It was one of those special moments you remember forever! It was the reason we travel. It happened at the Angkor complex of temples and ruins in Cambodia.
We had bicycled from our hotel in nearby Siam Reap to the Angkor sites. It started as a mild, cloudy day, but by the time we arrived it was hot and humid, and we fought to stay hydrated the rest of the day.
It was our second day of exploring the complex at Angkor. We had saved three special temples for today. First up was the most popular temple in the complex -- Angkor Wat. It was very crowded and spectacular -- with five gigantic spires, and very sacred. It's the largest and holiest of the temples and we sat outside and talked to a guide who explained a little about Buddhist beliefs and customs. There are 37 steps to the top of Angkor Wat, for example, because Buddhists believe there are 37 steps to get to heaven. The more he explained, the more we realized that if everyone followed the teachings the world would be a peaceful place to live.
Next up was Angkor Thom, a sprawling and intricate place. Angkor Thom was the last capital city of the Khmer empire, established in the late twelfth century. It is a massive site, covering more than five square miles. At the center is the former king’s state temple, the Bayon, with other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. We explored much of it, getting a good workout in the process. We ran across a local parade, with music, colorful headdresses, and much excitement, and we braved a coconut smoothie from a street vendor, which was made from coconut milk, coconut water, milk, and meat taken directly from a coconut. It was refreshing and delicious!
Finally, we cycled on to Ta Prohm, the former monastery. At its peak, Ta Prohm was very powerful, with 18 high priests, 600 temple dancers, and 80,000 attendants.
Ta Prohm was originally a monastery, and it must have been a peaceful place, ideal for training and prayer. Some of the carvings on the stones are of praying monks, and there are small, isolated stone buildings that could have served as meditation or prayer rooms. Today, it's largely in ruin, although it's now being restored, a little at a time. It's known for the giant banyan trees that have grown into the ruined temples, with vast networks of trunks running hither and yon like huge snakes.
Standing under a very tall banyan tree, whose roots had spread to nearly cover the temple ruins below it, as the sun was beginning to set, a flock of yellow-breasted parrots landed in the upper branches of the tree and began to roost for the night, squawking and pecking at the branches. Leaves began to softly fall, floating in the air and landing around our feet. It was a magical moment that brought tears to our eyes, and it reminded us of the simplicity and beauty of nature. A nearby guide told us the parrots had been missing the past two years, but they had come back this year, and he was glad to see them. We were too! The sight and sound of the parrots, the gently-falling leaves, and the knowledge that this very special place had been a very special place for more than a thousand years made for a magical ending to an incredible day.