Our first morning in Cambodia, we were up at 4:30am, watching as our driver zipped through the quiet, dark streets of Siem Reap. Fifteen minutes later, he stopped and told us, “You head that way, and I’ll be waiting for you over by that tree when you’re done.”
It was pitch black and we had no idea where to go. We turned on our tiny flashlights and started following all the other little flashlights bouncing along in the same direction. Soon we were stepping up a few steps, seeing stone relief carvings, and feeling a rush of excitement. Walking along, we noticed water on both sides of our path, and David turned to me and said, “We’re on the causeway.”
We had both wanted to go to Cambodia for years, and had poured over books about Angkor and spent many a lazy Sunday watching shows about it. To hear, “We’re on the causeway” stopped me in my tracks. We were really here. We were on the ancient causeway we’d seen on maps and in books for years. It was one of those travel moments that stopped me cold, flooded me with first excitement and then gratitude.
We kept walking, now with a hyper sense of awareness. I didn’t even want to breathe, just absorb and remember each second of this experience. We reached a small crowd, still in the pitch black, and realized this is where we wait.
Over the next 2 hours, the light slowly changed from pitch black, to unveil first one of the world’s most famous silhouettes, and then one of the world’s most amazing structures. Happening so slowly, it gave us time to absorb and prolong the experience. Instead of getting out of a tuk-tuk and striding up to the temple, the temple was slowly revealed to us.
At one point, I turned to David and said in disbelief, “This is our life today, we’re watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat.”
So often we see people traveling, and they’re trying hard to pack so much in. They run through places, check sights off their list, snap a photo and head on to the next site. I can’t imagine waiting a lifetime to see a place, only to race through it.
That morning in Angkor, I was reminded why it’s so important to slow down when you travel, and let your senses be heightened. That it’s important to plan well, so that you get the most out of your time in a place, but not to plan so much that you have no room for spontaneity. It’s important to get off the beaten path, but also remember that the path is beaten for a reason and those places are worth visiting.
Nature set the timing for us that morning, and it forced us to slow down, and just watch. A building we’ve wanted to see for years, slowly revealed itself to us. We had no place to rush off to and simply stood there and let ourselves absorb it all.
This is one way I strive to make travel more meaningful.
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Let yourself be overwhelmed by the grandeur, and also the tiny details. Get the most out of where you are and be grateful that at that particular time in your life, you're able to do this. You can Facebook about it later; power off and experience it.
Let the experience change you.
Photo credit: David Hansen