To celebrate our engagement, my fiancé and I traveled to Cambodia to visit the temples at the ancient city of Angkor.
Angkor was the physical and spiritual center of the Khmer empire – an empire that dominated southeast Asia from the 9th to 15th centuries. It was long known that Angkor was home to a very large population, as many as a million people, but recent geospatial surveys have shown that the city and its waterworks extended far beyond any city of the pre-industrial world. Ultimately the city was abandoned in 1431 after being sacked by the Sukothai (of present day Thailand), the Khmer shifted their capital to Phnom Pehn and left Angkor to be absorbed by the jungle it had emerged from.
Having read this history, we were still not capable of imagining what we would encounter there. Nearly 40 significant sites dot the landscape. The detail of each place was overwhelming; our efforts to visit more than a few temples each day were physical and visual marathons. Every nook and cranny of the stone temples are carved, statues emerge at every turn. And yet the larger scale imagery is not neglected: at Angkor Wat, the exterior galleries are filled with great bas-relief friezes, the most magnificent being the depiction of the Hindu epic of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. We climbed the temple-mountains, viewing the jungle that stretched to the horizon, and got lost within the temple-galleries, searching for shade and a cool breeze on days that reached 100 degrees. It was beyond our wonder.
Because Cambodia is not immediately reachable from Dallas we allowed time to explore our layovers. We were able to stop to spend several days with a friend in Bangkok, stop in Seoul to visit family, and stop in Tokyo for lunch. It was too much in too short a time, and we loved every second of it. Hopefully we’ll get to visit again for our honeymoon.