Jayavarman VII: Angkor’s Greatest King

It’s his face that is the striking visage at Bayon, arguably the most impressive of Angkor Wat complexes. Jayavarman’s features are inextricably mingled with those of Avalokitesvara, and with purpose: the king’s greatest wish was to be reborn as this Buddha of Compassion. And one version of this face points in each direction, its peaceful gaze not missing any purview. The four faces have another meaning: each represents a form of compassion, whether it is mercy, pity, sympathy or love. Originally, 54 of these Bayon structures were built to represent each province of the kingdom at that time. The king is credited with extraordinary royal feats, from hospitals and libraries created throughout the land to new forms of martial art for combat. And his aspirations of kindness did not limit his ability to trounce border incursions by Angkor’s enemies. At Bantay Chhmar, his last architectural feat, the carved display of his hand-to-hand combat victory...

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A Father-Daughter Adventure: Or, Why You Shouldn’t Wait

I’m typing away at the lounge of an airport hotel while my dad naps in his room upstairs. At 73, he’s got plenty of energy most days – teaching community college a few nights a week, greeting the grandkids at the bus each afternoon, and walking with his most beloved dog every day. But he’s also very aware that he has only a few years of globe-trotting adventures left in him. So here we are in Southeast Asia. In some form of linguistic irony, the man can quote poetry endlessly but can’t get past the simplest of accents. Perhaps it was the decades of serving as a translator for his parents’ thick Irish brogue at any New England restaurant or diner. But now, even the clearest speaker of English (as a second language) can stun him. So he does better with a travel cohort. And my sister and I are grateful for the appreciation he feels with an adventure compatriot. This is not to say that adventuring with dad is easy. His arthritis is...

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Five Reasons to Become a Morning Person in Angkor Wat

While you will miss that delight of lounging about in robes and slippers and cocooning in the cozy swath of blankets for hours, forcing yourself out of night owl tendencies is sometimes very well worth it, especially in a place like Angkor Wat. Take this from someone whose entire college curriculum was formed on a strategy of waking up after 10am. Starting early in Siem Reap allows you to: 1. Go outside the main complex. Particularly if you have only a few days, waking up early is your best chance to see more temples before they close. 2. Beat the crowds. Nothing is quite as satisfying as leaving a temple complex just as three busses arrive to unload their tour groups. And while the sunsets are crowded, sunrises in Angkor Wat are equally stunning and less attended. 3. Get the best pictures. There’s a reason that photographers are early risers. The first light of the day is the only time...

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Angkor Wat: Ruins in Perpetual Motion

If you go to Angkor Wat and see only the main temple, you’re missing a mesmerizing, slow dance. Please don’t misunderstand: It’s quite true that the most famous complex is as magnificent as any of the marvels of the world. The intricate carvels show tenth-century life and worship in uncanny beauty. But its careful restoration as the symbol of the burgeoning Cambodian nation means that it is tidy in its impressiveness. It is kempt. It is brilliant and it is meticulous. But if you venture beyond the well-deserved trail of tourist buses, not only do you find a more subtle beauty in temples like Banteay Srai, you find more of a mystery in the impressive disarray of temples even further afield. If you take the 2-hour drive to less trampled outposts like Beng Mealea or Ko Kor, you see what looks at first like endless piles of rubble. Some of them have clearly lost the struggle to the deep roots of imposing trees, even more so than the temple made famous by...

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Kites and Connection in Kathmandu

Candace Rose Rardon is an American writer, photographer and artist who recently returned to the United States after ten months living and traveling in Asia. She sketches as she travels, and these sketches, combined with the stories behind them, charmingly capture those fleeting, layered moments that are the stepping stones of travel. Wanderlust will be presenting her on-the-road sketches-and-stories -- her sketchbook of serendipities -- in the months to come. Kathmandu was supposed to be magical. I arrived with visions of prayer flags and snow-peaked summits in my mind, only to find dirty streets lined with rubbish. My first morning was spent at the Swayambhunath Stupa, but fighting touts and crowds of other tourists left me feeling no more connected to the city. While walking back towards the center, I glimpsed what looked like the tiered roofs of a pagoda. Even as they...

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at don@geoex.com.

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GeoEx event with Isabel Allende in Conversation with Don George; September 24, 2014
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