Today we saw temples. Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphoun, Phimeanakas, Ta Prohm, Phnom Bakheng, etc etc etc. Many many temples. Our day started at 5:00 with a sunrise view of Angkor Wat, then breakfast back at the hotel, then a long morning of climbing all over giant temples, then lunch, then some more temples, back to Angkor Wat for a more detailed visit, then a climb to another hidden temple, and the back to the room by 3:30. We were sweaty and exhausted by the end of our day, and we looked rather like drowned rats when we arrived back at the hotel. And the three of us did it rather in comfort, in an air-conditioned car with a driver and a guide and all the cold water we could drink.
Our guide was quite a historian and was able to tell us lots of interesting things. The temples are a mix between Hindu and Buddhist, with intricate artwork detailing the great Indian epics, Buddhist icons and symbols, and Khmer history. Probably my (TP’s) favorite part was a great big relief at Bayon depicting a war between the Khmers and the Chams. You could identify the Chams (Muslims, related to Malays) because they had helmets on and were losing. You could identify the Khmers because they had long earlobes (long earlobes are thought to symbolize long life). You could also identify the Chinese, fighting along with the Khmers as allies, because they had beards. At any rate, we learned way too much. Learn about the Angkor temple complex on wikipedia.
Our guide also gave us quite the rundown on recent Cambodian history. What a terrible set of stories. He was born in 1977, so his was the generation who were taken from their mothers at the age of one month because their mothers were needed in the fields. Even after the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge back into the jungles, the country didn’t enjoy any peace; there was still bitter fighting until 1998. He described the days of hiding in Angkor Wat from the armies fighting in the area. The tourism industry in Siem Reap has blossomed between 1998 and today, but civil war has left Cambodia a legacy of stunning poverty and lack of nearly any infrastructure aside from hotels and restaurants for tourists.
Our agenda for tomorrow is still unclear, but we are greatly enjoying our time here so far.