Finding the beauty in motion

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It is another balmy, blistering day in Battambang. The air hangs listless and heavy, and I am longing for some respite beyond the air-conditioned sanctuary of our room. We have rented a moped, and decide that the best way to escape the heat is to move; to feel the air speeding across our damp skin as our bike makes its way through the Cambodian countryside.

We plan to head to a nearby hilltop temple known as Wat Banan, stepping out into the late morning heat in search of coffee and picnic supplies before we depart. As we sit at a little outdoor cafe and sip our heady Khmer coffee, sickly-sweet from the condensed milk it has been heavily laden with, I feel the buzz of more than just the caffeine begin to course through my body. I can’t wait to get on the road, and my excitement is palpable.

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Khmer coffee, made even sweeter by a Moomin spoon

After eight months of slow travel, with over five months spent in India, and two months in Thailand, the change of pace we have experienced since arriving in Cambodia has been a much needed tonic. We are busy and bustling, full to the brim with a renewed passion for travel, and each other. We are laughing, relaxed, and happier than we have been for months.

The relief is instant as we pick up speed along Street 1, heading south along the river towards the lion-coloured countryside that covers so much of Cambodia. A heady, tropical sweetness hangs in the air, at once both new and familiar to me; the smell of adventure. I breathe it in with purpose and delight, wrapping my arms tightly around Lee, giddy with joy at the simplicity of the moment. Right here, right now, there is nowhere else I would rather be. I tilt my head back in gratitude, and exhale.

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Happiness

I’m almost disappointed as we pull into the shady clearing that serves as a parking-lot at the base of Wat Banan. I reluctantly hang my bike helmet on the handlebars and look up, lifting my hand to shield against the blinding sun. I can just make out the top of a temple stupa peaking above the tree-line, just enough of a promise of what lies ahead. I take Lee’s hand and we walk towards the base of a towering staircase that disappears into the shadows of the hillside.

As we reach the top of the first flight we meet two young boys. They struggle to carry a huge plastic crate filled with bottles of water, their skinny arms almost stretched by the effort. Lee bounds up to them and grabs on, taking one side while the taller of the two children holds fast to the other. They pick up the pace and I can hear Lee joking around with them as they climb, their laughter echoing up the staircase as the distance between us increases.

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Lee charges ahead

More children make the climb carrying armfuls of supplies. Barefoot and nimble-bodied, they bound up the stone steps so effortlessly I am tired just watching them. A small girl is left struggling beside me, perhaps she is six years old. A large pack of water bottles shifts in her tiny arms, and a few spill out, bouncing down the stairs. I run back down and get them, then take the pack from her and together we begin to climb again.

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My climbing companion

It’s a long way up. My thighs are burning and I feel sweat begin to drip between my shoulder blades, but we press on. One foot, then the next. My breath is embarrassingly laboured, and I pause for a moment, leaning against the cool, intricately carved stone bannister. I watch as a butterfly effortlessly mingles amongst the other climbers, then alights beside me. I reach for my camera, but just as I am about to press the shutter, the butterfly glides further ahead.

I move further too, determined to get the shot, and the butterfly moves again, as if taunting me. I forget the weight of the bottles beneath my arm, the burning of my thighs, and edge closer. The game continues for several minutes until finally, I manage to get just one photo before the butterfly disappears. As I turn to watch it go I notice the hundreds of steps that now fall away below me. I am almost at the top.

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The elusive shot

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Almost there

Slowly, surely each of the 308 steps is surmounted, and I arrive, breathless and drenched from my efforts. Lee, having arrived long before me, stands laughing and playing with the children who delight in his carefree antics. With my extra load delivered to the little drink stand we bid our farewells and turn towards the beckoning darkness of a stone doorway.

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Always time for a little temple fun

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Lee heads off to explore

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Wat Banan

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The crumbling ruins

Originally built in the 10th century as a Hindu temple, Wat Banan was rebuilt as a Buddhist temple using the same stones some two-hundred years later. Once visited by Henri Mouhot, the famed explorer who rediscovered Angkor Wat, there is a sense of magic that hangs in the air, and it’s easy to see why this spot is such a favourite with the locals, who come to receive blessings from the resident monks, then share a picnic amongst the fallen ruins.

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The resident monks

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Incense offerings

And that is exactly what we do now, spreading out our blanket and taking out a bottle of red wine and some baguettes. I watch as two beautiful little girls begin to approach us, begging for money. As heartbreaking as it is, we don’t oblige, but instead invite then to join us, passing them a baguette and a bottle of water. I tap the space on the blanket beside me and they sheepishly sit down and unwrap their baguette, pick out the tomatoes, and begin to eat.

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Hoi

They speak a little English and tell us their names, Gyena and Hoi, eight and six years old, with faces that hold more stories than their age belies. We sit there together quietly beneath the precious shade of a twisted tree, the winds blowing the scent of incense and centuries all around us. I pull out my notebook and begin to write, occasionally pausing to take a sip of wine that is warming too fast in the sun. In this moment, I am utterly content.

For the first time this day, I don’t want to move.

break

 

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmel May 30, 2013 at 15:22

I’m so glad you guys went to Cambodia! It seems to be just the soul refresher you needed.

Hannah and Lee…charming the children of the world. :)
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Hannah Loaring May 30, 2013 at 16:31

It really has been refreshing, and the people are so delightful. And as for the kids, well they just melt my heart on a daily basis!

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Charlie May 30, 2013 at 15:50

Beautiful; I almost felt I was there (and really wish I were!). Brings back memories of visiting a similar place in Cambodia myself. Your writing always communicates a great sense of place and atmosphere – love it! Very glad to read of the renewed passion for travel and each other! Seems Cambodia is having a cathartic effect :)
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Hannah Loaring May 30, 2013 at 16:44

Thank you so much Charlie. There really is magic here, and it seems to be doing the trick for us, on so many levels. I hope you get to make it back here one day, it’s such a special place.

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Kim May 30, 2013 at 16:12

Wonderful photos Hannah. The children of Cambodia just sound amazing. I’m having such a good time following along with you and Lee.
Kim recently posted..In search of the 100 rupee monk

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Hannah Loaring May 30, 2013 at 16:33

Thanks Kim. We really are loving it here, the people, places, culture… everything about it just seems so authentic. It’s hard not to love it, and I’m sure you and Brian will feel the same when you make it this way.

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Katie @ Domestiphobia.net May 30, 2013 at 17:29

What a lovely moment you captured. I love the detail about the girls picking out the tomatoes. No matter the history, culture, struggles, or strife, kids are just kids all over the world. :)
Katie @ Domestiphobia.net recently posted..It Turns Out The Seven Year Itch Can Be Subdued With A Little Bit Of Work And Some Hemorrhoid Cream.

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Hannah Loaring May 31, 2013 at 01:37

Yes, that really made me chuckle too!

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Monica May 30, 2013 at 23:08

Another beautifully captures story, Hannah. The butterfly moment made me smile:)
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Hannah Loaring May 31, 2013 at 01:39

Thank you my dear, I’m so glad you enjoyed it :)

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Patti May 30, 2013 at 23:56

Absolutely love the photo of Hoi – her facial expression says so much and those eyes, they are deep pools, they are stunning!
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Hannah Loaring May 31, 2013 at 01:54

Yes, that is my favourite photo too, she is breathtakingly beautiful isn’t she! Such an old soul, aged by the harsh realities of her lifestyle. They were so shy around us at first, then really started to relax and come out of their shells. They were the highlight of the day.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 31, 2013 at 02:12

As a fellow restless soul, I take great solace in being on a motorbike. There is something so freeing about zipping down the road, the wind battering you from all directions, cooling your body & your mind, just allowing you to soak in the world. But the moments I treasure most, the ones I’m constantly seeking, are ones like what you found up on that hill: ones where I can be content in the stillness and the silence… that’s definitely something that comes from within, and I’m definitely still searching for it!
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Hannah Loaring May 31, 2013 at 04:46

I guess we are all searching for that balance between motion and stillness, both physically and mentally. I have veered between the two for such a long time now, but here in Cambodia, I seem to have found a happy medium. I’m sure it won’t last long, but I plan on making the most of it while it does!

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Maddie May 31, 2013 at 05:16

I am so excited about getting to Cambodia, it looks so beautiful. Maybe you can reach a happy medium of fast paced travelling for a little while and then slowing down but for a shorter amount of time than you did in Thailand? Everyone is different but for us, if we settle in one place for too long we get the same itchy feet that we used to at home and that’s not why we came travelling. The new energy you’re feeling is completely coming across in your writing, it’s good to hear!
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:42

It really is Maddie, and I’m sure you will love it out here. We definitely need to find a balance, and at the moment are planning on spending six months in Goa every year, where Lee has a seasonal job, and the rest of the year of the move. Our plans change all the time though, so who knows!

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Vanessa May 31, 2013 at 07:06

Beautiful story telling–the words and the photos! Something about the curiosity and trust in a child’s face makes you realize that we are all humans, no matter what we look like or what culture we come from. Humans who are interested in the world and people around us, but also capable of suffering, confusion, embarrassment, and pain. The look in a child’s face just says all of this much more plainly than an adult. Loved your stories of helping the kids with their load. :)
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:49

Thank you so much Vanessa. I loved what you said about the face of a child being able to express things more plainly than an adult. Every time I look at that photo above of Hoi, I can just see all the stories in her eyes. Children communicate with such open hearts, and it has been such a joy to share these precious experiences with them – it has been a wonderful insight into the people and culture of Cambodia.

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Marisol June 2, 2013 at 06:16

What a beautiful day – helping children, relaxing and feeling content.
It’s great you asked the girls to join for meal instead of giving them money. We would do the same. We’re sure the food will go to their stomach and but not sure where the money will go. Love the photo of Hoi.
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:52

It really was a beautiful day, and one of my most memorable so far. Giving food has proven to not only be a great way to help some of the children we meet, but also to learn more about Cambodia in a much more tangible way. The people here truly are some of the most humble and gracious I have ever met.

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Rhonda June 2, 2013 at 22:39

We loved that temple as well and felt very much at peace. I am loving reliving our time in Cambodia through your stories.
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:55

How lovely that you have both visited Wat Banan too! It’s such a magical place, and like you, I felt very much at peace as soon as we started climbing the stairs. Of all the temples we have visited in Cambodia, this is by far my favourite.

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Lauren H. June 3, 2013 at 09:48

Lovely words. I’ve been following your slow travel journey since we arrived back from SE Asia in February- back into a sedentary, adventure-less lifestyle…my how time flies on this end! It inspires me to see your joie de vivre and empowers us readers to get out there and experience the moments that make you say “Follow that butterfly, reach for that final step and you’ll be rewarded. Thanks.
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 12:03

Thank you Lauren, it’s lovely to hear you have been following along and can share in the adventure with us :)

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Stephen S. June 3, 2013 at 10:06

Great photo’s Hannah, what a beautiful and simple place.
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:34

Thanks Stephen. It really was magical :)

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Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) June 3, 2013 at 11:26

Great post Hannah! Love the photos too. Have you been on the bamboo train yet?
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Hannah Loaring June 3, 2013 at 11:37

We had planned to visit the bamboo train on our way back from Wat Banan, but sadly we ran out of time – we just loved it up there so much we decided to stay and enjoy it. We’ll definitely go back one day though, and have heard that the train will remain, despite the new railway line being built.

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Claire June 3, 2013 at 19:06

This was a beautiful post. I’ve been following your blog for a while and just recently started one of my own (still in the planning stages, though). Thanks for being such an inspiration!
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Hannah Loaring June 4, 2013 at 02:47

Thank you Claire, I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying it, and wish you all the best with your new blog!

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Hogga June 4, 2013 at 14:56

it’s all so beautiful

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Hannah Loaring June 6, 2013 at 04:15

Glad you enjoyed it :)

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TammyOnTheMove June 6, 2013 at 06:56

So glad you love Cambodia. Being on the move does make a huge difference. I think I will have to do the same soon. As much as I love living in Cambodia. 1.5 years is a long time and I think it is time for a new adventure soon!
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Hannah Loaring June 6, 2013 at 09:53

Moving has literally changed everything for us – it has been our salvation, and I have fallen madly, deeply, eternally in love with Cambodia :)

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Phoebe June 19, 2013 at 14:52

This post makes me remember why I love Cambodia so much. Such a happy place blossoming from years and years of unhappiness. Your pictures really capture the story and sentiment present throughout the country. Absolutely lovely.

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Hannah Loaring June 20, 2013 at 07:31

Thank you Phoebe, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. There is so much beauty and determination here, and I feel inspired by the people of Cambodia every day.

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Morgan July 15, 2013 at 04:48

There are certain posts that inspire others and this is one! I now have a burning desire to climb Wat Banan. Were you blessed by the monks while there?
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Hannah Loaring July 15, 2013 at 10:05

Thank you so much Morgan, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Wat Banan remains one of the best places we visited in Cambodia, and I can highly recommend a trip there. We didn’t get blessed while we were there, but we did find the “Secret Cave” inside the back of the hill. There is a huge stalactite that drips with water, and it is said that if you drink a drop of this your dreams will come true :)

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flipnomad August 15, 2013 at 13:08

Wat Banan is beautiful but to get there is quite arduous. For someone like me who’s terrified of heights, it was really a journey I’ll never forget.
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Hannah August 17, 2013 at 09:07

Yes, I’m terrified of heights too, and am very unfit, so the climb was a real workout, but the temples were well worth the effort. Did you visit the secret cave at the back of the hill while you were there?

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) August 30, 2013 at 16:48

We will make it one day!! WE WILL. Still just trying to figure out how to get Montecristo in and … out. And what vaccines we all (human and canine) will need. But Cambodia and Thailand are on our list. This post makes us want to go even more.

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Hannah September 5, 2013 at 05:48

That’s one lucky little pup you guys have! I’m sure it would definitely be worth the effort though, Cambodia is just impossible not to love :)

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Veera Bianca December 7, 2013 at 20:33

I loved this post, amazing photos :)
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Hannah December 10, 2013 at 15:09

Thank you so much Veera!

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