Angkor Wat

Trip Start Jan 13, 2013
Trip End Feb 05, 2013

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Left hotel at 5AM and drove to Angkor Wat to see sunrise. Alas, too cloudy for a good sunrise, but it was good to be there ahead of most of the other tourists.  These buildings are amazing – from the elaborate bas reliefs that tell stories of battles, myths and everyday life, to the surrounding moats, the irrigation and drainage systems.   The impossibly steep stairs are designed so that one must bow while climbing the stairs and then must climb down backwards and so never turn your back on the gods in the temple.  They are closed to the tourists since 35 of them would immediately fall and kill themselves – which is bad for business.

The carvings are done in sandstone that was used to build and then carved after it was in place.  The detail is incredible…and our Cambodian guide tells us that no two carvings are alike (a completely believable statement after seeing them).  Most of what is known about the Khmer Empire and ancient Cambodian history comes from these carvings.  Archeologists continue to study them.

Given that my only knowledge about Khmer people came from the Khmer Rouge party, it is interesting to learn that they were a civilization equivalent to other great civilizations in terms of art, culture, scholarship, innovation.

It is alarming to see the impact of tourism on the sites.  Although they have made some efforts to protect the sites, they will soon be destroyed if stronger measures aren't taken.  Our guide tells us that a law has already been passed, but not yet implemented, limiting vehicles within Angkor Wat and some of the other most popular areas of Angkor. Now there is a steady stream of buses, taxis, vans, and tuk tuks all day long – the air is thick with exhaust.  Definitely need to do what has been done in Acadia and Denali and limit vehicle access.  The downside, of course, is that a gazillion people make their  living driving tourists around here. 

The other issue is millions of people touching the beautiful bas relief carvings, climbing all over the ancient stones, looting and defacing carvings. And, of course, the unrestricted development surrounding the protected area.  Of course, the resources to protect the site are unavailable within Cambodia and the revenue from tourism is desperately needed.   We saw many joint projects between Cambodia and other countries – Canada, India, Japan, Sweden – not from the US however. 

Had a brief visit to Angkor  Hospital for Children a privately funded hospital started by a Japanese photographer who came to Cambodia many times to photograph Angor Wat, saw the dire health status of the children and wanted to do something to help.  He founded Friends without a Border and the hospital opened in 199 at a time when 1 in 5 Cambodian children died before age five.  The also provide medical and nursing education and have 49 physicians (all except 2 are Cambodian) and 149 nurses working at the hospital.  They work closely with the Minister of Health to improve rural health care in Cambodia, including education about clean water and sanitation in the villages.

 Dinner and then a performance – dance and shadow puppets - by a group of artists working to restore traditional Cambodian performing arts that were decimated by the Khmer Rouge and years of war. A glimpse backstage was interesting – especially the part where someone was filling a coconut shell with gasoline and throwing it on a fire periodically in order to create the shadows!
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