Living and Giving

36 Hours in Cambodia [Part 3 of 7]

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This is the third of a seven part series entitled 36 Hours in Cambodia. This is an unedited account of a personal journey and will be followed by stories from a few more of my international volunteer trips. Many of the experiences on these trips would become the impetus for founding UniversalGiving™.

June 16, 2002

Angkor Wat


My taxi cab driver, Sukom, was amazing.  I learned more from him about life and Cambodia than I did from any book….

The first things he showed me were the fields.  “Do you see the square holes in the mud of the ground, with the plastic bags over it?  They are making a new business.  Here they catch bugs, and fill them with something, and deep-fry them.  They are very good.  People are eating them.  They now send them to Thailand for sale.\”

We had limited time. I chose 6 temples, and the first two were outside of the city.  I wanted to see the countryside, always important whenever one can, in order to see the land, the people, the provinces which are not industrialized, cityized, busyized.   You will get a different picture.

The first temple, Banteay Srei, was 16 kilometers outside of the city.  It was a smaller temple with absolutely beautiful, intricate carvings all over the doorways.  One could see doorway, through doorway, through doorway.  The beautiful carvings –some of women dancing, repeated figures, or complex, ornate decorations on the columns and top of doorways, repeated, truthfully, no less than thousands of times all over hundreds of temples, columns, doorways, edges, fringes, borders.

All of these temples were from the Khmer empire, which built them during the 9th-13th centuries in order to glorify their king.  Usually they were the funerary sites for the king; no one lived inside (unlike the Mayan pyramids of Tikal, Guatemala.)  Here not only were the temples vast and covering hundreds of kilometers, but there were huge towns of people located outside of them, since no one lived in side.  Therefore the empire was even more vast…

Kbal Spien, further away, holds some of the most intricate riverbed carvings.  There are some of women dancing, heads with ornate headdresses, and complex ornamentation, such as big, repeated flowers in a single, horizontal line, beautifully, simply, elegantly repeated.   I wonder what will happen as so much of the river flows over this area?  The water is not here all the time, but I can\’t help but think how all this beautiful work will be preserved without destroying the natural waterfalls and flows.

I started at the flat base of the road and climbed a trail fraught with roots, numerous leaves, on the ground and hanging, and accompanied by the most beautiful and varied birdcalls.  The pathways are flat then steep, open then forested.  I pass blue skies, voluminous clouds and banana trees with their thick and light welcoming, tropical leaves.  I enter the forest and its damper, a bit eery-dark, bird and cricket inhabited habitats…I stay on the trails.  There are wood posts everywhere, colored with deep red paint at the top.  It means there are still landmines there.  Stay on the trails.  I do.

To get to Kbal Spien, we took gorgeously rich brownish-red burnt earth dirt roads, with homes scattered on each side.  Many of them are on stilts because there were grand floods which wiped them out prior… Now, they continue to build them because the lower portion provides escape from the heat or a place to store their things.  For some, the fear of more floods, although I am told it is highly unlikely, drives them to continue to build their homes on stilts.

The homes are beautiful.  They have beautiful, golden grain thatched roofs, sometimes with thatched sides and thin bamboo shutters which unravel down horizontally.  There is much space between each home.  The red gravel earth road continues on to distant shrubbery, further distant forests, and open green lands of rice paddies.

Cows dot their homes and landside; they look rather thin.  Motorbikes, the most popular mode of transport, quickly replacing the three-wheeled bicycle, whiz by.  They cost about $700 which is much cheaper than the cars.  Cars are for rich people I am told; they cost $5,000.

Finally, I went to the grand, tumbling temples of Ta Prohm, simply left as is when first escavated –with bouldering, magnificent blocks with carved stone or carvings in the stone, towering high, or some left haphazardly in heaps. There is much to restore and preserve of this marvelous civilization…

The temple Bayon was immense. Built around 1200, it was the center of Angkor.  Huge smiling stone faces pop up all over the top of this temple, all seemingly replicated; there are more than 200 of them on 50 standing columns or towers.

Finally, Angkor Wat itself.  And perhaps this was most beautifully my favorite, for it was long, majestic and elegant.  I remember almost not being able to leave, watching its beautiful, welcoming towers; proud, elegant, and insisting on being honored, respected, revered.

There are also yards of bas-reliefs depicting the battles of Ramayana, and the famous Indian Maharabhata (spelling?) epic.  For unknown reasons the Khmer culture and stories continue to be relayed, but the Indian story, while present as well in the Angkor civilization, was not passed down through present day family and culture.  The reliefs are incredible detail, intricate figures compounded on one another in a mass scourge of arms legs, differing swords, facial expressions, body positions and stages of action by action in thousands of meters of battle.  The effort, energy and painstaking commitment to repeated detail!  Perhaps because of the long and painful, confusing melee of battle…


You can take action.

Give $20 to provide gardening tools to a Cambodian family.

Give $25 to clear landmines.

Give $100 to support economic development in Cambodia.

Volunteer with an arts center in Cambodia.