“Angkor Wat…” the Russian traveller waited for a response from the young Aussie seated across from him, “but how is this possible you do not know Angkor Wat?”
I had been listening to their conversation for a while now. Maybe it was the way the Russian man was pronouncing the name of the temple that was confusing the poor Aussie, so I turned around and tried to help out.
“You know, Angkor Wat, the giant temple complex in Cambodia. It’s one of the wonders of the world…”
But he just shook his head and laughed, “I really don’t know it.”
The Russian man stared at him in wonder, “no, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible you do not know this is Angkor Wat.”
I woke up this morning thinking about all the photos from the temples of Angkor which I haven’t even come close to sharing, and I remembered the story of the young Australian who despite having Cambodia on his Southeast Asia itinerary, hadn’t the faintest idea about the most famed temple in all of Cambodia.
And then I started wondering what it would be like to arrive at the temples of Angkor without any preconceived notions of what it looks like.
No idea of the smiling stone faces at Bayon, or the tree roots that wrap themselves like octopus tentacles around the walls of Ta Prohm, or the way the sun rises over Angkor Wat as hundreds of pilgrims sit by the pond under the cover of night.
I bet he was wowed.
* * * * *
I still remember what it felt like to go to Europe for the first time – either the travel bug hadn’t bit me hard enough yet, or I was really horrible at researching destinations, but I arrived in Germany without the faintest idea of what was out there.
In a way, my ignorance was bliss, because even though I didn’t have a clue of all the things I wanted to do or see, all these new places and experiences found me – the pink castle ruins in Heidelberg, the hot dog stands serving up Frankfurters with Sauerkraut in Frankfurt, the lush forests in Baden-Württemberg, the summer picnics in the gardens behind the palace in Karlsruhe.
It’s hard to be disappointed when you have no idea what you’re going to find.
I now prefer thoroughly researching my destinations and having a general plan of what I want to do while I am some place new (I don’t like missing out on things!), however, there was a certain magic to wandering around a city aimlessly like I did back on my first European visit.
For the Aussie guy coming to Cambodia for the first time, it probably felt the same way.