Exploring the Wonders of Vietnam

January 26, 2006
Winding Down

Two days tramping Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples has left most of us physically exhausted. It's been a long, demanding trip, and to end it at one of the world's most extensive and spectacular ancient ruins almost seems unfair. Everyone's so tired (a small number have been sick) that giving this place the energy it deserves has been difficult. A few of us have really pushed ourselves, separating from the group at times—like skipping the restaurant lunch back in town—to enable us to see more of the site and spend more time exploring. No matter how much stamina or attention each of us has shown, the effort has been handsomely repaid.

Rather than try to sort out the 400 photos I have taken in the past 2 days, I'm going to post a Web gallery of about 50 of my best pictures. It's difficult to capture the magnitude of the Angkor sites. We visited close to a dozen temples and separate ruins. The famous Angkor Wat, which we saw first, anchors (pun intended) the complex, which extends over many square kilometers. But we also saw Angkor Thom (far larger than Angkor Wat), Prasat Kravan, Bantaey Srei, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Bayon, Baphuon, the Elephant Terrace, and the Terrace of the Leper King, and ended the second day at sunset atop the sacred mountain Bakheng.

The first day was overcast and cool, so the pictures are a little flat. But day two was sunny and bright, so you'll see blue sky and sharper relief in those pictures. One highlight was climbing to the top level of Angkor Wat—about 60 steps almost straight up. It was scary going up and coming down, but the adrenalin it produced (and the view from the top) was pretty great. It got us ready for a second climb (with hundreds of other tourists) to watch the sunset from Bakheng. Our guide, Kim, wisely counseled us to get down from the temple before darkness fell.

On Tuesday afternoon, Steve Hopkins and I happened on a living Buddhist monastery in the woods near the Royal Palace and witnessed a water blessing—something quite unusual, said Steve. There are several other contemporary Buddhist shrines dotted among the ruins, and we stopped to light a joss stick and say a prayer to Buddha in the Mahayana way, where Buddha lives in and around us. We met some great Cambodian kids that day, who hustled us for dollars while "guiding" us around the monastery. One of them took the picture of Steve and me. I'm wearing a woven straw bracelet sold by another.

The following photos are not captioned or catalogued. That will have to wait until later. But here is a taste of the extraordinary power and beauty of Angkor and the Hindu Khmer civilization of the 9th to 12th centuries that built it. (Note that I took some photos in sepia tone, which brings out the contrast of the relief sculptures.)

The final stop of the trip is a day in Phnom Penh, then we head back to the States via Singapore and Frankfurt. (This message is actually being sent from the Changi Airport in Singapore on Jan. 28.) I'll write something about Phnom Penh on the plane and post it from the air if possible. If not, it will have to wait for our arrival home—and about 24 hours of sleep.


About This Site

In January 2006, a 40-person contingent of Swarthmoreans is traveling to Vietnam as members of the Alumni College Abroad. The trip, led by Associate Professor of Religion Steven Hopkins, will focus on the history, religion, and the vibrant culture of contemporary Vietnam. A smaller contingent will accompany Hopkins to Cambodia, including a tour of the famous temples of Angkor Wat.

Jeffrey Lott, editor of the Swarthmore College Bulletin, has joined the trip to write about it for the magazine. This site is a series of reports filed by Jeff from Vietnam and Cambodia during the trip. Your responses are invited.

Vietnam 2006 Itinerary

List of Travelers

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Blog Entries

Leaving Tomorrow: Jan 9, 2006
From 35,000 feet: Jan 11, 2006
Ho Chi Minh City: Jan 12, 2006
Museums of Vietnam: Jan 14, 2006
Temples and Tunnels: Jan 16, 2006
Stories and a Poem: Jan 17, 2006
Skipping School: Jan 18, 2006
Dateline Hanoi: Jan 19, 2006
Three Days in Hanoi: Jan 20, 2006
Winding Down: Jan 26, 2006
Poor Phnom Penh: Jan 27, 2006
Chuc Mung Nam Moi: Jan 29, 2006