As I sat gazing upon Angkor Wat on a hot and humid morning, it dawned on me that my first trip to Siem Reap seemed like a lifetime ago. It has only been seven years really, but coming back to this ancient site felt rather surreal.
There were more tourists, the sun was glaring a whole lot more, the tuk-tuks were a traffic menace, the air was thick with touristic expectations of every kind – all too familiar scenarios at a historically significant site.
It felt familiar, yet not altogether familiar. I suppose that’s where the surreality of it all comes in.
I was excited about heading back to Siem Reap, as this time it was with my mother. She’s been wanting to see the mighty Angkor Wat for a long time and I thought it was about time she did.
It was a special feeling seeing her eyes widen in amazement at the sheer size of this mega-structure. And the whole time she was busy making mental notes of this incredible site, I made my own observations as well.
On a more superficial level, the ancient temples in Siem Reap were the same as when I last saw them – stoic, mysterious and full of untold stories. And yet, they were not the same. What could have possibly changed from the last seven years?
I guess the answer must be me – I have changed.
I am no longer the same traveller as I was when I first started – figuring my way through my travels, learning to be independent, making basic travel mistakes (as we all do) and worrying about things that needn’t be worried about. That’s not to say that I don’t experience said things from time to time, but I’ve learnt how to manage them a lot better.
Since my first trip to Siem Reap, I have seen more countries and cities, drank various concoctions, eaten way too much street food, spent hours having relaxing massages, lost a couple of travel buddies, gained some new ones, learnt to travel solo and endured one too many travel surprises a.k.a scams.
I wouldn’t change any of it though, for it has given me what all travellers look for – adventures. And with adventures, come experiences; lessons that have taught me more than any classroom ever could.
Siem Reap has reminded me that a return destination doesn’t change, so much as the perception of the destination changes. What I thought was unfamiliar and surreal was in fact my past travel lessons manifesting and projecting itself onto my current experience.
And when this happens, we view our return destination rather differently then when we first set eyes on it. What annoyed you before, may not do so this time around. What was tolerable then, could set you off now. The polarities are endless!
I suppose that’s the beauty of travelling. You change as much as the number of miles you cover. As we all know, changes are a necessary transition in our lives. All we can do is embrace and allow for the changes to take shape.
Seeing life (and return destinations) differently truly can be a most beautiful thing.