Angkor in Cambodia is often referred to loosely by travelers as Angkor Wat. A scattering of temples are tangled up in the jungle, with massive tree roots grabbing at walls and doorways like gnarled fingers. But Angkor Wat is the proper name of just one of the temple complexes there (see more of my Angkor Wat photos). It is the largest religious building in the world and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was enormously exciting to check this destination off my travel list. All the temples capture the imagination, make you feel like an adventurer discovering forgotten places.
But what struck me about Angkor Wat itself was how active it remains. It wasn’t such a surprise to find incense burning or bright cloths wrapped around the Buddha images — that’s typical in a lot of places in southeast Asia, left by locals praying or travelers who happen to be Buddhist — but on the day we visited Angkor Wat, a large group of locals paraded inside for a ceremony. This woman brought offerings and the rest of the crowd watched as she performed a gentle sort of dance in the incense smoke. A circle of musicians with traditional instruments played nearby. It was quite the display and suddenly the iconic temple architecture was behind us, just a backdrop for a cultural moment.