Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Angkor Wat?

11 January 2010 – Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat.

Most travelers rush into Siem Reap and see the ruins for a day, maybe two, before rushing onto their next destination. I’d been there an entire week, quietly wandering the town saying little to anyone, when I finally decided to check’em out. The thing to do, they say, is to leave at 5am.[bxA]

Angkor at Sunrise (random photo found on internet).

It didn’t sound fun. They set up lawn chairs – tons of them – and a stadium crowd shows up to watch the sunrise like a football game. I didn’t want to do it, but the thought sent me down memory lane...

14 August 2009 – Palmyra Syria – two strangers meeting. “Hey, will you take a photo of me?” “Sure, will you take a photo of me?” The rest, as they say, is history.

Back in the Beirut days, people often assumed Chaz and I were dating and I was asked more than once how we met. It was a romantic start - our platonic friendship – we were making idle conversation in the ruins waiting for the sun to crack on the horizon in Palmyra.

Palmyra, Syria. After the anticlimactic photo op, Chaz and I walked on the sand, in the wind among ruins discussing his research in Kuwait and my….um…basic lunacy I guess. Chaz became one of my all time best travel buds and introduced me to a whole new social world of great people back in Beirut.

But back to Cambodia…
“Have you seen Angkor Wat?” That’s what everyone asks. They don’t say, “Have you seen the temples of Angkor?” It’s very specific that the reason you travel to Siem Reap is to see Angkor Wat, the main temple with the moat around it. The Lonely Planet says it’s the largest religious structure in the world and various other travel blurbs call it “the eighth wonder of the world.” (Nikki reminded me that we were raised on the belief that the Houston Astrodome is the 8th wonder of the world. Isn't it?)

Angkor Wat is cool and all, but…
Bayon is way cooler.

Way way cooler.
When you travel a lot you come up with just a handful of unforgettables. Or, I do, anyway. There aren’t many and they’re not the ones you might assume – the sights that make you think, wow, that’s spectacular. Bayon is now near the top of my list.

And so…I will bore you with what the Lonely Planet has to say:

The Bayon epitomizes the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s legendary king, Jayavarman VII. Its 54 Gothic towers are famously decorated with 216 enormous, coldly smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara that bear more than a passing resemblance to the great king himself. These huge visages glare down from every angle, exuding power and control with a hint of humanity – precisely the blend required to hold sway over such a vast empire, ensuring that the disparate and far-flung populations yielded to the monarch’s magnanimous will.
Bayon Temple of Angkor - Bas Relief depiction of a cock fight.

The Bayon is decorated with 1.2km of extraordinary bas-reliefs incorporating more than 11,000 figures. The famous carvings on the outer wall of the first level vividly depict everyday life in the 12th-century Cambodia.

To be fair, if you really must know… Angkor Wat also has a rich history. The tour guide, who bored me nearly to death, talked for hours about its significance.

There are many books about it. Tons to know.

However, I will spare you the enthralling detail and tell you what Alyssa and have come to regard as ‘The History of Nearly Everything’:

Angkor Wat was built…

by the ancestors…

back in the day.