Next we flew into Siem Reap, a former small town made bustling by the grandeur of the ancient Khmer ruins that lie outside of it. The Angkor complex, consisting of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and many other temple mountains and barays (man-made ponds) is one of the pinnacles of religious architecture in the world. Built between 900-1300 AD, each temple was painstakingly constructed to be either a microcosm of the Hindu universe or a Buddhist shrine (the Khmer empire alternated between Hinduism and Buddhism over its 700 year history). We started our exploration at sunrise, as the light broke over the silhouette of Angkor Wat in a dramatic show of beauty (see pic below).
The level of detail present in the temples is staggering – intricately carved asparas (angels) sit alongside bass reliefs depicting great battles and the beginning of the universe. In some temples every square inch of sandstone is covered in intricate decoration. In others, the devarajas (God-king) who constructed the temples had his face prominently displayed in “face-towers” throughout the temple.
An Aspara (angel) in the sun
Neda and I spent two days touring the ruins and using a guidebook to hunt for interesting details of the various temples we visited. Seeing the remarkable attention to detail that the builders put into each building reminded us how important of a tool attention can be. When we really choose to focus our attention, be it on our breath or of the feel of our sits bones on the chair we are sitting on, it brings us back to this present moment and the effect can be transformative. One would think that use of attention in this way might make us tired or worn out, but strangely enough the more you use focused attention, the more of it you receive. Neda has recently commented that after spending an hour or so focusing on her fruit carving, she feels more grounded and focused than before she started. For us, the Khmer art was inspiring as a source of this focused attention and its ability to create beauty that reverberates through time.
Cat and Jeff with Happy Pizza
We enjoyed our time in Siem Reap as well, though perhaps not for focused attention :). Some friends we met during the Gibbon Experience also came to Siem Reap and we hung out together in the evenings, culminating on Friday night (4/20) in our sampling of the famous “Happy Pizza,” whose title did not disappoint!
Next, we stopped at the capital of Cambodia, Phonm Phen, to find busy and bustling streets with lots of traffic and honking. We spent our one day there honoring our niece Allie’s memory at Wat Phnom with pink lotuses, rambutan offerings, and meditation at the temple. Today, we traveled even more south and circled back to the Gulf of Thailand from the Cambodia border this time. We will be spending the next week in a small fishing village called Kampot, relaxing and exploring the countryside of Cambodia before heading to Vietnam.