March 20, 2009


Of course, that couldn't happen to one particular temple. I’d deliberately left the iconic Angkor Wat till last (even driving past it with my eyes shut) so I could get up at dawn for the sunrise.

Shivering as we zoomed through the dark and deserted Siem Reap streets, Me and I arrived at Angkor well before dawn, following the trail of flickering torches left by others. Although the crowds and clouds made it slightly disappointing, the stillness and anticipation created something magical in the air for that half hour.

The temple, which includes a giant moat and a huge avenue-esque platform approaching it and the main structures of the temple itself, is surrounded all around by the, by now, all too familiar series of bas-reliefs telling of Hindu stories - a sort of thirteenth century Daily Mirror for the illiterate. And so I spent three hours happily exploring the temple, weaving my way through its nooks and crannies, its pillars and walls studded with giant heads and ancient carvings, like some architectural garage sale

.And how did it compare with the other sites? Undoubtedly, its sheer size is its most impressive feature. It may not have the most striking images (Bayon's faces claim that one for me) or a lost paradise (make for Ta Promh) but its looming, brooding presence dominates the whole area and becomes lodged forever in some tenebrous part of the brain.

The temples were originally built to symbolise the Hindu belief in the five-peaked mountain of Meru - home to the gods - but the influence of Buddhism spawned newer murals, sculptures and carvings that have kept the Angkor Wat close to Cambodian's hearts as the iconic symbol of their country's past glory.

Following the Killing Caves in Battambang, it was good to see the people's pride in Cambodia has survived the Khmer Rouge. However, my next stop in Phnom Penh would provide no such escape from the recent past.

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