The devastation that met so many Cambodians in the years of the Khmer Rouge’s rule is unthinkable. A day frought with emotion and much sadness as I visited the Tuol Sleng Museum, once the Tuol Svay Prey High School, turned Security Prison 21, the largest center of detention and torture in the country. The spaces where so many innocent lives were lost, chambers with rusty beds, wooden cells in which there was room only for grief. The survivors of this prison were taken to the killing fields of Cheoung Ek, which became the memorial of these 17,000 men, women and children who were so wrongfully executed. 129 mass graves, sights of a dark and somber past that will remain with me as I journey through history.
At the center of Angkor Thom lies the Bayon, one of the most enigmatic and religious constructions in the world. It is composed of a mass of face-towers which form what appear to be mountain peaks. Most of the 37 remaining towers are carved with 4 faces. I was immersed in a world of Angkor eyes peering at me from every angle…wonderfully eerie!
My favorite of the temples is Ta Prohm, set in a tangle of trees, creating a mood of romance. Rightfully so, the King dedicated the temple to his mother. The light was perfect as it shone on this temple that was left in it’s natural state of collapse, in my view quite a beautiful state. I could have easily spent another week lost amidst the temples that create this ancient Angkor Kingdom, there are so many! Each one unique in it’s grandeur.
Angkor Wat is the grandest and most sublime of all the Khmer temples. It was built in the 12th century, both as the capital and the State Temple dedicated to Vishnu. This is the first of many temples I explored in this monumental region of Angkor, many of which are composed of the two major features of Khmer architecture: a pyramid and concentric galleries. The visions of this Hindu universe are overwhelming!
I have arrived to Siem Reap, a city which feels much like a village, slowly making strides towards modernity. Cambodia is a country that is only now recovering from a devastating past due to the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge. I experienced one of the most intense days of this journey, beginning with a morning spent in a floating village in which the houses, schools and shops all float in the muddy waters of the Tonle Sap river. It was incredible to observe an entire life that is only accessible by boat. Children played in buckets or lay in the hammocks, as parents busied themselves with chores. I felt slightly obtrusive looking so closely into the intimate spaces of these local people. Yet it was immeasurably fascinating.
Following the floating village I sought refuge from the extreme heat and entered the world of the Angkor temples…