Alexandra Sieh
Alexandra Sieh

"There's no use," I mumbled grumpily. "I won't get a shot unless I walk into the damn water."

"Well, maybe if you ..." Manfriend started, but there was no use. We were huddled with hundreds of others, all trying to take the same photo at sunrise, yet he and I were some of the only people unwilling to be jerks to do it.

"Oh well," I said, tucking my phone away. "Sure is beautiful, anyway," I said quietly.

And it was.

But in my groggy state, I wasn't sure it had been worth it. The maddening crowds, the lost sleep — all for what?

We had been in Cambodia for a few days and successfully avoided most of the tourist cliches thanks to cycling tours and river boat rides.

So why were we at Angkor Wat for what is probably the biggest cliche photo of all?

At 5 a.m., sitting next to a hundreds-year-old temple, I asked myself a question I often asked while traveling: Is this for you or the photo?

I've spent a long time listening to folks rail against selfie takers and snapshot seekers. "They're only here for the likes!" some grumps rant (usually via their own social media pages). Others opt for the "you're missing the experience if you watch it through your camera" angle.

Just typing this, I'm getting riled up. I always hated when friends criticized me for wanting a photo from a mountaintop or fun moment. "To each their own," I'd mutter back. I hiked the damn mountain. I'll take whatever photos I pleased.


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But after a woman practically clotheslined me for a selfie that morning, I was starting to side with the grumps. These people weren't even noticing the moon as it hovered over the temple or the changing colors reflecting off the water.

Why were they even here?

A few hours later, refueled by cold winds from the back of a tuktuk (a small cart tugged along by a motorcycle), I called Manfriend over.

"Look at the intricacy, it's incredible!" I gushed, snapping photo after photo of a carving tucked away behind a pillar.

I went snapshot-happy for these carvings hidden behind a pillar.
I went snapshot-happy for these carvings hidden behind a pillar. (Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily)

A few confused tourists stared — "Can't that girl see the view is behind her?" — but I was well content with my carvings. They were so intriguing, hidden away. And as irony would have it, I'd never have noticed them without having been seeking out a "good photo."

For me, the balance is this: Snap your selfies and pose away. Take the photos you need to remember your moment. But don't forget to live that moment, too.

Emerging from Angkor Wat, I turned around for a final look. I took a deep breath, filled with awe, and then I took a photo.

Looking at it now, I feel that same sense of calm and wonder. A photo well worth taking.

Read more Sieh: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk her: instagram.com/wildeyed_wandering.