It’s odd, given our proximity to Thailand and Goa, that more hippy-doo-dah hasn’t made it to Siem Reap yet. We don’t have the bulwark of the ultra-liberals that so dominate the Phnom Penh expatriate scene to repel the dreaded, henna brigade. But it seems to be happening at last, and the arrival of ear candles was one indicator.
The one thing we know about the Angkor Empire is that we know an awful lot less than we don’t know. With little but the magnificent buildings they left behind to guide the archaeologists and other Angkor era decoders, the quest to understand how they lived, celebrated, governed and prayed is a challenging one.
On November 19, the seventh annual Angkor Photo Festival got off to a great start with a packed crowd on the front lawns of the FCC Angkor. Photographers, photo fans, surprised tourists and the curious were rewarded with an opening slide-show curated by Françoise Callier, a Belgian woman with a passion for photography, life and the kids at Anjali House, a local shelter for former street children that was founded by the Festival.
Bakong temple is one of the oldest and most beautiful of the Khmer temples and it would be easy for visitors to the site to overlook the simple looking pagoda within its walls. And a mistake. The interior has been lovingly restored by a team from Thailand and France and is a beautiful representation of Khmer art. Pictures are my own.
In February 2011, Thailand and Cambodia revived once more an old conflict over disputed territory around the Angkorian temple of Preah Vihear on Cambodia’s northern border with its Siam neighbour. As a result, 1,000s of citizens were forced to flee the border area and make their way to hastily constructed refugee camps further south in Preah Vihear province. Visiting these camps shortly after the firing started, I was surprised to find that, notwithstanding the shortness of time, they were efficiently run and that most people were content to be away from the danger while they waited patiently until they could return to their homes.
At Angkor Wat, hundreds of archaeologists, architects, historians, anthropologists, sociologists and many, many more experts clamber over the crumbling ruins trying to reconstruct the past and restore its remains. There are thousands of temples in Cambodia, many of which have yet to be discovered even within the 400 square kilometres of the Angkor Archaeological Park north of Siem Reap. With so many professionals and so many temples, there will of course be disputes as to the ‘correct’ way of understanding what they can tell us and how they should be preserved.