Ifirst visited Cambodia with my wifein December 2013. Without anyprevious impression of the country, Ifirst noticed its poverty. “Shaking offpoverty and finding prosperity should bethe country’s top priority,” I thought.
The best place to learn about the historyof Cambodia is undoubtedly AngkorThom, the capital of the Khmer Empirefrom the 9th to 15th Century. Everyonewho visits the place is amazed by its temples,both big and small. I was still stunneddespite the fact that I have been to many famoustemples in dozens of countries acrossthe planet, not to mention those in China.
Of the many temples in Angkor, Bayonis the most spectacular. It consists of 49towers, each featuring a four-face Buddhastatue. Most Buddha statues have smilingfaces, varying slightly in details – somelook peaceful, others a little sad; someopen their eyes, others close their eyes inmeditation.
The statues feature typical Cambodianfaces. Historians believe they weremodeled after King Suryavarman VII, adevoted Buddhist who endured chaos fromforeign aggression. He led the people todefeat foreign invaders after his accessionto the throne.
Although a victor in battle, the kingfelt sorry for the dead, both on the enemyside and amongst his own people. He thussmiled with helplessness – a smile of sympathy,insight, and infinite tolerance. Thishistorical anecdote explains why we see hisface in the Buddha statues. His smile has been dubbed the “smile of Cambodia.”
Standing amidst the broken stone statues,my thoughts were yanked back 1,000years. “What a great people!” I sighed.The structures and statues are magnificentand gigantic, showcasing the wonderfulcraftsmanship of Cambodian artists. I wasdeeply impressed by the “smile of Cambodia”– the pride of the Cambodia people.
Later, we visited Tonle Sap Lake,where we learned about life in modernCambodia. Located at the juncture ofPhnom Penh and Mekong, the lake is notfar from Angkor. It is home to tens of thousandsof households living along the water.