Finding the Treasure in Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat Temples

June 11, 2016

     I definitely did not know exactly what I would be getting myself into throughout this day, but I knew that there would be adventures that I had not experienced anywhere else. Although I am not very “outdoorsy”, I thoroughly enjoyed the time to actually see some of the history that we had previously learned about in class. We were met in the morning by an awesome surprise - a tuk tuk caravan that would be taking us two in each vehicle to each location throughout the day. It is definitely a different view of the city as we toured from the back of our tuk tuk to some of the world’s greatest wonders, Our tour guide, Kong, was very knowledgeable about both cities and shared a multitude of history lessons on the meanings behind the carvings and inscriptions. Each carving told a portion of the Cambodian history whether it was about the king at the time or the war that occurred during a certain period. I learned that Angkor Thom literally means ‘Big City’ and Angkor Wat means “The City’s Temple’. At the center of the Cambodian flag stands the three pillars of the ancient Angkor Wat temple that we got to actually see in person; this experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so thankful that we were able to enjoy. I am not sure that pictures will be able to do these temples justice as they towered above us with their inscriptions of history that told a vivid story, but I am thrilled about sharing.

     Angkor Thom had its own set of adventures in addition to the touring of the ancient temples that I had been telling my parents I wanted to do sine I found out I was going to be on this team. Elephant rides! I absolutely love elephants, and as Mrs. Gayle said, “You truly have such a different view of the temples from the back of an elephant.” I shared an elephant ride with Savannah and got to learn a little about our 45-year old elephant friend, Kheaton. This experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. After 1000 pictures [may or may not be an exaggeration], I was still reluctant to leave my newfound friend, but there was more adventure to be had.

     Our next adventure was by bus to Angkor Wat to view these temples that have been there for centuries and still have a recent history for the Cambodian people. Although the temple was built centuries ago, was seen as a holy ground for the Buddhist faith, and has now become a major tourist attraction from many citizens across the globe, it was not unscathed by the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Many citizens found this temple to be their safe ground as they attempted to escape persecution from the Khmer Rouge; however, eventually even the temple was overtaken by this group, and all of those who sought shelter and refuge were forced into the jungle. Kong shared this story with us as we stood around the stone with evidence of shrapnel impact, and that is where we learned that both he and his mother were members of the community that sought refuge in that very temple. The recentness of the powerfully negative impact of the Khmer Rouge could be seen from our clinics in Kampot to our tours in Siem Reap. It made me realize that true vastness of this group and the true resiliency of the Cambodian community. I am so appreciative for the opportunity to see some of the physical history of the Cambodian people dating back centuries in time. I believe that learning the history is vital to completely understanding each person, their decisions, and their stories. 

     After touring the beautiful temples and even climbing all the way to the top at a 70 degree angle, a challenge within itself especially for someone like me who is terrified of heights, we were met by none other than the rain. However, this moment was when I realized quite literally that nothing would stop our group from making the best of every situation, even if less than optimal, as we were greeted by the customary rainy season rain on our way out of the temple. What a way to end the day! A little singing session and a lot of laughter under the banyan tree in front of Angkor Wat is something I will always remember and an experience I will always appreciate.

Jabria Stinson, Nursing Student

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