In the second part of her travel journal, Jenna makes her way to Cambodia to visit the ancient temples of Angkor Wat...
Hundreds of years ago, King Suryavarman II conquered lands stretching from present day Thailand in the north to Vietnam in the east and Laos in the west, and built one of the most iconic temples of all time. Angkor Wat, the crown jewel of the Angkor archaeological complex, sits 7km from the town of Siem Reap, which literally means ‘defeat of Siam’. The temple is an illustration not only of the power of the former-king, but also of the region’s rich Khmer heritage. The temple is lined with Hindu tales, spritely apsara dancers and impressive Nagai.
I wanted to ride an elephant as a real mahout would, and after a ride around Bayon Temple, the mahout motioned for me to move to the driver’s spot on the back of Ti Tohn, the 42-year-old elephant. Sliding into the spot the mahout had occupied, I guided the elephant to the right with a slight press of my right foot. Left to go left. Ti Tohn and I had bonded. As I rubbed the leathery skin of her forehead, she lifted her trunk and sniffed at me. After climbing down and giving her an apple, a whole pineapple and a hug or two, it was time to move on and explore the rest of the complex.
The Angkor complex is the largest in the world, rivalling that of Tikal in Central America. My guide, So Chea, was so knowledgeable and knew all the secret places. After hiking up a back road, we came to the Banyon Temple, a favourite of us both. Here, culture and nature both support and destroy each other, the roots growing through the large blocks and in some places stabilizing the temple, while in others knocking through its walls.
Perhaps the ruins or the landscape are what make this place special, but I don't think so; the people here are so warm and lovely, and want to teach you all about their culture. I was introduced to many of the traditions that make Cambodian culture so interesting; indigenous practices such as silk weaving, stone carving and even cooking here are talents of pride.
After a stroll around town, a boat ride to the fishing village at the Tonle Sap Lake and a Khmer barbeque with traditional Apsara dancers, I was in love with Cambodia, its traditions and its people. I can’t wait to go back and explore more.