Until a few weeks ago I was watching castles in the British Isles. Those tough, hardy structures made of solid rock symbolized power in Europe, centuries ago when kings and nobles held power over the land, and fought each other quite often. Made to withstand sieges and medieval artillery, but not so much the ravages of time, castles, in various states of repair or disrepair, were a sight to behold
But now I’m back in Asia, and here – with the notable exception of Japan – castle building never really caught on as a fad. That’s not to say Asians couldn’t build, for there are structures here just as grand or even more so. Except that the grand structures here were not built to withstand war and heavy weapons. Rather, they were made for prayer, to reach out to the heavens.
Temples can be found throughout the continent, from as far east as Java and Bali in Indonesia, to as far west as the Greco-Roman inspired temples in the Mediterranean coast. From as high as the plateau of Tibet, to as low as the Irrawady River basin in Myanmar. Yet none are perhaps more popular (and more heavily visited) than the grand temples of the ancient city of Angkor, deep in the heart of Cambodia.
And there is perhaps no more recognizable feature of a temple, than the towers of the Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument and the crown jewel of Angkor. These towers, whose silhouette also serves as the national symbol of the Kingdom of Cambodia, has graced many movies, TV shows, magazines, games, beer cans and what have you. In fact if you don’t recognize the silhouette of Angkor Wat I would have to ask you what planet you’ve been staying at all these years.
And here in Angkor (the whole place is part of what is now the province of Siem Reap, but Angkor just sounds so much more majestic), there is no better time to see the towers of the Angkor Wat, than when the sun rises from behind them.