I am now in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Incidentally, the road to Siem Reap was paved last year, so what was once a bumpy, 9-hour drive is now smooth and can be done in less than half that time. I love Cambodia.
Siem Reap is a relatively large city, but has a charming small-town, laid-back feel to it. Time here seems to…well, what is time really? The city is best known for the Angkor Wat ruins, which is a complex of temples that were built between the 8th and 12th centuries and covers 37 square miles, making it the largest religious monument in the world. Although it was originally constructed in honor of Hindu deities and is replete with carvings that represent gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, it has long since been ‘converted’ to Buddhism.
The pictures I’ve seen of Angkor Wat are of the main Angkor Wat temple; as a result, I had no idea that the complex was so… huge. It amazes me to think of the time, effort, and devotion that went into its construction. The laterite and sandstone that comprise Angkor Wat carry a distinct patina from centuries of weather and perhaps even pollution (although it doesn’t seem as polluted here as in other places). In some areas of the complex, the long roots of Spung trees have gracefully grown over and around the ruins, resulting in a surrealist effect that looks as though the trees are melting into the ancient rock. Despite the fact that time has certainly taken its toll on the site and much of the original structure lies in rubble, Angkor Wat is still breathtaking and you can see how magnificent it was in its time.
Yesterday’s storm was a nice reprieve, but the heat and humidity came back with a vengeance, which made exploring Angkor Wat an exhausting endeavor. I’m still waiting to get used to this weather–I’m starting to doubt that any foreigner truly gets used to it without spending a great deal of time here. I think when peope say “you get used to it,” what they really mean is that you learn to resign yourself to sweating profusely and being in a constant state of stickiness. If that’s what it means to get used to it, then I’m there. I’ve surrendered.