This is it.
The reason 3 million tourists, (and growing) come to the otherwise, unassuming city of Siem Reap every year.
Angkor Wat: the biggest religious structure in the world, which archaeologists also now believe was part of the world’s biggest preindustrial city, even beating out the Mayan civilization who normally come up in spades for claims to grandeur.
Ok. Quick history blurb (just skip to the next photo if you’re already fighting a yawn).
In the 12th Century, Angkor was the name of the Khmer Empire’s city, and “Wat” translates as temple. So, if you’ve watched any Sesame Street, you know how to do the rest.
Built by a Khmer king in the 12th Century, Angkor Wat (“City Temple”, but you already got that) started life as a Hindu temple, but did it in its own unique way. Traditionally, at that time, way back in the 1100s, Hindu temples were built in honour of the god Shiva, but this King decided instead to build it for Vishnu.
If you’re still with me, you now probably want to know: why did el Jefe make the switch?
A few theories: He was pissed off with his parents and wanted to stick it to them a bit? Or, there was something so undeniably incredible about Vishnu that illuminated his mind more than Shiva, that, in the words of a former God (of Rock): “He just couldn’t fight that feeling anymore.”
In other words, I have NO IDEA. I didn’t find anything, but to be honest, I also didn’t spend hours on research, like I might if I was getting graded. Or paid. Unless a cheque rolls in, I’m going to keep this pretty breezy, and the content, really not much deeper than a puddle.
Besides, I’ve got to get our readership up to at least 17 by end of summer. And laying out the intricacies between Hindu gods, while it might appeal to some, I fear may lose our other 17 who are more interested in Rose’s love affair with orange robed monks.
And, learning the very important news that she took her admiration from afar to a-near:
Now, some of you may wonder: What are Buddhist monks doing here at a Hindu temple? While others are probably wondering: “Are those monks entirely naked under their wraps?”
To the first wonder: After the death of the Vishnu loving King, a new prince came to town, who was even more pissed off with his parents, and decided to shunt Hinduism aside altogether, choosing instead to honour Buddha as THE GUY – and built two temples in honour of his parents in a more Buddhist fashion: one of which I’ll get to in a later post. So, as part of this shift in allegiance, Angkor Wat, then also switched teams to Buddhism too.
And, for the second wonder: from what I researched online (I decided against a quick lift and peek in person) Not naked, but wearing an under-robe.
Okay, enough background. Now the experience. In short, it was amazing. Not least of which were the designs, sculpted all over the walls, including Apsara dancers (King’s dancers):
Seeing, ancient language carved into pillars holding up a section of roof:
Plus, not so ancient language, from the 30ish years ago when the Khmer Rouge took up residence here, and some ingenious soldier, like a dog peeing on a hydrant, decided to say “I WAS HERE” (sorry no photo).
But, at least they didn’t tear down the place like they tried with the rest of the country (More to come on them in a later post).
Also, there were tons of hallways, and doors we walked through, which, reminded me of a certain archaeologist searching for a gold idol (I warned you he’d be back again):
Then coming on to passageways with an entire sculpted wall, illustrating what life was like in 12th Century Angkor:
All of this was amazing, as I said. But, what stood above all of it was this:
We could walk through the entire place. Tourists were allowed to walk through the pillars, duck under the doorways, and enter dark corridors to stare up at a peak of light coming above.
A reality, which I can’t imagine can last, since as much as it was great (and it was) – there’s still a feeling of impact, that shit, I’m not entirely helping the conservation of this place by walking through, even though I paid my entrance fee which goes towards conservation.
Like Chichen Itza in Mexico where people could once climb up its sides, I can only think that the same has to happen here, if they want to preserve it. But, of course, there’s huge forces against it, namely: Cambodia is a poor country. And, one of the concerns by some Cambodians, is that by limiting traffic, you might limit tourists, which might limit money.
Obviously not a great plan for the long-term health of the place. But, looking at it from the point of view of a Cambodian whose struggling everyday just to get by, understandably, he or she is interested in how they can make money to feed their kids, and pay for their school this month, not what’s happening 10 years, 20 years from now. So, it’ll be interesting how the country manages things.
On our exit from Angkor Wat we ran into more orange robed monks – (I make it sound like it was happenstance, when, in reality, Rose made a beeline) this time younger guys:
Interestingly, we spoke to our guide who said that it’s tradition that, as part of growing up, male Cambodians spend time living in a monastery, as a monk – whether, he goes on to stay there is up to him, but the idea is that he gains exposure to Buddhism.
Anyhow, Angkor Wat is only one of three temples we visited, each one had its own uniqueness, which I’ll blab about in some other posts, including a cameo from Cambodian’s own, Angelina Jolie (she was given citizenship in 2005).
Until then, au revoir from Cambodge: