Angkor Wat was the most anticipated part of our trip. It had been on my bucket list for decades.
We had an ideal introduction to Angkor Wat when an Australian archaeologist, David Brotherson of the University of Sydney, lectured us on the Greater Angkor Project, which seeks an understanding of the city as a whole and not just the temples. His PhD thesis involves mapping the city from 802-1431 AD, known as the Angkorian Period.
I had not realized that at one time the Khmer Empire included all of Southeast Asia.
Angkor’s 100 or so temples make up the skeleton of a spectacular administrative and religious center which had houses, palaces and public buildings constructed of wood. They have long since decayed.
The right to dwell in brick or stone structures was reserved for the gods. The Khmer king identified with Shiva, Brotherson explained, which led to stability.
The temple is at the center of the complex. The reservoir was built in the 10th century and the second temple in the 12th century. They believe Angkor Wat started to decline in the 15th century.
It’s horrible to think what happened to these temples in the 1970’s and the 1990’s. During these times of civil war, Angkor Wat became a battlefield and looting was rampant.
Our guide, Kheang (who was fantastic) was conscripted at the age of 13. He remembers sleeping with his AK47 inside the temple at night. He saw a Buddha’s head being taken away one night.
Artifacts are still being discovered all over the world. Some of them are being returned to Cambodia but many are lost forever.
Because we were a small group and had an experienced guide, we were able to visit some of the lesser known and seldom visited areas: Banteay Srei, also known as the “Citadel of Women,” and Banteay Samre.
We had a lovely sunset experience in a gondola-like boat with wine and canapes served. We were really lucky that our boatman happened to be a sometime singer and he serenaded all of us as he paddled us around the moat at sunset.
Angkor Wat is a place of magic and spirituality that will long stay with me.
– Paula Rath