I have crossed a border leaving Thailand. On the other side of that line I entered a new land that presented me with culture shock equal to what I’d experienced upon arrival in Thailand seven months ago.
Across this border I was among a people who hold two histories — histories I had gone there to learn about. One history is glorious, the other horrific. As I observed both I became aware of a new development of exchange student life that is just as fascinating as Cambodia itself.
Why not start with the glorious history? Early on in my exchange I asked my host mother about the possibility of going to Cambodia to visit the ancient Khmer shrine, the jewel of South East Asia, Angkor Wat. Through perseverance on my host mother’s part I am fortunate to say that this is the place that currently gives me inspiration to write. Angkor Wat (“City Temple”) is a 12th century Hindu shrine — the largest religious monument in the world. It was the center of the dominant Khmer Empire for about three centuries. The temple was built both as an offering to the Hindu God Lord Vishnu and as the mausoleum of its creator, King Suryavarman.
On the bright 95 degree day that I visited, the ancient splendor of this structure radiated as strongly as the sun. Walking across the long causeway suspended over the surrounding moat, the high towers of Angkor rose formidably in the heavy heat, commanding my gaze and making my jaw drop. The lightly sculpted bas-reliefs carved into the temple’s southern wall, the remarkably unscathed pillar scriptures and meticulous construction and positioning of Angkor Wat is nothing less than extraordinary; a timeless beauty. Angkor Wat is considered by some to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and after the time I spent there, I’ve decided that it is a site I must see again.