(Or…A Day in Angkor)
Hello from SE Asia!
My spring in Singapore has been a valuable learning experience. For the past 1.5 months, I’ve had the opportunity to attend microbiome conferences, gain new lab techniques, and work with an incredible research team at the Nanyang Technological University. Stay tuned for more Singapore updates in a future Skope post!
Of course, a perk about living in a new country is celebrating an added holiday—as you’ll recall from Holidaze! Unlike North America, Singapore observes Labour Day on May 1—the International Worker’s Day. I decided to explore Singapore’s northern neighbors during the Labour day weekend. The highlight of my whirlwind adventure was Angkor. Angkor, the ancient centre of the Khmer dynasty, lies a few miles north of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The site contains beautiful Khmer temples, notably the magnificent Angkor Wat (built by King Suryavarman II and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Angkor Thom (the stone-headed temple of King Jayavarman VII), Baphuon (featuring a 70-meter reclining Buddha), and Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple)! Originally built for Hindu worship, many of these sites were later transformed into Buddhist temples. The stone carvings reveal scenes from daily life and a blend of Hindu and Buddhist iconography.
A knowledgeable guide (thanks Mr. Sophea!) from the Happy Angkor Tour showed me around the park. Our first stop was at a quiet mountain temple. I climbed 5 stories of VERY NARROW stairs to see the reclining Buddha. While erosion certainly contributed to stair loss, my guide explained that steep, narrow staircases are an important feature of Khmer temples. Narrow stairs remind visitors that the path to heaven is never easy. Wide stairs invite a certain complacency—an opportunity to tarry near the earth during your ascent to the gods.
For me, the virtue of narrow stairs is to accept the challenge of the ascent. Graduate school has provided me with ample challenges—learning new lab techniques (troubleshooting said techniques), altering research directions, learning new analysis methods, writing papers, preparing for comprehensive exams, improving time management, building resilience, project planning (and re-planning). The amount of false starts and failures involved in this process occasionally feels daunting. But perhaps if getting a PhD was easy, I’d spend too long lingering and less time growing as a scientist. Vacation was awesome—but I’m ready to climb.
What’s your challenge? Accept the ascent—the reward at the top might amaze you.
This picture does not do the staircase justice. If ascending was a challenge—descending was (momentarily!) slightly terrifying. Many ledges were only wide enough to accommodate one sneaker!
PS—Tips for Visiting Ankor
If you have the opportunity to visit and learn about the complex history of Cambodia—you should definitely stop at Siem Reap/Angkor. While visiting the park…
- Don’t withdraw or exchange Cambodia riel—it is almostimpossible to exchange the money when you leave the country. Unfortunately, high inflation rates have eroded the riel’s value. Many places accept, even prefer, US dollars.
- If you are on a tight schedule, I would recommend booking a tour company (check out: http://happyangkortour.com). Due to the park’s size, walking is not an option! Bike rentals and tuk-tuks are an inexpensive option—just do some homework/route planning beforehand! There are many hidden gems around the park. Whatever your mode, wear comfortable shoes, you’ll do a lot of walking and climbing at each temple site.
- These are still active worship sites—be respectful in dress and behavior.