“You have to travel to see new light, find new hope, renew the mind and revitalize the soul.” Lailah Gifty Akita
It was summer in January on a beach in Napier, New Zealand. The weather was hot and the sun was setting at 930 PM. The moon was out at the same time. My new friend pinched the fingers of both her hands together and said, “This is a pinch me moment”. I had heard of pinch me moments when someone wins an Academy Award or accomplishes a dream but I had never heard of it standing on a beach watching a sunset. She explained that, “You pinch your fingers to save the moment. When I am sitting in my kitchen in England and I look out the window at the dreary weather, I will remember this moment.”
As I watched the moon that night, it made sense that it is also the small moments that resonate in our minds. They are part of the story making events of our lives. Here are some of my travel pinch me moments. (photo by Cordula Reins)
Looking out at the balloons in the air over Cappadocia, Turkey.
Watching the sun set over the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Rainbow over Iguazu Falls, Missiones, Argentina
Angor Wat, Cambodia
Walking on the beach in Varadero, Cuba
Sailing on the Mekong Delta, Viet Nam
Machu Picchu .
Seeing the elephants up close in Kruger National Park, South Africa
The Tori Gates on Myajima, Japan
The view of the volcano in Santorini, Greece
Things I Have Learned In Cambodia
“If you smile at me, i will understand because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language,” Crosby Stills Nash and Young
The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in South East Asia. It is bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand.
Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia.
In Cambodia, greeting is formally done by joining both the palms together in front of each other and then bowing. This is called Sompeah and is usually initiated by the younger or lower rank of people.
Electricity in Cambodia is in pressing need in the rural areas. It is supplied in the evening only from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM while the business establishments and hotels rely more on generators. It is not uncommon to receive notes in your hotel about power outtages..
The infamous tyrant leader Pol Pot, who took control of Cambodia in 1975, was considered the most notorious war criminal of modern times.
Over one and a half million people died during the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. The exact number is not known . It could be a lot more. One-fifth of Cambodia’s population was killed. They were mostly educated people, priests, and monks. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot wanted all educated Cambodians dead so that nobody would oppose their rule. You don’t see many old people.
Americans do not learn Asian History in school unless it directly affects us. Cambodia is still a traumatized country from the time of the Khmer Rouge and it is good to read about it. I read First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime – or watch the Killing Fields before you go.
UNESCO has listed Cambodia as the third most landmined country in the world. More than 4 million landmines are still strewn across the country causing a high amount of casualties. It is estimated that it will take a decade before all the land mines are cleared up.
Cambodia has the highest per-capita percentage of amputees in the world. Each month there are between 300 and 700 amputations due to land-mine injuries.
Cambodia has the largest inland lake in South East Asia called the Tonle Sap.
Cambodia has the least Chinese influences among all the other Mainland Southeast Asian nations.
Cows are a part of life in an agrarian economy and you see them all around Cambodia. Often you see children entrusted with the responsibility of walking with them.
Since motorbikes are cheaper than cars in Cambodia is not unusual to see whole families on one bike.
Rice is ubiquitous in Cambodian meals. It is served in many forms that include fried, steamed, noodles or dessert. (rice field)
The relationship between water buffalo and humans in Cambodia is integral to their agricultural way of life. They have no fear of us. I was very close. He was like “just take the photo already”.
The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by 95% of the Cambodian population.
Tarantula kebabs are a popular delicacy in Cambodia. Spiders are another delicacy or necessity served in Cambodia,
Prahok is a national ingredient in Cambodia, and is made of fermented fish.
Cambodian food is a complex mix of local dishes and various influences such as Thai, French, and Sino-Vietnamese and is really tasty. (amok and morning glory)
Cambodia’s motto is “Nation, Religion, King.
The Temples of Angor are a great place to take wedding photos.
The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is an outgrowth of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK), which through the 1980s served as the single party, providing discipline and leadership for the socialist state. It is not clear to what extent the transition to a multiparty democracy has taken place. There is a lot of corruption in the political system.
Many people in Siem Reap speak English because “the people who know more teach the people who know less.” School is in the morning or the afternoon. Now most of the kids you see working in Siem Reap do it before or after school.
Hammocks are a lifestyle in Viet Nam and even more in Cambodia. Maybe it is the heat but they are everywhere.
Garment export and tourism are two of the main industries that generate revenue for the economy of Cambodia. (I’m hoping garment export doesn’t mean factories with underpaid workers)
Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old.
Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated in Cambodia. Older people might not even know their birthdays.
In Cambodia, the head is regarded as the highest part of the body and shouldn’t be touched even in the nicest way.
The Cambodian flag is the only national flag that has an image of a building – the Angkor Wat.
Cambodia is home to the emblematic Angkor Wat temple, which is a silent testimony to how resourceful and artistically brilliant its people are.
Angor Wat, Cambodia
“One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo – might take its place besides our most beautiful buildings – Grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome …it makes the traveler forget all the fatigues of the journey, filling him with admiration and delight, such as should be experienced on finding a verdant oasis in the sandy desert” Henry Mouhot (the French explorer who publicized Angor Wat by writing about his findings)
There’s a moment just before you do what it is you have anticipated doing for your whole life, that is better than actually doing it. That is how it felt as the plane landed in Siem Reap. Everyone was a tourist. Everyone had their Iphones out and were snapping photos out the window and of the Cambodian Airlines plane that we were on.
Collective excitement is definitely more exciting – especially in many different languages. We were here. The place that we had watched on the Discovery Channel specials, or documentaries and/or had seen photos of, was just a few miles from the airport. The next day, everyone on that plane was about to see one of the most impressive sights in the world.
Angor Wat is the largest temple in the world and the world’s largest religious building constructed of stone.
It is often described as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas-reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. The Cambodian word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Nagara’ meaning ‘holy city’. It was originally built as a Hindu temple.
Angkor Wat is unusually oriented to the west, a direction typically associated with death in Hindu culture. Archaeologists and scholars disagree about why the ancient builders chose to deviate from the ‘norm’ at the time. Bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat read counterclockwise, another sign that the temple is associated with funeral rituals.
Also unusual for the time of construction, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu a Hindu deity, rather than the current king.
Angkor Wat was shifted from Hindu to Buddhist use sometime around the late 13th century. The temple is still used by Buddhists today.
The temples greatest sculptural treasure is its 2 meter high bas reliefs, around the walls of the outer gallery.
It is the longest continuous bas reliefs in the world. In some areas, traces of paint and gilt that once covered the carvings can still be seen.
There are scenes of legends, wars and everyday life, enhanced by carvings of nearly 2,000 apsaras, or celestial dancers.
Angor Wat was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1992.The site suffered from decades of unregulated tourism and looting; many ancient statues have been decapitated and their heads sold to private collectors.
An international collaborative effort has helped to slowly restore sites and prevent further collapse of unstable structures.
Sokimex, a private company founded by an ethnic Vietnamese-Cambodian businessman, has rented Angkor Wat from Cambodia since 1990 and manages tourism there – for profit.
Most of the money to restore Angkor Wat comes from foreign aid.
Only an estimated 28% of ticket sales goes back into the temples,
It is architecturally and artistically breathtaking. No photograph can capture the immensity of this monument.
I expected to have some deep spiritual connection with Angor Wat but I did not. Instead I felt the imprints of history and stood in awe of the skill and artistry that covers ever inch of the buildings from an ancient Khmer universe that surpasses the imagination.
Ten Reasons To Go To Southeast Asia
“What we think, we become.”- Buddha
- Angkor Wat –the largest temple in the world is a big bucket list item for me.
- Best quality fakes.
- I like seeing monks walking around and not just at temples – at the airport, on their cell phones, shopping, in the mall, on public transportation etc.
- Street Food. I wish that I was as adventurous as my food hero Anthony Bourdain, but if it’s cooked, or has a thick skin like mangos and someone else eats it first, I will try it.
- I like condensed milk in my coffee.
- Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in Southeast Asia, and since the beach season never ends, you can live in a state of perpetual summer (like Los Angeles where I’m from)
- Chaos – crowded cities with motorbikes and skyscrapers. Contrasts – people working in triangle hats in green rice paddies.
- Amazing Asian photo opportunities for my new Asian camera.
- Culture and History – different Eastern traditions, lifestyles, fashion, beliefs , languages, ancient temples, the Vietnam War and the terror of the Khmer Rouge.
- Buddhism was recently voted the best religion in the world International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) Joanna Hult, Director of Research for ICARUS said “It wasn’t a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake’” I love Buddhist countries. The best part of the story is they can’t find a Buddhist to accept the award because “The Buddhist nature is in everyone.”