We did something the other day that we hadn’t done in ages: we became tourists for a day. Just as the morning sun cast its butter-colored rays across Siem Reap, we caught a tuk-tuk to the temples. With one-day passes in our pockets, we joined the throngs at Angkor (my, how things have changed!). I’ve heard others say they tire of the temples; a couple of days, and they’ve had enough. Not I. I could spend weeks analyzing the carvings and searching for little corners I hadn’t noticed before. Every time I visit, I find the temples mean something new to me. I see through different eyes, depending on my experiences between trips (for example, I hadn’t actually seen Angkor Wat since we did a story on the birds at Tmatboey; this time, I spotted numerous giant birds in the bas reliefs running along the temple walls).
One of the things I love best about the ruins is their ancient record of modern life. The outer wall of the Bayon, a late 12th-century temple built during the reign of King Jayavarman VII, is covered in some 1,200 meters of bas reliefs depicting thousands of battle scenes interspersed with everyday occurrences. You find historical references to gruesome war between the Khmers and Chams. But you also see the same scenes found today on the streets of Siem Reap or the waters of the Tonle Sap: cooking, fishing, hunting, cockfighting, the slaying of wild animals, even dancing around a massive jar of wine. People sit around fires, grilling fish between strips of bamboo. I particularly like a scene win which a man bends at the knees, blowing on a cooking fire beneath a clay pot.
It is, in some ways, as homes and markets across Cambodia appear today. Through centuries of change, some things stay the same.