Traveling half way around the world to see something so special that it has been recognized as one of the wonders of our world is an even more enjoyable experience when shared with friends and family. That is exactly the scenario which unfolded recently when long-time local resident and Bangkok, Thailand, native Pom Sorat Tse headed to the ancient temples of the Angkor archeological region of Cambodia earlier this spring.
A seasoned world traveler, Tse is a passionate citizen ambassador when it comes to sharing with friends her love of Thailand and of Southeast Asia's culture, both ancient and modern.
Tse has gone to great lengths in recent years in a personal effort to provide a forum in which to share an introduction to the beauty and the traditions of Thailand through a community style celebration she founded called "A Touch of Thai."
The tremendous growth of tourism related construction in the historic Siam Reap area of Cambodia in recent years has brought a desperately needed economic infusion to this section of what had been a country decimated by civil war. Today it is still the place to be for the people who have for generations made their homes in the communities surrounding one of the architectural wonders of the world, the magnificent temple ruins of Angkor Wat and a complex of related sandstone temples located around and near it. Its growing hotel resources are made even more popular by the readily available services of highly knowledgeable and experienced tour guides, many of whom are able to provide very personal reflections on aspects of the region's history.
The movie “Laura Croft: Tomb Raider” included scenes shot in the midst of the ancient temples at Angkor, in the heart of Cambodia, such as is seen here. The encroachment of the jungle in some locations is such that the trees and vines are essentially now a living part of these ancient sandstone structures.
The diversity of the artwork displayed on virtually every available inch of temple surfaces is made even more striking when you notice some are made of a gray sandstone and others of a more reddish tone to the stone.
erstanding the magnitude of the work which went into building these structures can be better understood if thought of with something to reference: the temples contain more stone than Egyptian pyramids and cove more ground than does modern day Paris.
The temple at Angkor took 30 years to construct. It long ago served Hindu worshippers of Vishnu eventually transitioning to serve the Theravada Buddhists who continue worshiping there today. Though its existence was hardly noticed for the past few hundred years, it was never completely abandoned say local tour guides and historians as well. It has been used as an observatory, a shrine and a funerary temple. Professional tour guides readily share details behind the stories depicted on the countless reliefs seen throughout the temples.The superior quality of artistry needed to have crafted them initially is seen at every turn, and throughout the various temple and galleries.
Through working to promote the local event, Oglebay Institute's assistant director of marketing Russell Brown became interested in the history and traditions of Southeast Asian cultures, including those present in Thailand and in surrounding countries.
At the top of his list of historic sites to see were the magnificent sandstone structures at the Angkor Wat temple area in Cambodia at Siem Reap, about a two-hour car ride inside the country.
"They are considered one of the official wonders of our world, so I wanted to see them for myself, as well and share them with family and friends," offered Tse.
Tse has a very real appreciation for the value of opportunities and experiences which invite the individual to expand their scope of understanding when it comes to the cultural wealth of each country and of the individuals who have helped shape it into whatever treasured form it takes in today's world.
The trip from Thailand into Cambodia to visit the temples of Angkor was a unique and pleasant one for all in her small group of family and friends.
Though Thailand and Cambodia share a common border and intertwined histories, the two countries and their modern societies are vastly different, in large part because of the devastation wrought by long periods of war, including a civil war.
"Crossing the border, on foot, from Thailand to Cambodia is when I knew we were a world away. I was one of the very few westerners and although alert, I didn't feel uncomfortable," offered Brown, noting how quickly his apprehensions evaporated thanks to the skills and obvious professionalism put forward by their contracted local guide, Sem.
Visitors to the site are treated to a very unique way of grasping its overall design: by enjoying a tethered hot air balloon ride which placed them well above Angkor Wat itself, providing a perfect view of the complex structure at the center of which was a small traditional sanctuary dedicated to a single deity.
Its overall design was as a pyramid representative of the structure of the universe.
The highest point is at the center of the temple: Mount Meru, home to the Hindu god, offered a local expert. Its design also includes depictions of the five towers on the highest level representing the five peaks of the mountain. The grand moat around the temple building are meant to represent the oceans surrounding the world..
Angkor Wat's intricately designed and built structure was given life by one man's efforts: King Suryavarman II.
The temple made its way onto a watch list in 1996, compiled by World Monuments, meant to designate it as being well worth saving and repairing. The formal name of the list is "The 100 most important endangered cultural landmarks" which announces landmarks in need of preservation funding and protection. Those needs still exist today, and Angkor Wat continues to be considered a masterpiece of Angkorian architecture.
Historians say the building was made by the king as his mausoleum.
In all, the visit to the temples included a first-hand view of not only Angkor Wat, but also of Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm.
At Angkor Thom, elephants proved to be the perfect mode of transportation for those wanting to taken in all the sights around the temple's exterior.
The visit to Ta Prohm brought the opportunity to admire the world famous snaking tree roots there and to revisit the stunning beauty the site helped add to the blockbuster movie, "Laura Croft Tomb Raider."
The Temple at Angkor Wat was the last to be toured by the group.
"Walking through the back entrance was one of my favorite parts as our group was nearly alone. Here, one could imagine the traffic of this once booming civilization. Upon entering the temple, we quickly got in line to walk the steep steps to the upper level. Inside, and outside through the windows, we constantly took photos," Brown said.
It was here, however, the popularity of this place became apparent, as tourists went to great pains to get just the right travelogue type photos.
"The foot traffic of thousands through these sacred places cannot help their preservation," noted Brown.
"It was apparent throughout our travel that the country is struggling in many aspects, and guests must remember Cambodia is still recovering from over two decades of civil war and internal conflict that decimated the country economically. Despite the country's hardships, we felt safe and comfortable in Siem Reap. It was remarkable to see a city awakening from war and political turmoil. It is even more remarkable to see the local people proactively adapt to the western concept of tourism, while still conserving their own culture and traditions. We were welcomed - greeted with a smile and an eagerness to assist."