The iconic view of Angkor Wat with the reflecting pool near the western entrance
January 5, 2011 — Siem Reap, CAMBODIA
It was after only a few minutes walking in the forest that we encountered the owl.
We had just passed the causeway on the path toward the stunning ruins of Angkor Wat when Ley stopped and pointed.
There it was. Brown as they are. About 7 inches tall, standing on a leafless tree branch, still as a Buddha statue.
I squinted at it, wished I had binoculars.
“Rare to see in the morning,” Ley said. “They are a creature of the night.”
“I’ve met a few of those,” I said.
“O-W-L” Ley spelled it out, making sure I knew what I was looking at. I knew all right. And as I blinked and focused to try to make out details of this wise old bird, I took its presence as a good sign: an auspicious beginning for my latest adventure.
Today is my first day at the impressive and expansive ruins of Angkor, where Khmer kings erected massive structures to Hindu deities or Buddhist figures, whichever religion they favored during their reign.
After a couple of days in busy, noisy Bangkok, it is a relief to be in this place, where I had long wanted to come. And it completely shattered my preconceptions: Angkor is more amazing than I had imagined.
With dozens of sites – erected by different kings over a span of some 600 years and employing varied architectural styles and artwork – there are several ways to approach a trip to Angkor. Some go by era, beginning with the oldest temples, working their way up through a history of Khmer architecture. Others start small, at the lesser ruins, and work their way up to the grander temples of Angkor Thom and (the grandest) Angkor Wat.
I chose to start big and work my way down. This was mostly a strategy to be at places where the crowds would be smallest – contra-flow. There are always crowds at Angkor Wat, but a larger crowd forms in the afternoon, when the sunlight is thought to be better. So we came here first thing in the morning, with a trickle of other tourists.
And we are the only ones to see the owl.
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