Siem Reap, Cambodia (10.16-18.19) The second leg of the trip: Siem Reap and the world-famous Angkor Wat! Just one of the many ruins in tact. Be warned: there are a lot of selfies in this post. chasing sunrises at 4:45 am Don’t we look so excited? Angkor Wat across the moat The heart of Angkor Wat The sun still rising. Finally, the sun is out! Inside Angkor Wat “Oh?” The South Gate of Angkor Thom, the best preserved of all the gates. Posing with the demon statues. Mr. Tom! Our fantastic tour guide. Right outside of Bayon Temple Bayon Temple Entrance Some of the iconic heads of Bayon Temple The Bayon Temple is famous for these heads. Supposedly, there are 216 of them (many of them under restoration and others lost), each depicting the same face: Jayavarman VII, the king who instituted the Bayon Temple as his private temple, or Buddha. Built in late 12th century or early 13th century, the temple was originally Mahayana Buddhist, but later adapted or became Hinduist and Theravada Buddhist. According to Mr. Tom, the lines between Hinduism and Buddhism back then were not always so strict, so most likely the temple is pluralistic: while the heads represent some form of Budda, there are also hints of Naga—a snake god in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Like many religious sites, walls are for history. And like many political sites, history is told in a certain way. Large portions of the wall depict the war with neighboring groups, the spoils they garnered, and the riches the King provided. But this particularly small block pointed out by Mr. Tom caught my attention. It shows people grieving the lost of a loved one. The faces have faded out, but the one embracing the dead still feels raw. It’s amazing, I think, that a snippet—certainly an important snippet, for death is common but nonetheless significant—of life is etched on the walls of a king and his people’s grand narrative. Ta Prohm Temple or otherwise called “Tomb Raider” are famous because of these gigantic spung trees. They characteristically grow roots above ground, climbing temple walls. Ironically, these trees, which garners more attention than the temple itself, grew to such heights because of neglect. After the fall of the Khmer Empire in 15th century, many temples were abandoned (with the exception of Angkor Wat, explaining its pristine condition). They were magnificent, indeed. Plus, Angelina Jolie was here.