Dust that coats your eyelids, lips, arms, the space between your toes. Dust that drives visitors and locals alike to wrap scarves around their faces and pull masks over their mouths.
Mother Nature at her rawest. Storms – one, two, perhaps three – all in the space of the 2-hour journey from the border to Siem Reap. Rain that beats down on your taxi with ferocious fists. Lightning that zigzags straight into the barren, brown ground on the far edge of the horizon – touchdown. Later, flashes of light in quick succession illuminate the distant night sky as you stroll into the township – more distant storms, perhaps?
Drivers, shopkeepers, beggars calling out to you at every turn. It’s a constant battle to shake them off, and an exhausting one. Hustling to earn a few bucks. A restaurant server who even moves to help you find a seat at the establishment opposite his own. Bizarre.
So many temples. So many steps – steps that children, pregnant women, and those in immodest dress are barred from climbing. A fear of heights is no asset here. Not on these rickety, steep flights, some best scaled as you would a ladder, hand over hand.
The oldest place, by far, that I have ever set foot inside. The scale of Angkor’s national park is incredible. The feats they accomplished without the efficiencies of modern technology, mindblowing.
But I can’t lie. While we’re privileged today to enjoy the results of that hard labour, I can’t help but wonder … what if, rather than directed toward feeding royal egos, that energy and vision was channeled into something more widely beneficial – say, providing the basics for the masses?