Friday, February 10, 2012


We delivered aid by helicopter to a remote village in Cambodia. On the way back the pilot flew us over The Angkor Wat Archeological Park so we could see the ruins from the air and put the huge temple complex into perspective.

Stretching over 400 sq km, Angkor Park contains the ruins of a series of capitals, built in the phases of Khmer Empire dating from the 9th through 15th centuries. The Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. It luckily got through the turmoil of the Khmer Rouge era largely intact; the main sites are clean but land mines are still being found and destroyed in the more remote areas.

Early Angkor temples –including Angkor Wat itself, built to honor Shiva- were Hindu. A powerful King, Jayavarman-VII then converted to Mahayana Buddhism around 1200 CE and his many new temples were dedicated Buddhist structures. However, Jayavarman-VIII, his successor, returned to Hinduism and began a massive destruction of J7’s Buddhist temples; he systematically defaced images and altered them to become Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost to Buddhism in the religious struggle for the Khmer people.
One set of structures that continues to mystify archeologists are the Barays (reservoirs) near Angkor Wat. While it has long been assumed that they were used for irrigation, some historians argue that their primary function was political or religious. It is a question that has not been answered.
We were lucky to fly over Angkor Archeological Park to get some idea of its vastness. It will take many more trips to grasp the wonders that are the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park.