In Cambodia, the locals refer to it as “temple fatigue”. After a couple of days, all of Siem Reap’s Khmer ruins appear analogous. “This temple looks exactly like the one we sweated our souls out walking around yesterday” even the most avid Tomb Raider fan finds themselves saying. As you venture from site to site, growing disinterested with the minutiae between the various complexes becomes increasingly easier. I hope I’m using ‘minutiae’ correctly, but if not, feel free to send me an email critiquing my diction.
I digress, unprovoked, but nonetheless, digress. Angkor Wat, perhaps the most extravagant of all the Khmer landmarks, is beautiful in a violent way. Crimson sunsets silhouette the ruin’s brunt architecture, creating scenic moments that feel almost uncomfortable to observe. The sunrises are majestic but far from peaceful as people like myself fire off our shutters reminding us that in these parts, we’re always in the company of others. There are a lot of tourists here. A lot. One million annually. And there’s humidity. And mosquitos. Which mean spiders. And I hate spiders.
I realize that I may not sound like the biggest fan of Angkor Wat, but I am. It’s rare that I visit a place more than once, but this is one of the few destinations I would frequent if possible. There’s something about it for me that my spirit finds centering despite the trivial annoyances. I mean, LOOK at that sunrise.
My first visit came in 2009, the second: 2014. I found the sequel a bit taxing creatively, so after an hour I wandered away from the main complex with no real plan other than avoiding tourists. It wasn’t long before the voices around me faded, replaced by the buzzing of aggressive insects, many of which thought my calves were a Snickers bar. I continued walking. Observing. Walking. Observing. Walking.
After about 20-minutes, the boy you see photographed above made his way through the bushes and joined me on the path. In his saturated golds and blues, he seemed completely oblivious to the photographer in his midst. Then I noticed the long-tailed macaques, dozens of them, scurrying about in the vegetation around us. They were not frightened by the boy or the photographer on their path. The scene unfolding in front of me led me to later aptly title the featured image, “Walks with Monkeys.”
Indulging my wildlife photography curiosities ended relatively quick though as I stumbled upon a deserted Khmer ruin. This one was absent of any tourists, occupied instead by over 50 macaques. The boy had disappeared into the wilderness while I was preoccupied with adjusting my aperture. Realizing I was alone, and surrounded my monkeys, I know what had to be done. I’d seen Planet of the Apes a couple weeks before so I didn’t stick around.