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At 5:30 AM, we walked through the outer gates of the Angkor Wat. In total darkness, a hundred others and I were trying to find the perfect spot to sit near the lily pond across the main temple. After 15 minutes and some twilight seeping through, I could make out the four towers in front of me. I sat with my headphones in and waited. At the world's largest religious monument, this sunrise was already special. I did not expect a transcendental crisis for the next few hours.
I must have been listening to the right song.
Inside, you’ll find pillars, standing walls, pieces of walls, and ceilings ornate with incomprehensible detail. The temple walls depict religious pluralism with Buddhist and Hindu teachings and war scenes. Hundreds of thousands of people chipped away at stone to tell these stories and devise magnificence. Dating back to the 12th century, I can’t help but assume my ancestors walked these grounds 800 years ago. Despite the millions of visitors each year that climb the ancient steps and grease up the carvings, this abandoned metropolis remains a marvel.
People ask if this trip is changing me. Endless time to think about everything and nothing is what's changing me. What I take from this city is this: Earth would be fine without humans. What distinguishes us as "remarkable" is our ability to create and imagine. The lasting architecture and complexity in Angkor’s design is a mystery. Angkor Wat is the answer I needed after being unable to explain the difference between me and the AI hosts at Westworld.
You don’t live surrounded by history in most of America. Anything more than 300 years old fascinates us. Angkor is overwhelming and I wouldn’t tell anyone to rush it. To paraphrase an astonishing comparison I read before visiting: Angkor Wat was one of the world's largest metropolis, housing over a million people - at a time when London was only a population of 50k. If it weren’t for wars and genocide, it’s impossible to say where this country would be today. Every temple surrounding Angkor Wat would be it’s own highlight anywhere else in the world.
Between two to three days spent at the temples, you can graze through food stalls on pub street or haggle for yet another pair of harem style elephant pants at the night market. If you're bold, try a "happy pizza". Don't feel guilty ordering lok lak everyday; how do you top spicy meat and rice topped with a fried egg?
Music Matters: I have a playlist for every specific occasion or mood. I created album covers for my public Spotify playlists. The second best compliment you can give me is “I love your [insert name] playlist”. So yes, I am weird about this.
If you’re on Spotify, here’s the Touring Asia playlist.
That “right song” was Slowly Rising by Beatsofreen. Definitely listen while you go through these pictures. It also comes with a beautiful animated video.