Siem Reap Travel Blog› entry 16 of 17 › view all entries
one of the places on this planet that I had wanted to visit since my childhood was the temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia. I had read about its re-discovery by French archaeologists in the 1950's and seen pictures of ficus trees growing through walls of bas reliefs topped by towers decorated by carved faces with serene smiles. I felt that I would never be able to fulfil this childhood dream because of poverty and because the of wars in Indo-China followed by the "killing fields" of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent civil war. But when peace had been restored in the late 90's and my circumstances had improved, I was able to fly to Cambodia and visit the Angkor ruins. On February 13, 2004, I made a second visit.
Our hotel had set up a driver/ guide for us who arranged tickets to enter the National Park and to visit the various temple sites. We were mainly interested in the temple of Angkor Thom - the one with the smiling faces on its towers and the main temple of Angkor Wat the largest components of what is described as the largest religious complex in the world with smaller temple sites spread over much of northern Cambodia. The bas reliefs on the outside walls of Angkor Wat are some of most interesting artistic works anywhere on the globe. They cover almost 4 kilometres of sandstone and in general depict the cycle of Hindu religious stories. There are numerous representations of elephants and monkeys engaged with humans in a battle against the demons. Vendors around Siem Reap sell rubbings of temple carvings - especially apsaras and elephants in battle. These rubbings are inexpensive souvenirs and - to protect the original bas reliefs - casts have been taken by the park administration to prevent wear of the original statues.
Another prominent hindu myth carved in storne is the story of the gods and demons churning the sea of milk using the body of Naga - the cobra. The product of this churning was the elixir of immortality which was seized by the gods (which is why the demons always appear unhappy.) Churning the sea of milk also created "apsaras" = dancing girls whose job is to give pleasure to men in heaven. The statues at the ceremonial entrance to Angkor Thom are a representation of this story.