Most of Cambodia is rural countryside and we do have plans to visit a waterfall, but first…the treasures of Siem Reap, the second largest city in the country. There are amazing temples, a lot of history and incredible Khmer food.
We hired a guide who led us in the dark to one of the two library buildings within the temple complex of Angkor Wat. We sat on the ledge and watched the sunrise over the impressive five central towers. No clouds meant a not-so colorful start to the day, but still a mighty impressive welcome. The five towers symbolize the peaks of Mount Meru, which according to Hindu mythology is the home of the gods. The mountain is said to be surrounded by an ocean, and the complex’s enormous moat suggests the oceans at the edge of the world. Monkeys howled, roosters crowed and gongs chimed calling Monks to prayer as we watched the sky brighten.
Angkor Wat is one of the great cultural wonders of the world and is the world’s largest religious structure at 400 acres. The temple walls are covered with bas-relief sculptures of very high quality, representing Hindu gods and ancient Khmer scenes.
First Hindu, then Buddhist, then abandoned, finally recovered and in the process of painstaking restoration, Angkor Wat is an amazing site to behold.
We moved from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom, the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer Empire. It was established in the late twelfth century. A bridge spans the moat in front of each entrance (N-E-S-W). These have a row of gods on the left and demons on the right, each row holding a naga (snake) in the position of a tug-of-war. This appears to be a reference to an ancient myth of the churning of the sea. We entered in the south, the best preserved gate.and made our way to the Bayon Temple.
After exploring the grounds we moved to the Terrace of Elephants where elephants were put through war training exercises. They were protected by stone lions. From here, our guide walked us down a path which brought us by a newly restored Buddha statue. From the front, all looks fine, from the back, not so much.
The path led us to another temple that has been reclaimed by a Strangler Fig tree. It appears there are hundreds of these smaller temples throughout the jungle, most have been identified, but the trees are winning.
As the temperature climbed, we took a break from the temples and headed to the Artisans Angkor center. Here, rural residents are trained in crafts which include producing and weaving silk, sculpting and carving wood and stone, and designing lacquer and silk painting. These artisans are creating new works of art and also helping to create works for restoration projects for the temples.
After a busy day of sightseeing, we enjoyed a multi-course Khmer dinner that included red ants, coconut and a chocolate lotus. It was a day of wonders.