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Feeling the 'Spirits' in Siem Reap


Spirituality is a big deal in Asia, and in Cambodia, you can actually feel the 'spirits' surrounding you in a warm, lovely haze. Not for nothing this land provided the necessary backdrop for the filming of "Tomb Raider," and the ghosts are virtually everywhere—in the stone, in the foliage, and in the sky giving all of it a particular personality with the onset of the southwest monsoon. Visiting in early June, when the rains were just coming in, I wasn't even sure how I would get around and take it all in but luck was certainly on my side. A friendly and polite tuk tuk driver, a helpful hotel concierge, and a handful of short tour packages around Siem Reap ensured that I got the most out of my three-day trip over a long weekend.


The ancient temples in this charming town are spread across a vast sprawl, necessitating splitting a visit over at least two days to be able to appreciate it. The circuit is thus composed of a 'Grand/Big Circuit' and a smaller circuit. The Big Circuit is better done by tuk tuk or bicycle and involves walking through a maze of structures of varying sizes and levels, but the ones in this section are mainly over a single level, in other words on flat ground, and one does not need to do any climbing whatsoever. Nevertheless, the expanse can be exhausting indeed and the humongous trees provide much needed shade and cool comfort.


The names are quite a mouthful and difficult to remember but in serial order they comprise the temples of Pre Rup, Eastern Mebon, Ta Som and Neak Pean, because they are to be visited in this order only so as to get an idea of the chronological events of the history and religion of this region. Built by the Khmer kings of yore, they were Hindu in design to begin with and later subject to the advent of Buddhism. In yet later times, tribal conflict and modern wars drove both monk and common man out of the land, and for a long time afterwards, wild beasts and even wilder verdure made this their home and playground—infusing the stone with a life of its own, so to speak.


It might be a good idea to engage the services of a guide, or an even better idea to read up a little bit and do the tour entirely on one's own, and more or less hear the songs of the stones in the silence of the forest. This also allows one to spend as much or as little time at any one of the temples and feel the spiritual vibes making their way into the psyche—across time and space. The sumptuous lunch earned at the end of the tour is quite the reward for a heart rightly humbled.


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