It’s the last week of the year, which often makes it a time to look back and reflect on the year that has been and also look forward to what is to come. I love visiting places that are full of history and make me do the same, and so today a place I wouldn’t mind a quick return trip to is Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is most famous for the ruins of Angkor Wat, the nearby massive complex of 12th century temples that now lie abandoned. It’s a strange place of beauty and sadness, a testament to the devotion of those who built with such fervour and enthusiasm, and also to the way that such things do not always last.
What did I love about Siem Reap?
There is an eerie beauty to the ruins of Angkor Wat. It is a picturesque place to stop and reflect.
The temples themselves show the skill and craftsmanship of architects and builders using the techniques of nearly a thousand years ago.
But much of the beauty today comes from their subsequent abandonment, and the way nature has taken over.
It is an intriguing illustration of what really lasts … and what doesn’t.
We also had the opportunity to visit the “floating villages” of the Tonle Sap. The people we met there live in great poverty and yet showed incredible warmth and hospitality.
Despite the height of their homes, these communities face regular devastation when the river floods.
We were shown around these communities and the town by the wonderful owner of the guesthouse where we stayed, Meang. He is one of the most generous, hospitable people I have ever met. His remarkable life story includes being a Buddhist monk as a young child, fleeing for his life under the Khmer Rogue, meeting Jesus and having his life turned around, and now raising his younger brothers while running the guesthouse. If you know anyone looking for a place to stay in Siem Reap I cannot recommend him highly enough!!
We were also able to enjoy the food at the night markets as well as the popular “massage” method of having fish eat the dead skin from your feet, which feels as weird as it sounds.
So, what did I learn from Siem Reap?
From Meang I learned much about the power of the gospel and the power of love to overcome real brokenness and darkness and bring true joy to life.
From the people of the floating villages I learned what perseverance really looks like, and my heart breaks to think of how a lesson I still do not fully comprehend is one they have to live with again and again, year by year.
From Angkor Wat, I was reminded again of the innate human desire to strive and reach for the heavens … and the sadness that all our striving often achieves very little. It resounds with echoes of the tragic story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).
And finally, as again today I reflect on my past and my future, I am challenged by this question Angkor Wat provokes: How many hours do I put into things that seem so important at the time, but in the end will not last?