Cambodian Temples of the Killing Fields
Welcome to the Terrace of the Elephants, a hundred yards of life-sized
elephants popping out of a solid stone wall ...
I went to Cambodia
to see the temples at Siem Reap, from Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom to
the exquisite Banteay Srei, but the ghost of the Killing Fields dogged
every step. The specter of the Killing Fields was particularly vivid
to Ronnie, my driver for three days around the temples, who avoided
extermination by hiding out and speaking to no one while subsisting
four years on cobras and insects. It was my fault for asking Ronnie
how hed survived.
The temples built from 802 to the 1400's C.E. helped counteract the
horror described by Robbie. The best known of the 295 temples is Angkor
Wat (1113-1150), a square kilometer complex, perfectly symmetrical,
bordered by a wide moat and accessible to non-swimmers by a stone-carved
bridge from the west. Angkor Wat sits smack-dab in the center, 660 feet
tall, surrounded by continuous galleries and 100 foot palm trees. The
northwest reflecting pool is perfectly situated for the pictures you
always see of Angkor Wat: one of the three archeological wonders of
the world along with Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan. Angkor
Wats first level gallery contains the largest series of detailed
stone carvings in the world, primarily depicting Hindu epics. The second
level housed 1,000 Buddhas but only fragments remain, an example of
periodic religious intolerance. The third level view is earned by climbing
the steepest steps outside such as Uxmal in Maya-land on the Yucatan
peninsula. The only sight on the way up is butts suspended above your
head, wobbling from the strain of 45 degree steps, nevertheless the
view of Angkor Wat spread out below justifies the ascent.
temples Robbie told me how his parents were killed and his siblings
starved to death. Id visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in
Phnom Penh (the capitol city was evacuated and vacant from 1975 to 1979)
where 32 prisoners in each 10 foot by 10 foot room were chained feet
to feet and tortured an average of five months before being taken to
the local Killing Fields for a club to the head and a topple into a
mass grave. Children were disposed of by a whack against a tree. Many
victims were decapitated and most women died naked.
Angkor Thom (1181-1219) means "great city" and it surely was,
covering four times the area of Angkor Wat, its more famous cousin
a mile south. Angkor Thom is crammed with incredible ruins from the
sprawling Bayon in the center, 216 smiling faces 30-feet tall on 54
all-seeing pedestals, to the Terrace of the Elephants, a hundred yards
of life-sized elephants popping out of a solid stone wall, to the Terrace
of the Leper King with galleries of bas-reliefs and a statue of the
Leper King who perhaps was Jayavarman VII, the king in charge of the
slave labor who built the place.
Robbie drove to the jewel of Siem Reap, Banteay Srei (967-973 C.E.),
explaining how to stalk, skin and braise a cobra, declaring that grasshoppers
taste nutty. I escaped to the "Citadel of Women", the intricately
carved rose sandstone of Bantaey Srei. Wed arrived at sunrise
and the color was spectacular, highlighting exquisite carvings, a photographers
Mecca, the very best of the best.
Fast hydrofoils leave Siem Reap at 7 a.m. at the end of an hour-long
road carved in foot-deep corduroy, ending at floating villages of Vietnamese.
It requires a 5 a.m. wake-up call and four plus hours down the Tonle
Sap River to Phnom Penh. The first two hours are across a lake so vast
no land can be seen on either side. The last two-plus hours down the
river proper is alluring, sprinkled with net fishermen and bounded by
The allure lasts until arrival in Phnom Penh, the most ghastly and expensive
of SE Asia capitols. Everything is priced in U.S. dollars. Neither the
capitol nor the countryside has recovered from the massacres of 1975-79.
You ask politely, how many died? Surely not more than died on 9/11 for
there has never been the outrage over the Killing Fields as theres
been over the demise of the World Trade Center.
It's to the world's shame that precisely nothing has occurred as a result
of the Killing Fields. Pol Pot is dead but his three top commanders
reside quietly in the northwest of Cambodia, unmolested. In the aftermath
of 9/11 more civilians died in Afghanistan than the 3,000 in New York.
I dedicate the temples at Siem Reap to the 1,700,000 souls who were
tortured and executed in the Killing Fields (For the record 560 times
as many as died on 9/11 in New York).
© Dave Rich 2002
More from Dave Rich who is at this moment in Myanmar (Feb 2002)
Dave Rich -after
three months in China where the media consists of serendipitous bullhonky
sprinkled with crapulous creativity. I finally found out what was really
up with Brittany Spears.
DOWN THE MEKONG in LAOS
Dave Rich -
lousy Lao whiskey flowing like water. Water is far superior and less
vindictive.... Laos is Mexico on downers and in slow motion
More journeys in HACKTREKS
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