One thing I really remember were the stairs both outside and inside a number of the buildings. Sheer, almost overhung, high with tiny spaces to balance your feet, obviously built by people with much smaller feet than myself. It was hard enough going up without the occasional wobble of a badly set stone.
Inside Angkor I encountered the mother of all staircases, we had climbed to the top and decided it was a good spot to sit and smoke a joint, it was a perfect location and we had been traipsing around the temples all morning. Of course, what was difficult on the way up suddenly became the almost impossible. This was, as I have mentioned some very strong pot, and the prospect of going down these tiny little ledges of a staircase suddenly became quite daunting. I did the best thing I could, I just sat back down and waited until I felt the courage come back. Eventually, I gradually managed to slide my way back down to terra firma, taking every step slowly and carefully, testing for the loose ones as I went. I should point out I have done a lot of climbing in my time, and been up and down some pretty daunting places, but that day, in the state of mind I was in, this really took some doing. The moral of this story is, if it’s hard getting up something, you better be ready for a long wait if you then go and get stoned at the top!
The names of all the temples slip me now, but they are not important. If you ever visit Angkor Wat you may or may not find some of the places I did. I am sure now the whole area is a lot more cleaned up and accessible. If you look around though the truth is every moment is going to be one of stunning beauty, of the deepest kind of memories, the ones that you will carry with you for life. I cannot always find the words to describe how complete I felt as we climbed through the ancient ruins. Such an idyllic setting, so raw and filled with not just history, but the magnificence of construction, a construction well before it’s time and on a scale you can’t even start to imagine. I had so many experiences that bordered on the spiritual, and this was without the pot. Such is the total wonder of the place. Here are a couple of the moments that stand out.
We were in this small but rather interesting red brick temple. The outer walls boasted a half-size statue of an elephant on each corner. Inside the building a series of Cham towers, embellished with delicately carved stone, now decaying with the centuries of rain and flora. Madhu and I are sat inside the temple smoking a joint. There are a few monks hanging around, dressed in their bright orange robes. They largely ignore us, although one of the younger monks is hanging around with a group of local teenagers, they’re smoking cigarettes and keeping an eye on us. The light of that early evening, just before sunset, started to take on a dreamlike quality. As we sat on the steps of a smaller shrine, we began to be surrounded by children a mix of ages, say 3 or 4 to early teens, appearing seemingly from the stone itself. Maybe thirty of them in total joined us, talking amongst themselves. We tried chatting to them, but like the teenagers across the way they just wanted to observe us, be around us. There was no selling, no angle. They just watched us as we took photos and did our thing, laughing and giggling occasionally about some little thing or another. This was their temple and we were the entertainment. I took photos with no complaints and no requests for payment, and when we left, they just waved us off. The children of the temple.
In another of the minor temples. We had climbed up the steep steps to the central dais followed by a huge group of little boys, running back and forth, excited about something, probably just at being with us. They carried a selection of musical instruments, Drums, a violin among them, they were offered to us for sale but after a couple of polite refusals they didn’t persist. Instead, as we climbed about inside the building, they just started to play for us, a rhythmic beat bouncing around the ancient stone. The girls sat down and tried to teach them some new tunes, Kev and I just had fun climbing with he boys.
Too often the purpose behind any interaction with tourists is the making of money. There are so many people competing for every dollar it often detracts from you connecting with the local population. They learn to be clever, they tell the tourists what they want to hear, they lie, they coerce, they ignore the word no and move on relentlessly in the search for that sale.
Then every now and then you have a pure experience, you are regarded as a human being and when that happens, they drop their guard and you see the people as they really are, in this case just interested kids trying to have fun. For life is about understanding each other, not transnational interaction. There are a lot of people wherever you go that could really benefit from understanding this.
If you want to read more about this trip or just look at some photos, please click this link.