A business trip to Cambodia at the end of 2005 enabled me to spend a Saturday exploring Ankor Wat. This was a trip long delayed. Back in 1971 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, a group of us had taken the train to Bangkok following our first year of service. After seeing Bangkok's monuments and glittering night life, there was a discussion on what to see next. I was for crossing the border into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat but was outvoted by those wanting to see the Shangri-La of the north, Chiang Mai. "We'll visit Angkor Wat next year," they said. But by 1972 the conflict in Cambodia had taken Angkor Wat off the list of tourist destinations. It was to be many years before anyone would again think of Cambodia as a fun place to visit.
The Angkor Wat complex is surrounded by a large moat bridged by a pedestrian causeway. When I first saw the towers marking the core of the temple the huge scale of the complex became apparent. Completed about 800 years ago, this Hindu monument recreates a vision of heaven on earth. Abandoned for centuries, the temples of Angkor Wat were reclaimed by the surrounding jungle until discovered and described by astonished French explorers in the mid-19th century.
Rendering the entrance to Angkor Wat as a sepia-toned image somehow captures the aura of mystery and ancient beauty one senses while approaching the central temple.
Galleries are found along the outside walls of the temple. As you walk along the outer wall every inch is covered by bias-relief carvings illuminating Hindu beliefs.
Before my visit, I had thought I would be seeing just Angkor Wat, a temple that has become the symbol of Cambodia to the world. But the area north of the town Siem Reap is an immense archeological park--some 400 square kilometers--where the number and variety of Kymer temples is beyond counting. There are more temples than you could explore in a day or even see in a month.
While I saw many temples throughout my day at Angkor Wat, many had become more jungle than building. This temple was somewhat unique not only for being freed from the surrounding forest but also for its modest scale and wonderful color.
Detail from Angkor Wat Aspera (temple nymph).