The last 50 years have not been kind to Cambodia. The spillover from the Vietnam war led to decades of struggle. At the hands of the Khmer Rouge it is estimated that a quarter of the population was killed or died of starvation. The instability was still very apparent into the 1990′s and trials for genocide are still not fully resolved as of 2013. With all of these events it is easy to overlook the thousands of years of history before Vietnam.
Cambodia is a beautiful country and has legacy of ancient history to match.
No trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit to Angkor. The Angkor Archaeological Complex is home to ruins from many structures that sprawl for kilometers including notable temples. The most famous of these temples is Angkor Wat. We got up before dawn for a tuk tuk ride to catch the sunrise over this storied structure. You may recognize the iconic silhouette in the picture below.
Angkor Wat is enormous. You can’t properly appreciate the scale until you spend 10 minutes just walking toward the main structure. What you find inside is magical. Steep stairwells, long hallways and empty pools where medical treatments once took place. In addition to the massive size, there are many areas of extraordinary detail. Carvings of spectacular scenes with immaculate human and animal designs.
It is incredible to think that Angkor Wat was constructed over 800 years ago. You could spend all day appreciating the site. However, Angkor Wat is just one of many temples located in the complex. Our second stop was Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm is literally being eaten alive. The surrounding forest has been encroaching on the site ever since it was abandoned and has incorporated itself into the design. The result is an incredible blending of nature and man-made structure.
Ta Prohm was my favorite of the temples at Ankor. It twists your imagination to wonder what it must have been like hundreds of years ago and what it may become hundreds of years from now.
The last of our three-temple-tour was the equally impressive Angkor Thom (Bayon). Angkor Thom is best known for the faces that decorate the entire site.
After spending six hours in the blazing sun looking at ancient artifacts, I’m not sure my mind was in the best state to absorb all there was to see at Angkor Thom. Thankfully, we have cameras and I can go back and appreciate the details.
To say Ankor is massive is a severe understatement. We spent a full day at the complex and could have spent many more. Once a thriving population lived and worked on the same site as these ruins. Now, we can only look at these rocks and imagine what a thriving Ankor may have looked like.
The next day, we had the opportunity to venture even further back into Cambodia’s ancient history. Stay tuned for part two of our Cambodia temple adventure!