Awe and Wonder at Angkor

April 03, 2014

The stunning temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park near Siem Reap, Cambodia are grander than anything you can imagine.  Unfolding over around 400 sq. km, this famous temple complex includes the temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom amongst multitudes of others.  You could get lost in this magical place – and we recommend you do.  Whatever you find there, it’s an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.


Discover the Meaning of Devotion

While there is, of course, a political element to the history of these structures, it is awe-inspiring to remember that these massive buildings are, at their heart, places of devotion.  First constructed as a Hindu temple devoted to Vishnu, Angkor Wat was designed to represent Mount Meru, the home of the Hindu gods.  Standing in its regal presence, it is easy to imagine that this is the castle divine beings would call home.  Take some time before you even walk through the gate to linger on the grounds and marvel at the sheer vastness a project of this kind would have been, particularly in a time before modern machinery.  Allow your breath to be taken away by the spiritual weight and beauty the place carries.  And then remember that the entire structure was built as an act of devotion to the divine.

As you wander the temple grounds, take note of the detail involved.  Depicting images mainly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the bas-reliefs along the inner walls of Angkor Wat’s outer galleries are exercises in relentless devotion to detail.  The towers of Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple feature not just one or two but 216 giant faces.  These sorts of elements abound in the complex, and taking time to notice them and appreciate the effort they would have entailed will leave you with a lifelong sense of what devotion really means.

Revel in the Peace – And Find Time to Pray

Despite the bustling crowds, there is something tranquil about wandering in this mystical place.  Seek out the sense of quiet amongst the tourist shuffle. Give yourself plenty of time to explore- and luxuriate in it, giving every moment the time it deserves.  One particularly stillness-invoking site is the famous Ta Prohm.  The jungle has woven itself into the stonework here, and strangler fig trees embrace the carved stone.  Stray off the main central path and veer to the sides of the temple to revel in the quiet beauty, or simply allow the natural reverence to turn you inward even amongst the bustle of this popular site.

Sections of the Angkor complex still function as working temples, and monks intermingle with exploring tourists.  Allow this to open you up to the idea of taking some time to pray, perhaps alongside the devout.  Beware of anyone offering you incense, however.  Their intention is likely more economic than spiritual.


Exercise Consciousness

It is easy to forget just how recently this country was entrenched in a civil war followed by a devastating genocide.  Everything, and everyone, in this country has been touched in some way by these events.  Know the history, be prepared for a shock or two, and be open to respond emotionally to, rather than block out, the sadness you may find here.  In doing so, you’ll become aware of the amazing resilience of the Cambodians and the friendliness they exude.

Try to act consciously.  Don’t buy souvenirs from children – the success of their labor may keep them out of school.  Other kindnesses, such as small candies or a purchase of ice cream, are a better route if your heartstrings pull.  Patronize small establishments that allow you to interact with the locals, rather than eating isolated away with other tourists.  Finally, be respectful in comport and dress. Cover your knees and shoulders, and dress and behave as you would in your own place of worship.  Open your heart, ask questions, and absorb as much as you can.  The people here are a vital part of the experience that, at least in some small way, is sure to change you for good.