There is a mysterious aura in ancient kingdoms like Angkor, located near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Back in the day, it was ruled by kings or proclaimed god-kings, each of whom steered the construction of some of the greatest architectural wonders by dedicating a temple to their patron god, usually Vishnu or Shiva. Aside from these, other majestic structures were also built for the king and the rest of the royal family, making Angkor the now-renowned site of the majestic Angkor Wat, the bizarre Bayon Temple, the towering Pre Rup, the famous jungle temple Ta Prohm, the intricate temple of Banteay Srei, and the ancient city of Angkor Thom.

However, Siem Reap and the rest of Cambodia have gone through historic highs and lows. Far from being the catalyst of a great empire, it was said that the place was in suspended animation for three decades after the dark period of war and genocide it experienced just a few decades ago. But visiting the region today, you will be amazed by the tenacity and optimism of its people. They have picked themselves up, restored their faith and confidence, and anchored their ascent on their strengths: their rich ancient history, their magnificent creations, and the beauty of their hometown and their people. They are a testament that by gathering strength from your personal triumphs, you always have the opportunity, the choice, and the conviction to rise and move on from a period of ruin.

The time I spent in Siem Reap was not only meant for me to discover and appreciate the wonders of this once-lost world. It was also an opportunity to learn from its people and the value they have placed on themselves, their family, their city, and their gods. I would have wanted to wander the temples alone, to appreciate in solitude its beauty and magnificence, but deciding to have a guide during my first visit added an enriching texture to my experience. I otherwise would not have acquired as much information about the minute details of every nook and cranny of the temples without my guide, nor would I have heard of the triumphs and difficulties of the Cambodians from his own accounts of the war, as well as how they lifted up the challenging moments they faced to their god, Vishnu.

Those are the echoes of my time in a world once thought to be lost and forgotten. I realized that one does not travel to Siem Reap to merely see it. One sojourns to discover it, and one reflects to learn from it.

Scroll through the gallery below to see how you can have a journey of a lifetime in this wondrous place.

(All photos by Atty. Maria Dee A. Seares)

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