.