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Cambodia, January 20, 2000

Walk, If You Can, Through The Majesty of Angkor

I wasn't, but you might be humbled by the beauty of Angkor Wat

Now, imagine walking though this when it was new!
Welcome to the Baphuon!
I'll buy that for a dollar!
Leper King was a lucky guy!
Weeds don't take a vacation from runing your garden
To much Miracle-Grow!
You think that's a natural color?  Ha!
Angkor Wat on a blue day
I said we're gonna convert to Buddhism, and I mean it!
I said we're Buddhists!
The only good sunset angle I could find
Just imagine it new!

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 guide says.

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 on.

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 man's created.

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 it first.

Those Hindus know how to carve to salute Vishnu
Now is that Hindu or Buddhist imagery, or both?
The King of Beauty
Beauty fit for a king

Cambodia, January 19, 2000

Cambodian Roads Are a Pain in My Ass

My ass still smarts from the 'road' to Siem Reap, Cambodia Light load, only a dozen people I can still taste the dust The cheap way to travel The slow truck to Siem Reap Remember that Nissan Pathfinder commercial that played in the States a while back, "The Road to...

Cambodia, January 14, 2000

Cambodian Kids May Be Poor, But They Are Happy

I rode with a Cambodian baby who peed on my pack! Happy to piss on my pack too Cambodia is poor, and I mean dirt poor. On the road between the Thai border and Siem Reap, I watched little kids play in muddy pools, trying to catch that night's supper...