Sunday, May 14, 2017

Spring Break: Unforgettable Day

Having just come back from Spring Break almost a week ago now, I've had a little bit of time to process what an awe inspiring journey it was. From Thai islands to Cambodia to Northern Vietnam, I had the great fortune to get glimpses of paradise and of rich cultures.

One day for me, however, truly stands out.

Journal entry 13/4/2560 (day/month/Buddhist year):

"Today was an amazing day. Like I'm not talking a "found-a-quarter-in-your-back-pocket" or "had-a-slice-of-chocolate-cake-after-dinner" sort of amazing days. I'm talking about those rare beautiful days where life feels magical - a "you-can't-keep-a-smile-off-of-your-face" sort of day."

So what is the location that had me quickly scribbling in my journal, unable to contain an overflow of excitement? Siem Reap, Cambodia home of Angkor Wat, delicious curries, welcoming individuals, and the Khmer New Year.

The day started off with a 4 a.m. alarm sounding off. I lay in bed an extra 5 minutes warding off deep sleep and fighting exhaustion having gotten to our hostel a little before midnight. I managed to drag myself out of bed, get dressed, and shove a granola bar into my mouth. I went downstairs to the lobby, the location where the three of us doing the tuk-tuk (a form of motorbike taxi) tour of Angkor Wat, one of the top ten wonders of the world, was meeting. After buying our tickets we raced to the temple complex to get there to witness the sunrise, which turned out to be mediocre, but the temple itself was extraordinary. The impressiveness of Angkor Wat lies in the carving of the pillars and the vast size (Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious site). The temple had been designed as a Hindu place of worship and then had transitioned into a Buddhist temple. From the top you could see the whole layout.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise

If I thought the architecture of Angkor Wat was stunning, I was in for a surprise to find that the smaller temples were to me even more spectacular. Since my writing cannot do these ancient monuments justice, please check out the pictures below.


Baksei Chamkrong

Tomb Raider Temple

Having returned to the hostel after the tour, I indulged in a quick nap, to be awaken by the sound of bells and singing. Peering out my window, I saw a group of Cambodians in striking costumes going door-to-door performing a type of dance, involving a deer and a hunter. I would later learn that this form of dance is called a trot dance and has been performed to start off the Khmer New Year for over 1000 years! Awake and now ready to explore, I stretched my legs by wondering through the small but bustling downtown area of Siem Reap, stopping at a few touristy shops and a Made in Cambodia Market, where I purchased pepper tea and a lotus bud shaped bronze ring. Later that night the group of nine of us who were all traveling together had dinner at a restaurant called Khmer Kitchen, where I had the best coconut based curry with tofu and pumpkin that I have ever placed in my mouth. Ending the night was the start of the New Year celebration, also known as Songkran and celebrated in Thailand, which involved a street wide water gun fight and dance party, with people smearing baby powder on our faces wishing us a "Happy New Year!" I hadn't had that much fun at a celebration for a really long time.

Aftermath of Songkran

So that, in short, is one of my most unforgettable days I've had studying abroad. From gorgeous ancient temples, to watching a traditional dance, to shopping at a craft market, to eating the most scrumptious meal I've had in Asia, to an outstanding party, how could I have gone wrong? My love for this day and experience has peaked my interest in learning more about this captivating country's culture and history, a place that had previously remained under my radar. Just goes to show you that you never fully know what to expect when travelling and what will end up being your favourite memories.

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