Day VIII: Siem Riep, Cambodia

After one day at sea (during which I may or may not have sang All Star by Smash Mouth at karaoke night), we disembarked at the Singapore cruise terminal and rode a shuttle to Chengi Airport, where we boarded a Silk Air flight to our next destination: Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The next morning, we left our hotel early in the morning and began our tour of the ancient city of Angkor. Built by the Khmer Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries, the sprawling ruins include hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu temples. Of these, the most famous by far is Angkor Wat. The silhouette of this magnificent temple is depicted on the Cambodian flag.

Angkor Wat was built between in 1113 as a Hindu temple. The temple originally featured nine stepped towers, but only five remain standing today. The highest level of the temple was reserved exclusively for the Khmer king. The exterior corridors of the temple are enscribed with intricate bas-relief carvings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

Next, we visited the so-called “Smiling Face Temple”. Built by King Jayavarman VII, the most famous king of the Khmer Empire, it was originally built as a Buddhist temple but was later converted into a Hindu place of worship. The temple’s many towers are covered in sculptures of smiling faces, one facing in each direction.

Last, we visited the so-called “Tomb Raider Temple,” which resembles something out of an Indiana Jones movie. The temple is largely being held together by centuries-old trees. If the government were to emove the trees, what’s left of the temple would collapse - for that reason, the temple has been largely left in its overgrown state. Large portions of the temple have already collapsed.

The Angkor temples are beautiful, meticulously detailed, and in surprisingly good condition given their age and the unforgiving tropical climate. Though moisture has stained the ancient stone green in some places, and the Cambodian jungle has begun to reclaim some temples, the opulence and splendor of Angkor largely remains. Preservation efforts by the Cambodian government, world governments, and UNESCO will ensure that the temples of Angkor stand, in all their glory, for another millennium.

- Hayden M. Strong

Tomorrow: One last day in Singapore before we fly back to Philadelphia.

© Knstrong 2013