23 March 2008

Absolutely Amazing Angkor

What a learning experience the past two days have been! Quite honestly, before coming to Thailand, I knew very little about Cambodia and these famous temples people kept referring to as 'Angkor Wat.' Apparently, they were absolutely spectacular remnants of the Khmer empire, which dominated Southeast Asia from approximately the 9th century to the 15th century. After spending the past two days hopping from one temple to the next, I can say for myself that these are one of the most interesting, awe-inspiring sights I have ever seen!

Angkor (derived from the Sanskrit word 'nagara', meaning 'city') refers to the region of Cambodia which served as the central seat for the Khmer empire. During this time, millions of workers built over 1,000 temples, which are all so different from one another. Angkor Wat (above at sunrise) is the main temple and is regarded as the world's largest single religious monument. Khmer architecture is intricate, exquisite and leaves you completely dumb-founded. I mean, can you tell me how exactly they built these temples without anything more than stones and manpower?

Here is an overlook of every temple I saw - we made it to about 10 I think! I would give you a history of each one - again, all are so different - but to spare you the time and me the hours and hours it would take to blog it, here are some marvelous pictures instead (with a short description of what the temple is famous for in English).

Angkor Wat (Temple of the Stretching Stone)

Bayon (Temple with all the Faces)

Banteay Srei (Red Temple)

Ta Prohm (Temple with Trees Growing Out of It)

Suor Prat Towers

Preah Khan (Temple of a Former Buddhist City & University)

Neak Pean (Island Temple)

Pre Rup (A Really Big Temple)

Banteay Kdei

Angkor Wat (where I started and ended my temple-hopping)
It's been an exhausting two days of early mornings and intense heat (I'm talking 100 degrees here people!), but I couldn't think of anything more worth it. There is a beautiful elegance in the crumbling structures and facades I can't quite explain. Many temples are literally falling apart before everyone's eyes - I really hope the restoration projects here get the funding they need to keep these temples structurally sound for the future. Angkor is simply amazing!

My favorite parts were cruising from temple to temple with our tuk-tuk drivers Dee and Chon, stretching upon the elusive stretching stone (one day I will tell this hilarious story!), eating delicious food like baguettes and making the kids here laugh (all one needs to do is make some silly, hideous faces, and they crack up in laughter!). The poverty was sad - having to say no time after time to kids trying to sell you anything was tough, but it made me again so appreciative for what I have. It's been a wonderful here in Cambodia.

Tomorrow morning I am heading out of Cambodia and off to the islands of southern Thailand. I am parking my butt on a beach for the next week and soaking in the sun, then flying back to the States and visiting a certain Miss Ashley Keeler before heading back to the Midwest. I hope you are all well back at home, and don't think for a minute I forgot - Happy Easter Sunday to all!

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