At the request of my uncle, I sit down now to pen a few more thoughts about Cambodia.
Most of the second week I spent in Cambodia I was in Siem Reap (defeat of Siam/Thailand – classy name for a city, eh?). Ever since tourists have traveled to Cambodia, as far back as the French at the turn of the last century, they’ve gone to check out the Temples at Ankor. The airport was the nicest I’d traveled through in Asia and the city itself certianly makes itself a comfortable destination for tourists from around the world with lots of yummy food and fish massages.
Sarah and I trapsed around a lot of temples. We spent a total of 3 days climbing around, shvitzing and taking photos with cool old stuff in Ankor. Apparently, I find out now that I’m no longer there, tourists like us may be the cause of some serious destruction to the sandstone buildings — but we didn’t really give it a thought while we were scrambling over tumbled down temples.
Some highlights from the temples we saw:
- Banteay Srei – red sandstone and amazingly intricate, well preserved carvings. Srei means “women” and people say that the place could only have been carved by women because of the finely detailed work. Sarah and I had a debate later on about gender essentalism, which was fun.
- Kbal Spean – not a temple exactly, more like a bizillion phalluses carved into a riverbed (for fertility, of course). And a lovely waterfall where we cooled down for a moment before the hordes of school children came to play.
- Bayon – we saw the iconic faces (over 200) of the heavenly realm after exploring the narratives of the inner and outer galleries
and many more. Some important words and images to know when touring temples in Cambodia:
- naga – a serpent, often guarding gods or the buddha
- apsara – a “celestial nymph,” basically a pretty lady who dances on the walls of temples
- balustrade – I had NO idea what this was until I just looked it up. All the tour guides talked about it like, “duh, I can’t believe you’ve never heard of this.” Well, it seems to be a fancy word for handrail. In temples in Cambodia, they are often decorated with a naga.
And as for mythology, there’s a lot that I don’t know. The churning of the ocean of milk was a popular story that kept coming up. And, there was a time when “Vishu defeats the devils” on one of the bas reliefs at Ankor Wat. I, of course, heard Sarah say “gerbils” and then couldn’t stop laughing, both at that image and at my easy confusion.
If there was any doubt in your mind, GO see the temples at Ankor. The place is amazing. As I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say again, “old shit is cool” and it may not be around forever.