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Last December, I finally made a trip to a destination that had long been on my bucket list – Cambodia. More specifically, I had always wanted to visit the city of Siem Reap where lie the remains of the largest Hindu temples in the world. The Angkor temples are a world heritage site and date back to a time when the Khmer Empire flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries (“Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit term “nagor” meaning city). As someone who enjoys history, a visit to the Angkor temples was of immense interest to me. It just so happened that a half-marathon/10K race was planned around the Angkor Wat (one of the main temple complexes) in December. What better way to explore a region steeped in history by literally running through it? My husband and I eagerly signed up for the race, and tickets to Siem Reap were booked.

Siem Reap is a small city-town so 3 to 4 days is sufficient time to explore the place at a leisurely pace. We planned for a 2.5 day visit jam-packed with a race to run, temples to explore, and other local attractions to take in. The trip didn’t disappoint – I was charmed by the motorcycle-led buggy rides, the delicious food, and the sweet and friendly manner of the local people. Oh and did I mention how cheap everything is? My highlight of the trip, besides visiting the Angkor temples, was getting the best $1 foot massage I ever had!

Shopping for trinkets at the street market at Pub Street
Delicious Khmer noodle soup at The Haven
So did my visit to the Angkor temples live up to the hype? A resounding yes! The Angkor temples are indeed an archeological sight to behold. While exploring the temples, I was struck by the enormity of the structures and the dedication of the ancient Khmer rulers to building these shrines for the gods. The famous apsaras of the Angkor temples coyly danced along stone walls, resplendent with the detailed carvings of their ornaments and flowers in their hair. Massive stone faces stared serenely at me, holding secrets of how an ancient city could be wiped out without a trace. Needless to say, I was mesmerized.

For those planning a trip to the Angkor temples, it’s worth researching which temples to visit. The largest and most renowned temple complexes are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. What was utterly fascinating was the artful depiction of epic Sanskrit stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharat inside these structures. Bas-reliefs of Lord Krishna holding up Mount Govardhan on his finger, the epic battle between the Pandavs and Kauravs, Prince Arjun riding his golden chariot with Lord Krishna as his charioteer, Sita being stole away to Lanka by the demon-king Ravan, and many other vivid scenes filled the walls of these temples. It was amazing to me how well our Sanskrit texts and stories have endured through centuries, dating back to before the existence of Angkor.

While many temples like the above are well-preserved thanks to restoration projects, others are overtaken by the dense jungle nearby or in a state of utter disarray due to theft and destruction of relics in the recent past. Even then, there is a raw beauty to them. For example, Ta Phrom (also known as the “Tomb Raider Temple” where Angelina Jolie filmed her movie by the same name years ago) is overtaken by gigantic roots snaking through the walls of the temple.
Bayon Temple inside Angkor Thom
Imposing structures that make you feel so tiny in comparison (Bayon Temple)
Serene faces like these are found all over Bayon Temple
A shivling (representation of Lord Shiva)
Ta Phrom: Where temple and tree merge into one
Thousands of apsaras (celestial dancers) like these cover the walls of the Angkor temples
Play a game of spot the apsara! Can you see her face?
Banteay Srei temple
Cutest group of local children who were only too happy to stop and smile for the camera
A lazy boat ride along a lily pond (near Banteay Srei Temple)
For those planning a trip to Siem Reap, here’s a rundown of temples worth visiting:
  • Angkor Wat: As one of the main temple complexes, it’s also among the best preserved and has detailed carvings and bas-reliefs
  • Angkor Thom: Another temple complex that shouldn't be missed. Bayon Temple is awe-inspiring despite its dilapidated state. Terrace of the Leper King and Terrance of the Elephants can be seen as a drive-by
  • Ta Phrom (aka "Tomb Raider" Temple): Absolutely worth seeing 
  • Banteay Srei : It is a further distance away from the cluster of other temples (20-25 min drive) but is considered one of the more beautiful temples and is miniature in height compared to others. I recommend taking the leisurely boat ride along the lily pond nearby
  • Preah Khan: It’s in various states of disrepair but despite this, it is a beautiful and mysterious temple 
Additional Local Attractions
  • Pub Street is the place to return to present day times after feeling “templed out”. It comes alive in the evening with pubs, restaurants, food carts, and a night bazaar selling souvenirs and local artwork
  • River of a Thousand Lingas is a 40 minute drive outside the city where you get to see a thousand shivlings carved into a river bed. Quite a sight to behold! 
Restaurant Suggestions
  • I loved The Haven for its flavorful Khmer food served in a cozy little setting. Extremely affordable (as most places in Siem Reap) and what’s more, it’s all for a good cause. The restaurant trains disadvantaged youths to become self-sufficient and financially independent
Tour Agency
  • Based on positive TripAdvisor reviews, we went with David Angkor Tours (davidangkorguide.blogspot.com). I would highly recommend them for their professionalism, ability to work around what you are interested in seeing, good English speaking skills and friendliness (we loved our tour guide Mr. Sophat)
It seems like, all too often, people focus on the negative things happening in their lives. Whether it’s bad traffic, a missed promotion at work, a relationship gone sour, or blaming ourselves for something beyond our control, we have a tendency to take the good apples in the barrel for granted and complain about that one bad apple. This affliction is endemic even in our society. The news always casts a greater spotlight on the shocking, sensational stories. Be it the crashing stock market, a hero’s fall from grace, violent crimes, or celebrity breakups, we can’t seem to escape the barrage of depressing news in print and digital media.

Every once in a while, we need to remind ourselves that there are positive and happy things around us. To start the year off on a bright note, I decided to create a list of the 10 things that make me happy. I suggest you, dear reader, make a similar list and maybe even share it with your best friend or significant other. It’s fun and most importantly, forces us to recognize that there are things to appreciate, enjoy and be happy about in our lives. So here goes…

1. The company of good friends where you share that relaxed familiarity, good-natured ribbing, and easy flow of conversation

2. The satisfaction of a day spent productively – nothing makes me feel more accomplished than having marked off everything on checklist for the day!

3. The excitement of traveling to new, unexplored destinations

4. A damn good glass of red vino

5. The good feeling that lasts all day after you’ve received an unexpected compliment from a friend or stranger. Makes you think, if it feels this good to receive a compliment, wouldn’t it be nice if we returned the favor more often to others?

6. Being recognized and lauded for my efforts professionally (I guess it’s a sort of self-validation that I need!)

7. Making a purchase that ends up being really worth it. Example? My Canon DSLR camera, which I initially hesitated to buy because of its price tag, has turned out to be the gift that keeps giving. Thanks to it, I’ve been able to beautifully capture a thousand precious moments

8. Blogging, when I’m being regular and inspired about it

9. Doing something that’s just for me. Dancing, yoga, reading a real page-turner without interruption, a good afternoon nap, or even going out for a movie by myself, this “personal well-being therapy” works to recharge and refresh every time!

10. Spontaneous hugs, kisses, and cuddles from my son - the truest, most unaffected showing of love that never fails to melt my heart

Speaking of happiness and my son, I took the little kiddo to the Singapore Zoo this weekend thinking he would love the experience. No such luck. He seemed unenthused the whole time I was excitedly pointing out animals like the tiger, monkeys, elephants, and giraffes. The only time he actually broke into a smile and started flapping his arms excitedly was when he saw an insignificant bird fly by. Point to note: the bird was not part of the zoo. *Sigh* Kids…

At the zoo - the smiling mother and the unenthused child
See what I did there? I wore a leopard-print top to the zoo! 
Keeping it casual and practical for a day out at the zoo
The proboscis monkey with its large schnauzer, definitely one of the most awkward-looking animals at the zoo
The peacock with its rich, colorful feathers. Easily the most beautiful animals we saw at the zoo
The white tiger got the prize for most regal animal
At the bay front in Singapore
I stare blankly at my computer screen, bubbling with things to say yet not knowing what to talk about. Words and sentences form at the tip of my fingertips, then dissipate into the air as I struggle to pick up where I left off. It’s been more than 6 months since my last post and I very nearly waved my blog goodbye, just as I had bid goodbye to my old home and life in New York City. Sad as I felt to leave behind that concrete jungle, I was roaring with excitement to move halfway across the world to the Lion City. Singapore, as it’s also called, welcomed me warmly with its green urban landscape, constant state of sunshine, and island-like breeze. Amidst the unpacking of boxes and multiple trips to IKEA, getting the little kiddo settled into a new place, training a live-in helper/nanny, and starting a new job, a blog on my frivolous travel and fashion escapades fell on the wayside. Besides time, I fell short on motivation. Even reading other blogs and FOMO wasn’t enough to stir me out of my laziness. In a way, I needed this hiatus to highlight the fact that if I stopped blogging today, nothing would change. But what I would lose is my outlet for creativity. My husband has often said that my blog has made me more open to adventure, more reflective, and has given me the courage to share personal things on a very public platform.

So what happened? A flash of inspiration and a few words of encouragement came my way and voila! I regained the urge to get back on the blogger bandwagon. Now I’m ready to start fresh. I’m not much of a resolution-maker but I do like to map out goals and plans when a new year starts. Among them is getting back to Urban Mantra. As I pen down my thoughts and experiences of living in a new country, share my travel adventures and personal style, I do hope you’ll join me on this ride!

It was August 1999 when I first landed in the US as a 17-year old, nervous yet excited to begin a new chapter of my life. I was about to start college with big ambitions and so much to prove. Fifteen years later, I'm leaving behind the country that I've called home for most of my adult life. Somewhere in this passage of time, I evolved from being a shy, naive teenager into a confident and independent woman. I met and married the love of my life and had a baby, now the second love of my life. I made amazing, lifelong friends. I lived in three cities (Boston, Austin, and New York City) and enjoyed each one at different stages of my life. I got a degree and became a doctor. I learned to embrace fitness and ran marathons. I toobed down the Guadalupe River. I learned to appreciate country music. I performed a dance to a Bollywood song on a moving boat for a Holi celebration. I took part in a flash mob dance to Sheila Ki Jawani on Wall street. I explored national parks and attended live music festivals. I traveled to Iceland where I hiked up a glacier, boated inside a volcanic crater in El Salvador, and jumped off a cliff in Spain. I ran up 46 floors of the Empire State Building while I was pregnant. I attended New York Fashion Week. I blogged!

Life recently threw us a curveball and we're now moving to Singapore! I'm sad to leave behind my sister and my friends in the US who became like family to me. Yet I look forward to new adventures in a new country. 

If you follow us on Instagram, you would have seen pictures I posted of my trip back to NYC - city street scenes that inspire me, places I visited, friends and family I spent time with...until it all culminated in our packing up our life into little boxes to be shipped halfway across the world. American the beautiful, I shall certainly miss you. Singapore, here we come! 

Crossing the street with a view of Times Square
Baby K and me having a picnic in Central Park
Hanging out for a brief weekend in DC 
Horse-drawn carriages that charm you in the city
Quality time with the sister at a food festival in Brooklyn
Grungy city subways - I dared to take Baby K on the subway and he loved it!
Love these street vendors selling pictures of NYC cityscapes
All packed up in our NYC apartment and ready to leave

Being just a 5 minute walking distance from the best known park in the world is definitely a privilege. Central Park is one of those places that is romanticized in films and just as magical in real life. Pre-baby, Central Park appealed to me because I loved being able to go running there. Recently, I've begun to discover a new facet of this park, one that appeals to my baby as well. Now I also love the park because it offers wide, open spaces for my little one to crawl (and soon walk) around freely outside the confines of a small New York apartment. For those of you wondering what to do with a baby/toddler in the city, here a few places to visit within Central Park itself.

1. Did you know that CP has zoo? Yup, a real zoo. And it's not your usual, run-of-the-mill zoo with horses, goats, and pigs. The Central Park Zoo has a polar and a tropical section where you'll find all sorts of exotic (and some endangered) animals - adorable penguins, flipping sea lions, swinging monkeys, colorful tree frogs, hissing snakes, biting piranhas, agile snow leopards...and the list goes on! You really can lose yourself in this world of animals. I brought baby K to the zoo and enjoyed myself as much as he did!

2. There are numerous playgrounds in CP but the oldest and biggest one is Heckscher Playground (located at 7th Ave and Central Park South). Swings, monkey bars, see-saws, and rocking climbing setups provide a place for children to run free. Baby K can't walk yet but he had a whale of a time crawling around on the astroturf and sitting on the swings!

3. Street artists that cater to children with balloons, bubble blowers, face painting, and musical performances are everywhere! You'll find these street performers at every twist and turn, providing entertainment for children and adults alike.

4. Picnicking in the park is totally a summer activity I do with my girlfriends. In the past, we would bring along blankets to lay on the grass and sneak in some bubbly. While that hasn't changed (hehe!), I have now added a baby to the equation. Throw in some toys to keep the baby occupied and you can have a lovely time catching up with friends while giving your baby some quality outdoor time. Plus, the feel of crawling/walking on the grass and seeing dogs that people have brought for a walk really gets babies excited (also great from the standpoint of the baby's sensory development).
Yay! Fun in the park!