What a glorious day! We met Dane, the guide recommended by Astrid, in the dark hour of 5:00 am in the lobby. He immediately presented us with checked scarves that are traditionally worn in Cambodia when visiting temples. The driver dropped us off at a side entrance to the complex of Angkor Wat (more about that in a moment). We walked down a path parallel to tall trees in the almost blackness...Dane left us for a few minutes so we could take in the feeling of being alone on this temple site as the sun barely peeked over the horizon to the sound of birds chirping to the pending sunlight. And the drums, and the chanting! Dane returned and led us to the monastery on the grounds where the monks were finishing up a ceremony honoring the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts...it was eerie and magical to approach the room where the ceremony was finishing, just one magical moment of the day. By then the sun illumined our way to the main area of the temple.
Angkor Wat translates into English as Temple City, and has become the best-known symbol of Cambodia, proudly displayed on its flag. It is the largest religious monument in the world, its significant towers and galleries surrounded by over 400 acres. It was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple dedicated to Vishnu. As we approached this magnificent collection of buildings we saw the beautiful bas relief carvings showing the large stories of Hinduism...much like early Christian churches housed stone carvings, sculpture and decorated windows conveying the foundations of Christ’s story to a population who may not have been literate. By the end of the 12 century, the temple became largely Buddhist, and you can see those influences everywhere. Now the structure is down to its darkened sandstone building blocks, but in the early days the domes and other areas were covered with gilt, and walls were vividly painted. It is a photographer’s dream...and a shrine to earlier days. It is a majestic and captivating monument to both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Then Dane and our driver took us to what was a Buddhist monastery that has been eaten by the jungle -- literally -- Ta Prohm. It is a thing of beauty, showing both the splendid bones of the abandoned temple and the insistence of nature to reclaim what is left behind. If the photos look at all familiar, it was the setting of several scenes of a Lara Croft movie.
And then! it was only 11;00 am! And we had planned to drive to Battambang, about 2 and a half hours away. A very new Bahá’í House of Worship had just been completed and dedicated near that city, and we were very keen to visit it. Recently all 8 of the planned Continental Temples were finished, in the Pacific Islands, Australia, Europe, Asia, Central, North and South America and Africa. The new building in Cambodia is the very first local community Bahá’í House of Worship and anticipates the building of temples like it around the world. Bahá’í Temples are intended to serve members of all Faiths who enter the doors, and symbolize the essential unity of all religions.
But first, we stopped for lunch! Astrid had made arrangements at Bric-à-Brac (http://bric-a-brac.asia/) -- called by one writer, the “chicest B and B in Cambodia” run by the welcoming (and famous writers/artists/a chef and a designer!). The shop is a small wonderland to boot. If you’re ever in Battambang....well, you have to go! Thank you, Robert and Morrison!
We had a lovely lunch there with Hou Sopheap, the Director of the House of Worship...and then followed him out to visit this wonderful Temple, designed to capture both traditional and modern Cambodia. It meant the world to us to be there. Thank you Sopheap for your wonderful welcome.
And then the long drive home to the Park Hyatt. We chatted with Dane, and snoozed, and awoke to one of the more exciting storms I’d ever seen. The light show brought us back to Siem Reap. We parted ways with Dane, with plans for the next morning (we could sleep in till 6:00 am!)
But not to bed! We discovered that our friends, Xuwicha, Veronica, Travis, and Peter were back in Siem Reap and enjoyed an energizing dinner with them...THEN to bed. Like I said, a glorious day!