I gaze out the airplane window at flat green land with irregular rectangles for fields and an enormous lake in the distance where trees stand knee-deep in water. The plane touches down and stops a short distance from a low elegant building with a tiled-roof that looks more like a Buddhist monastery than an airport. The doors open, we step out into warm-moist air and down onto the tarmac at Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was full and now excited tourists, speaking a multitude of languages, spill down the steps and toward the airport taking pictures and chattering with excitement. I wish my camera weren’t packed away deep inside my luggage. Promising myself I’ll have it out on our return, I enter the picturesque building.
Immediately, we’re swept into a chaotic “line” to buy a visa to enter the country. Luckily, we have photos and $20 a pop ready, but I watch with dread as my passport gets whisked away by an official in an impressive semi-circular line of bureaucrats and I’m told to proceed to the other end of the room.
“Never lose sight of your passport!”–the ominous warning flashes through my mind, because yes, I am that paranoid. I try to trace the path of the all-important bluebook that determines my identity as it changes hand after hand but I soon lose track of it among the host of other passports making the same journey.
While I’m still trying to pinpoint its location, my name is called and I sigh with relief. My passport is handed back to me, visa for a single entry to the Kingdom of Cambodia in place, no questions asked.
Now to locate luggage and the hotel pick-up and before long we’re whizzing by rice fields and small canals where waterlilies raise magenta heads between water buffaloes, and fishermen dip nets for the day’s meagre catch.
And the driver of the hotel car is chatting up a storm about tourists and bad Cambodian roads and his family…and I think about why we’re here.
Two words — Angkor Vat.
I’d always dreamed of seeing Angkor Vat, the largest religious monument in the world, ever since I studied this amazing temple in history classes in school, many moons ago. It never ocurred to me then that someday I might get the chance. But a few months ago, things started to happen — fast. My husband’s nephew was getting married in Mumbai. We obviously had to attend. The cheapest ticket to Mumbai was offered by Cathay Pacific flying through Hong Kong and layovers were free.
But, most importantly, the latest National Geographic arrived and featured on its cover was — Angkor Vat.
Now, anyone who’s ever leafed through a National Geographic magazine knows just exactly how seductive NG photography is. Pieces of a puzzle I didn’t even know existed started to fall into place. Before I knew it, we’d booked a flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia, doorway to Angkor Vat, on our way home from Mumbai via Hong Kong.
Angkor Vat had grabbed hold of my imagination so many years ago and apparently had never let go and now it was calling…and who was I to resist.
Who is this unhappy dude and what is he holding?