I arrived in Siem Reap after a three day motorcycle trip across Cambodia’s northern outback, territories not accessible by bus, with a man who explained, just before squeezing my backpack between his knees and motioning for me to sit on the remaining four inches of seat behind him, “I think there’s a dirt road we can use, if not, I know my way through the jungle.”
When I arrived, after my days and hours alone with the Khmer, I found the temple crowds stifling and decided I wasn’t required to join them. It turns out this was a good idea.
For five U.S. dollars, you can be the only human soul alive or dead atop the largest religious structure ever realized by mankind. You can watch the guard tuck the $5 into his wallet and stretch back the gate just enough for you to get your legs over it and you can climb 55 meters skyward at dusk and you can be entirely alone with the gods.
And you can perch yourself atop the highest stone of the right-hand tower of Angkor Wat and if you don’t believe in anything anymore, you will believe in this. And if you are emotionally bankrupt, this will fill you. Your demons will surrender and your mind will be still. Just for a moment. And because life exists only in impermanent moments, in this one, your life will be perfect.
And you can stroll the ancient corridors in the day’s lingering light – the sun’s gift to you after it has already gone. And you can take off your hat and your shoes and lift the cloth of your shirt to expose your back and lay flat on the stone that still holds the day’s heat and let 900 years of faith and fury and ambition and humanity touch your skin and seep into your blood. And here you can have a small conversation with your heart and it will whisper to you the secrets of its resilience.
And when it’s nearly too dark to see your feet, you can give the stones a kiss and make your descent and three armed guards will escort you through the maze of corridors and down the sandstone causeway. And when it’s entirely too dark to see and you can hear only your footsteps and the screeching of bats overhead, you will think that the guards are going to pull out flashlights but instead they’ll pull out iPhones and you’ll walk out of Angkor Wat flanked by the legacies of two great men: King Suryavarman II and Steve Jobs.
And when they ask where your driver is and you explain that you walked to the temple in the morning before sunrise and don’t have one, they won’t believe you but no matter. One of the guards will offer you a ride. And you’ll watch him retrieve his motorbike from a bit of jungle near the mighty outer wall and as you snake eastward and drive away, you’ll peer backward and watch the soaring pillars disappear into a moonless, deep blue night.
And you’ll fly and fly and weave through tuk-tuks and cars helmet-less and it will all be okay, because for just a moment, for just a little while longer, nothing can touch you.
By Amy Benson
Amy Benson is a writer, wanderer and woodworker from Brooklyn. She has traveled extensively throughout South America, Asia and Southern Africa, and currently lives and works in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert. When she isn’t doing battle with bats or meerkats, she spends time at a small primary school where she recently completed construction on a library. She hopes to spend the next 12 months creating a carpentry center where students can learn basic woodworking and entrepreneurial skills.Her writing has been published by The Matador Network and OverlandInternational.
Website: Crimson Tundra
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