Visions of jungle reclaiming the temples and ruins of Siem Reap Province in Cambodia have filled my mind since the first time my young eyes devoured them in National Geographic as a child. Oh, the beauty was overwhelming to my childhood brain. Mysticism inflaming my imagination making my little heart go pitter patter and my eyes memorise every small difference between multiple shades of lush greens. How I dreamed of one day going 'there'. As if it was a place out of reach on another world.
Now, finally a childhood dream is fulfilled. Laying eyes for the first time on Ta Prohm (aka Tomb Raider Temple), my body, mind and soul relaxed as if coming home. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation so maybe it was an echo of times past, lives past that were resonating on my present day adventure. All I know is that the feeling of peace, spirituality and tranquility was not what I expected to feel surrounded by tourists.
From the moment your feet touch the sandy walking tracks, entering into any of the temples you choose to visit, there is an anticipation. Of what? Angkor Wat. Haha a little temple humour there. You are in anticipation of a journey into another time.
Of moss covered sculptures within ancient temples that now lay in ruin. Of intricately carved doorways within intricately carved doorways perfectly aligned showcasing a spectacular on the other side even after centuries. Whether it be lush green jungle foliage, history, culture or ruins you have come seeking, each doorway holds hidden treasures.
All hold beauty and although different for everyone, every single person agrees it is a place of peace, spirituality, history with an ambience of serenity. Even with all the tourists chattering away, there are quiet corners awaiting you, just waiting for you to stumble upon them like you are the first explorer, and it's the first time they have been discovered. Every corner turned provides a feast for your eyes but I was wanting a more personal journey to discover this long awaited adventure.
Silently I offered up a wish. A longing that I could experience them as I'd dreamed since childhood. As if the gods themselves heard me, rounding the next corner changed my life. Silently appearing about five meters ahead a boy stood. Where he came from or when he appeared I have no idea. As he beckoned to me all he said was ''come I show you beauty". I know how that sounds but somehow it felt safe to follow him.
Leading me through ancient rooms and hidden tunnels we were soon lost from the group. This mystery boy, quiet, unassuming, taking me places other tourists don't get to see. Time seemed to fly by, my wish for amazing photo's were everywhere and the swarms of tourists nowhere to be seen or heard.
His laughter infectious, relaxed and smiling I followed him without question. His feet sure of the way, never stumbling in the semi darkness, as if he had walked the ancient halls himself in another era.
Although every time I'd get too close he ducked away laughing around a corner or down an unforeseen staircase seeming as elusive as a spirit, the thought occurred to me maybe he was. I should have been concerned but somehow felt safe as if I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Crouching in a tunnel when I entered, he smiled, pointed and said the lone word "beauty". Approaching and following where he was pointing, my eyes focused on a tiny buddha head hidden amongst roots centuries old.
Truly one of the most memorable moments of my life, crouching in that dimly lit tunnel, tears came to my eyes, thankful for the opportunity to photograph such a hidden treasure.
It was then I heard it, a tourists chatter and smiling gently asked him if he would take me to my group. Rising he smiled and motioned for me to follow. A few twists and turns later, climbing stairs I emerged through a doorway right behind my tour group. One turned to me and said "where have you been? We've been looking for you'' so naturally I replied "I was with him, the boy". Turning to point at the doorway, he had slipped away. There was no-one there.
So who was this mystery boy? My own personal otherworldly guide from the other side? Seeming to slip back into the ether once my wish was fulfilled? A mystical boy to make a lifelong dream come true is what I choose to believe. Even now, two years later, I still think of this boy often. He will be with me for the entirety of my life, this granter of wishes. Genie, spirit, guide, mythical being, whatever his title - I am glad he was there for one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.