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Life in Ruins

Chapter Five Cambodia

I’ve often thought I should have gotten a degree in  archeology. Or historic anthropology. I love to learn about historic cultures- people and places.

Although I try not to use the term bucket list, I find in my travel planning I am drawn to a list of places where lost cultures have left behind structural evidence of people and communities and empires we can hardly fathom today.

Angkor Wat Cambodia is such a place.

My truly fabulous life has blessed me with the opportunity to visit fantastical and astonishing relics of lost worlds including Machu Picchu, Pompeii, Easter Island, Ephesus, Lalibela, The Acropolis, The Forum, Stonehenge, Rock of Cashel and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

But here is Angkor Wat. Phenomenal.  I am not going to pretend to understand the complicated history of Cambodia; from the amazing Khmer Empire to the bloody Khmer Rouge to today’s Cambodian People’s Republic. But during my short time in this beautiful and friendly country I am going to, with respect, do my best to honor the people and cultures.

We took three days to explore the gigantic and expansive area known collectively as Angkor Wat.  Although we had hired a personal Tuk Tuk driver, Angkor Wat is so big that over the three days we walked more than 23 miles.  And oh my goodness the stairs. Thousands of stairs.  Angkor Wat is not handicap accessible.  I’m grateful to still be healthy enough to do this activity in my Fabulous Fifties.

Here is a short introduction from Wikipedia;

“Stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations .

Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. At the same time, it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to looting, a declining water table, and unsustainable tourism. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.”

Often I struggle as a tourist with my own contribution to the decline and demise of historic and natural sites.  Simply by visiting, as one of thousands, what damage have I done?  Trash is a very visible problem as is wear and tear, traffic and pollution.  The livelihood of thousands of Cambodians depend on the tourists who visit here.  But my conscience tells me more needs to be done to protect this incredible place.

The Inca Trail and the Serengeti limit the number of daily visitors. Perhaps this is the future for Angkor Wat. But at the expense of jobs and livelihoods.  I don’t know what the answer is.

I am humbled by the magnitude and beauty of the place. And by the national pride and reverence the Cambodian people have for it. And by the gracious Cambodian people themselves.

What an honor it has been. Fabulous.

 

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