The Ancient Wonder of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Visiting the huge, ancient Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has long been on my bucket list, and I can honestly say it has been one of the top three highlights of my journey so far. (The others are seeing my first total solar eclipse and playing for two days with elephants.) I met a lovely young woman at my hostel with whom I spent a few lovely days, including this day. Julia is from Norway, and like me, was traveling for a long time. We were lucky to be there at the beginning of the low season, as there were very few tourists, which allowed for a peaceful, calm, unhurried experience.

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There are many, many temples, large and small, in the area that was once Cambodia’s capitol, long, long ago. (Another famous temple in the region is where Tomb Raider was filmed.) The Angkor Wat temple itself is the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, toward the end of that century it became a Buddhist temple.

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Angkor Wat Temple at sunrise.

Although the capitol of Cambodia eventually moved (more than once), Angkor Wat was never completely abandoned as a temple. While it withstood the stresses and strains of time, by the twentieth century it was in need of restoration. The preservation project was interrupted during the Pol Pot regime, when it suffered slight bullet damage on a bas relief. However, art thieves in the late 1980s and early 1990s did the most damage when they came and lopped off the heads of almost every Buddha at the temple. Nearly every statue remains headless. Continue reading