Monday, October 23, 2006

The Australian Cricket team

For a little bit of fun I decided to see if I could met the Australian Cricket team whilst in India and was informed on the good advice of a dodgy rickshaw driver with a crocked eye that they would be staying at a posh hotel around the corner from mine.

On arrival at the hotel there was heavy security, Indian guards with guns patrolled the long lush driveway and I wondered if I would be stopped as my dirty old rickshaw approached.

With my head up and my chin in the air I strode though as if I owned the place.

On entering the hotel a man with a turban and a moustache that would make Merv Hughes envious let me in and directed me to the bar.

Like every good spy/stalker you have to dress the part. Wearing my backpacking best, which consisted of Havianna’s, a dress over jeans (it is India) and a little eye makeup I headed to the Rajaputan Hotel, Jaipor’s finest establishment and base camp for the ICC in Jaipor. Only in India would I go to such lengths to get a snap shot with my heroes.

I sat at the bar on a large lounge opposite reception and awaited their arrival from their devastating defeat against the West Indies in Mumbai.

The English team swarmed around me, Peterson, Bell and Mamood sat opposite deep in conversation, they were all tan and more buff in real life than you would expect.

Lonely was I the girl with the Ipod and notebook as I scoured the room for my first glimpse of the Aussies.

After draining one large local beer I asked the waiter to ask the English players if it would be ok if I came over for a chat.

Normally, never one to talk to the enemy I was alone and bored and thought I might be able to gain some useful insights for the Australian team.

On sitting with Mamood and Bell I was alarmed at their jovial attitude and friendly sprit. Mamood asked why I was so shy and said I should have come up earlier. Mamood’s Leister accent was difficult to understand and his size left me in awe, making me feel miniature.

We started sledging each other and before I knew it the match was on!

Mamood asked why I was going for Australia when they were going to loose and I replied with. 'We’ll see, but can you do me one favour, have a good game but not a great one with a wink…

The banter continued and Bell looked on, I left them soon after so they could talk real cricket.

An hour later I noticed a lot of commotion in the reception area and saw that the Australian team had arrived, cameras flashed and people cheered and I walked up some stairs and was almost knocked over by Simon Katich. For a second it just did not seem real. All the big names filed past me and I actually thought I was dreaming, they all said G'day and I was stunned!

I was too shy to takes pictures and hoped they would come to the bar. Within minutes Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist walked in and soon they were joined by Andrew Symonds and Glenn McGrath.

I watched from afar before summoning the courage to talk to Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. I asked if would be ok to have a chat and a picture and they were very obliging.

Ricky joked 'I hope your camera is working' and I replied 'me too, it's not every day a girl gets her picture taken with the Australian Captain and Vice Captain' Andrew Symonds piped up in the background 'but he's not' and for a second I thought I was wrong.

Thoughts went flying through my head as quick as lightening, perhaps I had insulted them both, I wondered if Adam Gilchrist had been dropped without my noticing and I asked Ricky 'has something changed' to which Adam replied 'only in his head' we all laughed and posed for the photo.

I then spoke to Andrew Symonds who asked me which part of Australia I came from, when I replied Sydney he said 'bad luck', and said that he thought I might have been from the shire and I said 'please give me some credit'.

Next I chatted about golf with Collingwood an English player, he was lovely and like most cricket players could almost be a professional golfer if he wanted to with a handicap of 4 (so I was told).

Whilst chatting, Collingwood spun around when Glen MaGrath tapped him on the shoulder and I had to stand on tip toes to have eye contact with him (he is massive).

Collingwood introduced me to Glen and we had a good chat and I said 'you are huge' and as humble as anyone who is not the best fast bowler Australia has ever produced said 'well it kinda helps when you are a fast bowler'.

Glen then let me measure my height against him; in flat shoes my head does not even reach the top of his shoulder. He then asked if I wanted him to introduce me to Ricky Ponting, I was stunned by his openness and kindness and told him that I had already met him and he said ... 'cool no worries, if you see anyone else you want to met just let me know and I will make sure you get a picture...

I went home that night on a cloud and looked at the pictures again and again.

Operation met the Australian team- successful!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Varanasi: where birth and death collide.

Varanasi is considered to be one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it feels it too. Perched precariously on the banks of the Ganges, it is a pilgrimage site and considered the holiest city in India. It is a place where people come to die, where people choose to live and the place of my birth into the real India.

The banks of the river are a hive of activity, they house 80 Ghats which a stairwells into the Ganges that enable people to bathe in the water to be cleansed both physically and spiritually.

I saw people in orange and white robes with dreaded heads in abundance, Jesus look-alikes, colorful saris, beggars, cripples, the elderly, newborns, street kids and tourists.

Tourists in the city take all forms, I categories most of them loosely as the rainbow people who come to India for enlightenment and it is easy to see why.

India, with it’s unconquerable traffic, continual rhythm of loud horns and the constant hassle you get from locals make almost forces you to try and seek inner calm in a country filled with so much chaos purely as a means of survival.

What I have noticed since coming to India is it is very difficult to relax here and I am constantly on guard, raising my voice and telling people to go away and at times I hate myself for developing into this being. I hope I find tolerance, not enlightenment just the ability to laugh at myself and the Indians.

On arrival at Varanasi train station after a 14 hour ride from Delhi with a carriage of Buddhist monks, I headed straight for Assi Ghat. Within seconds of standing there beside the river it seems as though you can feel the spirit of the place, it is haunting and enchanting to think of the hundreds of thousands of people whose ashes litter the Ganges.

Immediately I was befriended by two street kids, Raju and Vishnu who decided to follow me along the river and impress me with their English. The boys were aged 10/12 and worked at a silk factory in the afternoons for 6 hours per day and paid less than one Australian dollar.

They asked for no money just friendship and warned me of the bad men who sell marijuana along the banks.

That night the kids asked me to go to a festival with them and together we sat as they explained the Shiva celebration we were witnessing which involved lots of songs, chants, flowers and incense.

The next day I awoke before dawn for a magical trip down the Ganges at day break, the light was incredible and took my breath away.

The sun rose and it was the most delicious shade of honeyed pink I have ever seen bathing the banks of the river with ethereal yellow light. The photos speak for themselves.

After watching scores of people praying in the morning light I went back to my hotel The Temple of Ganges and enjoyed India for the first time.

In the afternoon, I paid Raju and Vishnu to take me on a walking tour of the city, through rambling and never ending alleys we roamed seeing countless cows, dogs and people stopping at temples, silk factories and peoples houses for a chat. Kids followed me through the street and I brought a bag of chocolate to hand out. Delighted, they asked me to photograph them and then giggled in amazement as I showed them their beautiful faces. I learnt to say beautiful little child in Hindi ‘Punta Buboo’ and it is my favourite expression, the reaction it gets is priceless.

The old quarter here is perhaps dirtier than Delhi but smells exactly the same like urine and excrement with the odd note of incense. You have to love India if only for the scent.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A perfect picture

I didn't really want to get out of bed; 5:00am seems like an unnatural time to wake up.

With a throbbing headache I quickly got dressed and went by taxi to New Delhi railway station to catch the Shabarti express to Agra.

Agra is an old industrial city located about 200 kilometers from Delhi and situated within Indian's most populist state Uttar Pradesh. It used to be the most important city in India when Babur a Mungal leader established the city as the capital of his empire in the 16th Century.

The city now trades off it's past glories and the fact it is home to India’s most photographed monument, the Taj Mahal.

Built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his wife who died giving birth to their 14th child, it is a reminder of what is possible when you love.

With blue sky overhead, I jumped into my Ambassador Classic a car made in Calcutta in the style of a 1960’s Holden, complete with fins and lots of chrome.

My driver took me to the west gate and I had no idea that is was actually the place where the Taj stood, as in the 1990’s the government decreed a 4 kilometer buffer zone be placed around the Taj in an attempt to slow the discoloration occurring as a result of carbon monoxide pollution.

In searing heat I walked to another gate passing monkeys, donkeys and cows, where I was forced to go through a series of security checks and cloak everything but my money, camera passport and water.

With my first glimpse of the Taj I was instantly impressed, the white minuets glowed against the cobalt sky.

I had to pinch myself to actually believe that I was there. For me that was the best part, the culmination of years of dreaming realized symbolically by standing in front of one of the modern wonders of the world.

Don’t get me wrong, the construction is extraordinary, intricately inlayed with precious stones and exquisitely carved, it is an amazing achievement.

The Taj takes a nice photo too and it is hard to actually take a bad picture of it but it does not leave you spellbound. I did not grasp for air after or during my perusal, I felt like I was in the India of my dreams with the photo to prove it. Because the Taj photographs so well and because we all know the image so intimatley the real excitement of being there is the feeling of accomplishment one receives when you realise that you survived the journey.

Going to the Taj felt like it has allowed e to tick the box on my itinerary that said India because before I went there I thought that excursion to be the most Indian of things, how silly I was.

After wandering around for a short while, allowing my feet to feel the cool marble underneath and letting my fingers slide over the Taj’s curvaceous exterior I went to sit on the grass and to look and admire.

Soon what started with child requesting my photo turned into bedlam and I quickley became the second most photographed thing in India, with 100 or more people queuing for my picture and autograph. For one hour I was hounded and I posed and joked with my fans.

Who or what they though I was are another of life’s little mysteries thrown at me by India.

As boys blushed and girls giggled I smiled on the inside, comfortable at being there, realising that the best thing about going to Taj is it allows you to see past the hype and appreciate the real Indi, a country filled with of old bazaars, never ending lines, colour and joy.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mother India

No one said it was going to be easy and one friend said in the nicest possible way 'I hope that mother India destroys you and then puts you back together again' and perhaps that is the most accurate way to describe the effect this place has on me.

Can anything prepare you for the absolute insanity that is simply India? I asked myself that question when I was in Bangkok about to board my flight and I ask myself it again now as I sit in a ridiculously hot and stuffy Internet cafe.

The answer is no.

On arrival at Indira Gandhi airport the first thing I noticed was the grotty carpet, I suspect it was originally grey and now it is a putrid shade of brown. I also noticed that everything appeared to be happening in slow motion.

I joined an excessively long line to go through immigration and waited about one hour to be processed, worried that my luggage would have been stolen in the intervening period I realised how naive I was being.

On approach to the baggage claim I noticed that there were very few bags actually
going around and mine was not one of them. Immediately I panicked until I then noticed that no one had got their bags yet.

I waited for another 40 minutes for it to come off the plane. What happens from touch down to that point is one of life's little mysteries. On exiting the airport I was surrounded by a hoard people and I was thankful that in amongst the crowd was a sign bearing my name.

Immediately I noticed the smell oscillating from the majestic to the revolting. At times beautiful, full of flavoursome spices and delicious incense and at other times all I could smell was burning wood mixed with curry farts and excrement.

My driver and I walked through the sea of people and approached a black miniature mini van. Not quite a mini van by Australian standards more like a mini minor turned into a van.

We drove in silencve to the hotel. It was in a plush suburb of New Delhi and was spacious and quiet, I awoke the next morning and enjoyed an engaging conversation with Avnish and Urvashi Puri the owners of the Master Paying Guest House.

They explained that the city is dived into two parts; New Delhi which is quite modern and hip (by Indian standards) and; Old Delhi which is absolute madness, full of winding alleys, overcrowded with people and bazaars but home to two of Delhi's major tourist attractions the Red Fort and the Mosque.

The divide between New and Old Delhi is extreme and Old Delhi feels like it hasn't changed in centuries on the other hand New Delhi is home to the affluent, a few skyscrapers and foreign expats.

India is difficult, today I went shopping to buy some Indian style cloths in an attempt to play down my inherent femininity and try an avoid a lot of the unwanted attention I can't seem to avoid. After one hour of being pushed, pulled, yelled at and directed dubiously I lost my cool in a typically KP kind of way.

Suffering from a massive dose of culture shock, pollution, heat and exhaustion when I got into a debate with one tout too many I automatically started to cry. Fearing the vulnerability that my tears would bring I sat down and took out a baby wipe and tried to wipe my tears away. Whilst I did this a group of about 100 people gathered around to watch and for the first time on my trip I wished I was at home with my head under the doona.

Old Delhi is cathartic, it is bursting at the seems with people and full of energy. Crossing the road here requires my skills from Vietnam but also my patience, as waiting for the hundreds of cars, buses, horse and carts, cows, people, cyclo's and auto rickshaw's (tuk tuks) to pass takes time.

Old Delhi feels like it would be better off without me spatially as maneuvering yourself to avoid being touched (rudely) requires a great deal of strength and stamina that I am unsure if I possess. The city is dusty and dirty with rubbish piled up everywhere, most parts look like they could do with a dose of domestos.

After aborting my shopping trip earlier than expected I decided to get the metro home. Catching the train here is an experience of another kind, which involves going through tough security checks where people actually look in your bag. The subway is very new and sparkles and modelled on the London tube, coming complete with a posh English accent that says ' please mind the gap'.

I felt like a sardine in a very small can and the stares continued. White single girls are in a minority here. What strikes me the most about India is the lack of women on the streets. I'd estimate that men out number women here by about 200:1 and aside from often being the only white person I am also the only women.

I wanted a challenge and that is why I came here, I just hope that I become more resilient as just being here makes me fear my own weaknesses.

Mother India, I hope you put me back together soon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It was all yellow

It's funny how listening to a familiar song can take you back to a place that is completely removed from where you currently stand.

I arrived in Bangkok at night (again) and joined an exceptional family that I met at Railay Beach in their cab to a hotel in Bangkok as I forgot to make a reservation.

As the taxi pulled up at The Atlanta, I couldn't help but notice the large sign above the door 'NO SEX TOURISTS WELCOME', which was a relief.. It seems that everywhere you turn in this city you are forced to look at sleazy, fat old men holding hands with beautiful young Thai girls. At times the affection between the two can be so perverse it makes your stomach churn and brings new meaning to the expression Over The Top.

The Atlanta is a budget hotel built in 1952, retaining it's gorgeous art deco charm by the fact it has not been renovated since inception. The foyer is amazing and worth a visit next time you're in Bangkok. With black and white tiles, a decorative chandelier and coloured in hues of red and maroon, it is a fantastic reception into Bangkok.

I was shown to my room and led up a grand circular staircase and I wondered how I would ever leave the hotel when I could sit and enjoy the internal goings on for hours.

The Atlanta has provided a home for many writers and creatives and has a writing room and a library stocked with all the titles of the compositions written within it's walls.

Sleep beckoned and on waking I went for a swim in the hotel's pool, built in the 50's the Atlanta was the first hotel in Bangkok to have a pool. It feels like the set of a Monroe movie and if you close your eyes you can imagine Gregory Peck or Marlon Brando swimming up next to you.

After a luxurious swim I went on an exploritry mission and wandered to the sky train, destination unknown for adventures sake.

I got off a couple of stops later and went for a cruise on a passenger ferry down a small estuary to the end of the line, where I got off and went back the way I came, not really that adventurous.

In the afternoon I went to the Grand Palace which I though a peculiar name, aren't all palaces meant to be grand? On arrival I understood, the Palace is more than your average mansion. Decorated with gold and colourful glass mosaics, it is exquisite.

Built in 1782, it is home not only to the throne but also some temples and state offices. Immediately I pulled my camera out and wondered how I would be able to capture it in it's entirety. Like Angkor, the Palace photographs well but it's beauty is hard to fully film because everywhere you look there is something, culminating with a twisted skyline woven in wonder.

On my way back to the hotel I noticed a peculiar thing, how I missed it in the morning I know not.

I discovered an unusual number of people were wearing yellow t-shirts. Was the coup 2 weeks prior the yellow revolution? Suddenly the lyrics to Coldplay's most famous some came into my mind and when I looked up I was swimming in a sea of yellow.

The more I looked, the more I noticed and soon I discovered there were more yellow shirts than I could count. Yellow flags adorned buildings, shops seemed to be crammed to bursting point with yellow things. Girls were carrying yellow handbags and some people were even wearing yellow pant suits.

How did I not notice this earlier? Was I going mad? Did I have an unusual form of jaundice effecting the eyes? Was this the yellow peril that Australians used to be afraid of? Unanswerable questions were arising quicker than I could think of rational solutions.

I decided to ask someone

The young girl I spoke to looked confused and mentioned that it was because the King had his birthday coming up and the people wanted to tell him happy birthday by wearing the shirt, definitely plausible.

Later when I quizzed someone else I was told that Monday is yellow shirt day, it is a part of a twelve month celebration for the King's 60 year anniversary of being on throne. Apparently if I stuck around until Friday I would have witnessed another 6 million people wearing blue shirts for the Queen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Paradise found

On approach to Koh Phi Phi, I was surprised to see that the sun was out, after battling monsoonal conditions on Railay, Phi Phi was bathed in yellow light.

After working my way through the 30 odd touts that had gathered on the dock, I headed for ‘The Rock’ a backpacker haunt that is meant to be cheap and cheerful.

On the walk through the main street I noticed an abundance of tattoos and tans, it seemed that everyone was adorned with some form of body art- that looked surprisingly good. I guess anything can look good in paradise. I spied an older man in a tropical print shirt that didn’t seem too out of place and for the first time I understood this phenomena and realized that Hawaiian shirts can look good but only in the tropics.

On arrival at the hostel I was greeted warmly but disappointed to find they only had dorm rooms available and no lockers, again ruing the fact I had my laptop on board I decided to do my insurance company a favor and stay somewhere else.

Immediately across the road I saw Sacha’s Guest House, an unassuming building with a bright orange sign. People were spilling out onto the veranda and the host seemed genuinely friendly. I quickly settled and set about exploring the island.

I decided to take a walk down to Charlie’s Beach where the Tsunami did the most damage; it is a natural beauty at a distance although on closer inspection I was alarmed at the piles of rubbish littering the shore and a hoard of tourists in g string bikini’s who didn’t seem to notice. I later found out that the rubbish blows in from Phuket and before the Tsunami the resorts that used to be in abundance along the beach hired people to keep things in pristine 5 star order. Disgusted I set about my own personal clean up and within minutes managed to amass more than I could carry.

Afterwards I booked into a dive course and met Mark from Watford- he came complete with an authentic cockney accent and called me ‘Kaffren’ from the offset.

Mark was a chippy before he became a dive instructor and I instantly warmed to him, with 1200 dives under his belt and the bluest eyes I have ever seen (I wonder if they had been affected by the sea?) I decided that he would be the right person to put me through my 3 day intensive PADDI course.

The first day involved lots of school work and required that I learnt about decompression illness, nitrogen narcosis and a whole hoard of other nasties that he assured me I wouldn’t get if I paid attention. It was then that I told him the truth, ‘all I really want to do is find Nemo’, he laughed and said ‘typical women, all you ever want is bloody Nemo’.

Our first day of diving saw us take the boat out to ‘the wall’ a great dive site about an hour away , I was strangely calm, despite being unable to sleep the night before because every time I closed my eyes I saw sharks.

At the moment of decent, I remembered my training and was immediately overawed by all the colors that exist underwater. Despite being encapsulated by an ocean of blue, I saw the brightest pinks, lushest greens and the most intoxicating purples I have ever seen.

In seconds, rough and tuff Mark transformed into someone resembling a Bolshoi ballerina and I realised that it was me that must have looked clumsy and goofy. I love that about diving; the fact that whoever you are above water counts for nothing and even the most unlikely become the daintiest dancer.

After a while I got my groove and before I knew it, we were getting up close and personal with nemo and his friends.

The following day we went to another spot called the pinnacles where I got the fear when some 3 meter leopard sharks decided to circle me and in my opinion they were doing so to signal lunch to each other.

In the afternoon I went back to my guesthouse and met Caroline the owner, flustered after just giving an interview to Getaway we chatted the afternoon away.

Caroline moved to Thailand 11 years ago after meeting a Thai man whist backpacking, settling in Phi Phi and opening a restaurant. When the Tsunami hit her sister was visiting from Sydney. Asleep upstairs above the restaurant she awoke to madness all around her. With no time to grab anything, she climbed onto the roof with her 5 month old son.

Assisted down by a nameless English man she fled to higher ground. Caroline told the story in a matter of fact way, there was no dressing anything up ‘see this, I think there must have been about 100 bodies between this building and that one’, staggered looking at a space not wider that 10 meters. Caroline recalled that about 60/70 people died in the adjacent buildings and spoke angrily that so many people didn’t even have a chance because they were asleep and it was not there fault.

Caroline told me the story of Sacha, the guest house was named after her 3 year old daughter Sacha who did not make it, her body was found a few days later along with her sister.

Caroline required no sympathy just an ear to listen. As the afternoon progressed, she pointed out all the people on the street that lost someone ‘see him, he lost his grandma and see her she lost her kids’, tragedy was all around.

Caroline decided to transform the restaurant into a guesthouse because she saw that her building was the only one left standing on the entire street and she said ‘I think that means something don’t you’, I did.

Caroline then told me that she was in the process of adopting another baby from Bangkok, I was inspired, she said ‘I experienced loss and so did this baby and hopefully together we can just be a happy family’.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Paradise lost

On arrival at Railay Beach I was greeted with all the beauty I had imagined.... the place is stunning and lives up to the hype.

I stepped of my long tail boat- a very cool way to travel if you don't mind getting a little wet and headed straight to Ya Ya's Resort on the recommendation of a friend from Sydney. Immediately the bliss that I had expected to find was shattered by the realization that people can be rude, rooms can be dingy, bathrooms can be dirty and that living the high life in Thailand can be expensive.

Railay is situated in Southern Thailand and whilst still being apart of the mainland it is referred to as ‘the island’ by the locals because it is surrounded by imposing lime stone cliffs, jungle and is only accessible by boat.

Railay is ruled by honeymooners, pregnant couples and rock climbers (an unlikely mix) and not really fitting into any of those categories I decided to leave after one long night.

The island is very small and consists of 4 beaches around a narrow belt of land combining a mix of reggae bars and luxury resorts.

After minimal sleep due to some rodent’s deciding that playing in my bathroom at 4:00am was fun, I boarded a boat and headed to Koh Phi Phi.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

KP conquers Angkor

KP Does Angkor, originally uploaded by kathrynparry41.

The picture above shows me on arrival at Angkor, the tower in the middle is the one that I climbed to watch the sun set.

On arrival at Siem Riep's bus station after a grueling 6 hour ride on a karaoke bus that blared non stop Cambodia music videos, I was scarred to get off the bus.

Surrounding me and the 20 other passengers were approximately 150 touts, scouts, motto drivers and tuk tuk's. The police had formed a human shield to protect the passengers getting off the bus, armed with batons and stun guns they cleared a path for us to jump off.

With my arms getting pulled every which way- I faced a difficult decision, with no pre booked accommodation I had to choose a scout and quickly.... I chose a sign that read- 'free tuk tuk into town- Shadow of Angkor Hotel' ignoring the sign that read my name fearing a scam that involves your hotel in Phnom Penh selling your name to a tout so they get a commission.

The driver got me out of the scrum that had viciously formed around me and we were off into his bright blue tuk. Within minutes on our approach into the town itself a young boy with a dirty t- shirt and no shoes riding his bicycle hitched a ride onto my tuk tuk; precariously he grabbed onto the side and got a free ride into town too.

I decided not to stay at the hotel as the room they were trying to get me to take had no window and involved a precarious walk up some stairs on a 60 degree angle.

Instead, I settled for a large hostel called Smiley’s (where people come up with these names beats me). Mustard in color and set a little out of town down in a neighborhood that turns into a prostitute and gangster ghetto at sundown. I checked into my room and set about arranging to get a driver to take me to the mythical Angkor to watch sunset.

On arrival at the gates of Angkor, the excitement started to build and I was hoping that I wouldn't be disappointed, given the hype that surrounds the tombs and temples, and I thought I was bound to be disappointed. I feared that the legend would be lost on me.

At 4:30 pm I approached the gates of Angkor and paid 20USD for a one day pass that allows you to enter the night before to watch sunset. My tuk tuk winded its way down a lush long drive littered with palm trees and the occasional monkey.

We turned the corner and I caught my first glimpse of Angkor. I saw the top of one of the temples, a single head staring right back at me. Soon we rounded the bend and suddenly it came into full view.

At first sight at a distance of 500 meters the place is AMAZING and only gets better on closer inspection. The enormity of the temples ensures that any attempt to describe or photograph it can do the place no justice.

The temple built in the 12th century is breathtaking and I don’t think anything can prepare you for the goose pimples that form on the back of your neck. It certainly is the highlight of my trip so far. It is grand beyond belief and older than you can ever image. At once I was certain that this had to be the centre of the world and home to the most sophisticated culture known to man.

Quickly I walked down a long drive until I was inside the temple itself, eager to see more I worked my way through a labyrinth of temples and on reaching the core I decided to climb Angkor itself (no mean feat). Up I went- ascending into the heavens via a 70 degree narrow staircase approximately 30 meters in height... Half way up my nerves almost got the better of me and I was coached and cajoled by a sweet Aussie guy who showed off his agility by holding onto me and seeming to float up the stairs at the same time when each and every step felt like a precursor to imminent death. He even managed to hold my camera for me and said ‘well at least if you fall, someone will get some great photos’.

When I reached the top, it was then that my heart skipped a beat and the breathlessness associated with seeing and appreciating one of the true wonders of the world sinks in.

The sunset combined streaks of purple and hazes of blue. I stayed on top of the temple until the light faded and slowly climbed down the other side- assisted by a small hand rail, unwavering concentration, focus and the firm belief that I did want to live and see another day.

The next day I sprung out of bed at 7:00am and went back to Angkor for part two.

First we stopped at Angkor Thom an ancient walled city that used to be home to over a million people, an architectural masterpiece. I was in awe of the many heads of Bayon that greet you on arrival, each uniquely weathered the way only a building that is over a 1000 years old can be.

I fell in love with the 300 meter elephant wall; I was stunned in imaging what Baphoun's past glory must have been. It is now just a pile of rubble that is being resurrected by a team of French experts and reminiscent of a large building site.

Afterwards, I climbed, explored and experienced about 15 other temples, each unique, stunning and as impressive as the one before. Slowly they began to merge into each other, simply unbelievable. My favorites were the rust colored ones that I saw late in the day when the sun was beginning to set; they reminded me of my favourite childhood cartoon 'City of Gold'.

I encourage everyone to go to Angkor and Cambodia in general. If Phnom Penh symbolised poverty and humanity then Angkor is grandeur and glory. Together they combine to create an intense passion for Cambodia and a memory that will be imprinted on your soul forever.