After busting my ass on the road
to Siem Reap, I was ready to see some heart-stopping wonders at
the temple complex referred to as Angkor Wat. It was impressive
all right, and easily "constitutes one of humanities most
magnificent architectural achievements," as the Lonely Planet
Ancient Athens, Classical Rome, modern New York
City and even Hong Kong are easily more impressive than Angkor in
general architecture, and the cathedrals of Pairs, Chartres,
Venice, and Istanbul in specifically religious architecture. But once you factor in the location and the effot level for the people at that time, it easily makes the cut.
It is an impressive
sight, and worth the bruised ass, I am still nursing, but I see
Angkor in a different context than most. When I was little, my
parents dragged me, kicking and screaming sometimes, to the vast
majority of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec ruins of Central and South
America. To see those massive temple complexes, rising like stone
islands in an endless sea of tropical jungle, at such a tender
young age, colors my judgment to this day.
Yes, the Angkor complex (Angkor Wat is just one
temple in the capital city of the ancient Khmer Empire) does have
its breath-taking moments. The Bayon temple, with its many eerie
Buddha's, and the Terrace of the Leper King, adorned with
countless female carvings were striking.
Actually, these two temples show the long and
colorful history of Angkor. The Terrace, built before Bayon, shows
the Hindu nature of the original kings. Later, after Buddhism
replaced Hinduism in Southeast Asia, the Bayon was built and the
Terrace was refaced in a more Buddhist style.
Ta Prohm, left as the French found it, was a ray
of hope for modern man. Whenever I see trees retaking man's works,
whether its massive trunks rising from ancient ruins or little
weeds forming in cracks of modern sidewalks, I smile with
reassurance that Nature, in her infinite patience and daily
persistence, will easily outlast and fully erase mankind as she
did the dinosaurs before us.
Interestingly, I saw a photo of Angkor Wat circa
1880, and the temple looked much as it does today, with what I
would believe, are the exact same palm trees growing in front.
Today, you can see the ancient Hindu carvings next to slightly
newer Buddhist images, complete with modern Buddha's being
worshiped by the faithful, to remind you that Wat means temple and
this one is still in use.
To get to the temple, built to honor the Hindu
god Vishnu around 1100 AD, you fist have to cross a moat that
shocked me in its size. I could only vaguely comprehend the
manpower the ancient Khmer King utilized to build the six-km in
circumference and 150-meter+ wide moat before power tools and
heavy machinery. I guess I shouldn't be too shocked at the moat
alone, because all the stone for the temples, in its many types,
was moved here from high hills all over two day's walk away.
The little Banteay Srei temple, at the end of an
unbelievably dusty road that is a day's walk in length itself, is
notable as the mixed Hindu/Buddhist style carvings depicting
inter-Khmer battles, seems to span the time of transition between
Hinduism and Buddhism.
Check out my slide show presentation on it all.
While on that unbelievably dusty road, I stopped
at two temples that distinctly reminded me of South America. From
the top of one, you could just make out the top of the next
temple, poking up trough the forest surrounding it. And just as in
South America, just across the road was a bank of little huts,
filled with Cambodian kids dying to sell me cold water, camera
film, T-shirts, scarves, or anything else they could make money
Actually, with the exception of the kids, Angkor
was remarkably free of commercialism. No temples sponsored by
Kodak, no rest stops by Coca-Cola, and never a McDonalds in sight.
Quite a relief from the usual tourist scene at the other wonders
Outside of Angkor Wat itself, the whole area was
remarkably low in the tourist factor. I guess that road to the
border, while painfully rough, does serve a purpose and keep the
delicate from spoiling the scene with their massive
air-conditioned buses and loud handholding tour guides. So come
now, while its still relatively unspoiled, and grandma doesn't see