I spent two weeks in Thailand passing on treks to hill tribes and sitting while others roamed night markets for great bargains. I did none of this graciously. I did it because I wanted a foot at Angkor.
Angkor Wat is named for the most famous of a massive series of temples and palaces located fifteen minutes by car north of Siem Reap. You pay twenty dollars per day to enter the historic area, where you can meander through and even touch what remains of royal mansions and estates constructed between the ninth and twelfth centuries. I couldn’t imagine traveling all the way to Cambodia and missing out on Angkor because of my stupid foot.
Our first afternoon, I forgot my worries as our car approached the ruins. In the back seat, Cliff and I pinched the tender insides of each other’s forearms; we do, in moments of excitement. Behind a moat that had, in the heyday of Khmer power, been filled with territorial crocodiles, was Angkor.
Five towers of gray sandstone shimmered in the afternoon heat, the tallest almost seven hundred feet from the ground. For an instant, it felt as though a thousand years had not passed, as if Khmer culture still dominated Asia from Burma to as far south as Indonesia. As if the archaeologist Louis Delaporte had not removed the finest statues in 1873 for “the cultural enrichment of France,” the United States hadn’t bombed, and the Khmer Rouge hadn’t used the place for target practice. Angkor stood.
I half-expected to see the god-king Suryavarman II, surrounded by the several thousand bare-breasted babes who purportedly attended him. Wrong; thousands of tourists. They walked and I limped along the five-hundred-meter causeway taking us over the moat and to the main gate.
Once inside, a second causeway of similar length took us to steep stairs leading to Angkor’s first level, a courtyard enclosed by high-walled, open-aired galleries, a kilometer square. In the twelfth century, Suryavarman II had the breezy stone walkways carved with bas-relief depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, his military victories and, of course, many, many babes and their fabulously bare breasts.
I managed the first of the four galleries before my foot would have no more of it. Dispatching Cliff to see the rest, I perched on a stone bench under a carved arch and tried to convince myself that when you’ve seen one 12th-century Hindu epic carved into a quarter kilometer of sandstone wall, you’ve seen ’em all.
I’d stopped crying by the time Cliff returned. Clutching his arm for support, I made my painful way up the staircase to the stone courtyard that was the second level. Crossing it, we found ourselves at the base of yet another flight of stairs leading to the final level, the courtyard of the five towers.
Metal handrails lined these stairs. Screw dignity. I dropped to my knees and used my arms to haul myself up the stone stairs.
Knees aching slightly, I sat in the shade of the mighty towers, watching Cliff clamber to the top. That must have been when he came up with his plan.
Plan? What is this, Battlestar Galectica?
(By the way, one of the white-shirted dots at the top of the staircase is Cliff.)