19 Apr COLLECTING EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS: A VISIT TO ANGKOR WAT IN CAMBODIA
Our motto and motivation is to “collect experiences, not things”. Whilst on our journey, we’re aiming to spend our time and money on spectacular experiences, to be left with incredible learnings and memories, not tangible objects. This way, we’re sure to keep our lives light without additional luggage, but also be the change we want to see in the world.
Our next featured experience is a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
There’s places in this world you hear about, and you think that you’ll probably never get to visit them. Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, was one such place for me. Of course I’d heard about it in travel magazines, travel blogs, and from friends who had visited South East Asia, and even though we longed to see a sunrise here for photographic purposes (listed as number 110 on our Wanderlist), I don’t think I ever thought I’d actually get to see it, experience it, and love it so much.
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Getting to Angkor Wat for sunrise
I’ll briefly share how we made it there for sunrise (in case you are planning a trip to Siem Reap sometime soon). We knew we wanted to see the temple at sunrise, so Stevo did the usual “sunrise in [current city]” search on Google, and with some basic math, calculated that we’d need to wake up at 4am to get there with enough time to set ourselves up in front of THE pond for the perfect reflection shot. Our amazing Tuk Tuk driver sped us off to the ticketing office, where we were fifth in line to pay the recently-increased price of US$37 each for a day pass to all the temples (quick jump in here: after reading the online forum debates about whether it is worth the seemingly-exorbitant price or not, I can confirm on behalf of Stevo and I that it is absolutely worth every cent). We dropped the cash, grabbed a quick coffee for Stevo (who, if you know him well enough, is never really awake unless he has his coffee) and cruised along, frighteningly in a different direction to all the other ticket buyers.
It was pitch black still (obviously), and we’re jiggling along in a Tuk Tuk, just the three of us, crossing what seems to be a giant forest, as we see occasional glimpses of tree trunks with the motorbike’s flickering front light. Thoughts of the Blairwitch Project may have crossed my mind…but I tried to ignore them.
Gaga, who was our driver (not the backtrack to this morning’s road trip), soon pulled over and parked, switching off the motorbike light, leaving us in sheer darkness, telling us to follow the road to the left. There’s no one around. I mean literally, no one. We saw maybe two solo cyclists zoom past us while the Tuk Tuk was coming to a halt (so we actually saw which road Gaga was referring to), but to say that we were a little uneasy at this stage, would be an understatement.
Nevertheless, we flicked the torch on our sooooo-grateful-it-was-fully-charged phone, and off we went into complete darkness.
We walked for around 10 minutes (guided by Google Maps and hope) before seeing a glimpse of what was the iconic steeples of the Angkor Wat temple right in front of us. Turns out Gaga had parked at the back entrance of the temple (aka West Gate), and this would explain why there was no one around (most people go through the main gateway aka East Gate). We walked around the outside walls, admiring the temple’s grandeur as a back-lit silhouette against the night sky, before arriving at the famous reflecting pond, where what-felt-like hundreds of others, had already set up to get the ideal landscape.
Some gentle pushing and 45 minutes later, we (as in us and the giant crowd also wanting the iconic shot) began to see the sun come up. We’d seen weather forecasts predicting rain, so the hope that guided us in the darkness was still hanging around, this time begging for colorful skies. And they came. Beautiful, dusty, red and purple skies. We hopped around to get the best angle (which happened to be the left side of the pond, near the back FYI) and we stayed until we saw the big burning ball of light come up behind the temple. Magical doesn’t begin to describe it.
A Buddhist monk’s blessing
After sunrise had passed (and so did most of the crowds) we ventured inside to explore this ancient creation, spending close on an hour getting lost in the walkways. We then found several young monks sitting near one of the open areas, and I waited for one to signal me to come over. I took my shoes off, placed our Abraham Lincoln on top of the other donations, and watched as the monk tied a bright orange bracelet around my left wrist, chanting and blessing me. He splashed water on my face several times (which came as a shock at first), thanked me for coming, and then did the same with Stevo.
My interest in Buddhism
We didn’t take a guided tour through the temple, and my knowledge of Buddhism is extremely limited, so even though I was moved by the entire experience, it came from an ignorant place.
And I don’t like being ignorant.
I have since done some research on this philosophy known as Buddhism, realizing, to my surprise, that I, in some ways, am already living a Buddhist life. Allow me to share some fun insights I gained:
– For one, Buddhism is seen as a religion, but to most goes beyond that, and is considered a way of life – a one tolerant of all beliefs and cultures.
– There are three main principles to Buddhism:
- Live a moral life
- Be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
- Develop wisdom and understanding.
– The Buddha (that is currently cherished by 300 million people) was a royal influencer circa 500-600 BC, named Siddhartha Gotama, who, at 29 years of age, realized that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so studied and meditated for six years before finding, what is known as “the middle path”.
– There are four noble truths that he put forward as the philosophy of this middle path (and I will summarize my understanding of them):
- That life has sufferings and negativities such as pain, loneliness, frustration, fear etc and we cannot escape them
- That these sufferings are caused by desires and expectations, and if we eliminate these false hopes and cravings, we will diminish the sufferings
- If we eliminate the cravings, thereby diminishing the sufferings, we’ll find happiness, and if we’re happy, we will have the time and energy to help others
- Thereby living a moral life, aware of our thoughts and actions, living with compassion for others.
– There are also five “precepts” within the moral code:
- To not take the life of a living being
- Not accepting anything for free
- Abstaining from sexual and sensual indulgence
- No lying, and
- Not losing mindfulness (by avoiding intoxication)
– The concept of Karma is also led by Buddhism, underlining the importance of your actions and how you get what you give.
– Finally, wisdom (which we all seek) is developed with compassion, and to understand this entire philosophy one must be courageous, patient, flexible and intelligent.
Sure, the qualities of intelligence, courage, patience and flexibility are ones I strive for on a daily basis. I am accepting of the world’s negativities (but am still yet to face them completely) and try hard to eliminate unnecessary desires, envy and fear. I consider myself to be a fairly compassionate person, and by becoming vegan, and exploring meditation, I opened my mind to these ideals. Also realizing that luxury and material possessions did not bring true and lasting happiness (thereby jet-setting on this HFFH journey) definitely makes me feel somewhat intrigued by this way of life.
Am I looking to become a Buddhist completely? Probably not. But our visit to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples (and the week we spent at the Vagabond Temple) definitely moved me, even just in the direction of researching this much-spoken about way of life that, turns out, has beliefs very much aligned to who I am, and for that, I feel grateful. Grateful and (somewhat) enlightened.