Near Siem Riep lie the ruins of the ancient Khmer capital. The word Angkor means Capital, and Wat means Temple. You may know it as Angkor Wat, but that’s really just the most famous temple in the complex of many more smaller temples. The whole area used to be a city, but now only the stone temples remain, probably because a lot of the houses and shops were made of wood or something less sturdy and long-lasting.
Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire, a grand city with multitudes of temples, though the temples are all that are left. Angkor Wat is the most well-known of all the temples.
Thailand was left alone and apart from colonization, partly to be a neutral zone between the British in India and Myanmar, and the French in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. When French explorers came and uncovered the lost history here, they were absolutely shocked. I personally think that Angkor deserves to be on the throne of a world wonder.
You would not believe how hot it is here. It reminds me of Paje. It is as hot or hotter than Paje. It is winter here, and at night it is as hot as Seattle’s most extreme summers. We are once again sticky 24/7. Though we are lucky to have AC in our rooms. Cambodians think it is cold outside during the mornings, the only time it is bearable outside for us. We once saw a woman with a scarf, sweatshirt, and even mittens! Schoolwork was never really a goal in Cambodia. It is hot outside, and our rooms are too small for us to actually do things like math and science. We happily just write the blogs that need to be written, and we are also absorbing Angkor and the history of Cambodia.
Siem Reap kind of reminds me of Thailand and Tanzania. It is poorer than Thailand, but richer than Tanzania. Food is once again very interesting and delicious. Dirt roads littered with trash. biciclyes, motorcycles, and cars drive around. Though under the heat and mosquitoes and spiders and flies and ants, there is so much history.
We woke up early to avoide the blazing heat (I was still sticky), took a tuk tuk (they have tuk tuks in Cambodia!) to the gates of Angkor. Statues, some restored and some with stolen heads, lined the walkway. The temples were mostly rebuilt, now constructed from the blocks the explorers had found laying on the ground. Today we were seeing a whole bunch of smaller, less famous temples. Tomorrow we will see the two big ones, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
One temple was pretty much left how they found it. There were trees and vines growing out of the majestic, ancient, epic stone roofs. It was very interesting to walk into a room in that temple, and think about how I was probably walking in the footsteps of a Khmer citizen. But they were long gone. The vegetation that had thrived here for 400 years was a reminder of that. That person was gone, and now there was a tree, its roots climbing down the walls of the room. This tree is growing and surviving because the temple had been abandoned long ago. No one really knows why or how much of the city of Angkor was abandonded. But it was, leaving room for the Earth and the plants to take hold of the fortress. Ancient stone carvings, shrouded by the mask of leaves and vines, roots and branches that blossomed in the wake of the mighty Khmer civilization.
One thing that made the temples very interesting was the question of whether it was a Hindu temple or a Buddhist one. The Khmer empire was kind of like La Mezquita in Cordoba, which is a mix of different religions. One Khmer leader was Hindu, the next Buddhist. Most of Southeast Asia had their own religions, animist religions, before India introduced Hinduism to them. Then India introduced Buddhism to them. Thailand and Cambodia were all three religions at some point. Kind of like the question: Is Alsace French or German? Nobody really knows. There are Hindu carvings, with beasts such as Garudas and Nagas, and Buddhist carvings, with depictions of the Buddha and parts of his life. Sometimes a Hindu leader would ascend to the throne, and destroy some of the Buddhist carvings. Archeologists were very confused about what goes with what, because the temples are just a big scramble, with rooms dedicated to the Buddha and other rooms with elegant statues of Nagas, a seven-headed snake from Hindu mythology. Some carvings had other creatures, like Garudas, who are servants of Vishnu.
Many temples, one dedicated to Vishnu, the four-armed preserver of the universe, one dediated to a former king, and many others dedicated to other things were everywhere.
Angkor Wat (the temple) is our next Cambodian destination, and more history awaits!
Below: Overgrown Temple
Below: Other Temples
Below: Stone Carvings