“God is in the details.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
I thought of this quote while walking through the various temples in Siem Reap. One can immediately liken the temples to museums. They are all edifices of unparalleled beauty. Yet, unlike museums, you are free to explore without the constrictions of glass or velvet ropes to block you from the full experience. The temples are built sturdy enough (for now) that you can walk through them, touch, graze, explore and experience them in full. They look and feel incredibly different depending on the time of day you visit. At dusk or dawn, they act as the perfect silhouette against a creamy, deep Monet-like sky. Like a museum, each and every wall of a temple acts as its own work of art, like a Mona Lisa, or Sistine Chapel. For example, in Angkor Wat, there are more than 3000 beguiling apsaras (heavenly nymphs) carved onto its walls, each carving different down to the hairstyle.
The temples at Angkor are said to be the ultimate expression of Khmer architecture and demonstration of faith; Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century. According to inscriptions, the construction of Angkor Wat required over 300,000 workers and 6000 elephants to build, and still, it was never finished. Angkor Wat is massive, yet it beckons you to look ever closer. The level of detail of every facet of the temple is incredible.
Angkor Wat stands as an important symbol for Khmer people and Cambodians. It’s featured front and center on the flag of Cambodia. Cambodia’s sordid history has been riddled with incredible trials and tribulations. Today, Cambodia still continues to suffer from underdevelopment, poverty, hunger and corruption.
But if Angkor Wat is truly the symbol of Cambodia, well, they’ve already proved in the past they have the spirit to accomplish something incredible, seemingly impossible. I’m not religious, but I’ve seen the spirit of Cambodia. It will one day flourish again.
I will carry this spirit with me, and remember it always.