One of the most popular recent posts on this blog was “The people who lived at Angkor Wat,” and people seemed especially struck by the image of refugees at Angkor Wat in 1970. I had asked if anyone knew more about refugees staying at Angkor Wat during the war and I was glad to hear from a reader, Teddy, who told me about “Facing the Khmer Rouge: A Cambodian Journey” by Ronnie Yimsut.
In this memoir of the Khmer Rouge period, Ronnie Yimsut describes being told to go to Angkor Wat by Vietcong soldiers, who said there would be food and safety if his family sheltered there. Ronnie recounts that the Vietcong were sending many families to Angkor Wat, and when they arrived the road into the temple was crowded, so they crossed the moat.
It was sunset when Norane carried me into the outer walls of the Angkor Wat. We were both exhausted. We were hungry, but there was no sign of the promised stockpiles of food. The Khmer Rouge had tricked us. Oh, how I hated them. Would we ever get to go home? Where was home anyway? We couldn’t stay in our bullet-riddled house.
The communist guerrillas were very efficient and effective con men. They had massed us into the temple ruins to serve as human shields (p. 34).
Ronnie Yimsut describes spending 7 weeks starving in the Angkor Wat temple before he and his family left for the nearby village of Domdek.
Angkor Wat may have been an important place of refuge for people at many points during the past. A colleague of mine, David Brotherson, wrote his honor’s thesis on the possible re-use of Angkor Wat as a fortification during the post-Angkorian period.
I’m interested in hearing from more people with any thoughts on this topic or other memoirs that might cover Angkor and the Khmer Rouge period. Leave a comment below or feel free to contact me.
The last stop on the Paul and Alison tour of fun was Siem Reap and Angkor Archaeological Park. In Siem Reap we stayed at my favorite guest house – Two Dragons. This was Paul’s first time visiting Angkor but my second (my first visit was in 2005). In order to keep things a bit more interesting I thought I’d share some photos from my first visit and most recent to show how things have changed in just a few short years. I also wanted to share some photos from the rehabilitation work being done at some of the temples in the park. Check them out when you click Keep reading!
The happy couple at Ta Prohm
I’ve already blogged about my trip to Phnom Kulen back in March but I recently wrote another article about it for TouchStone and wanted to post the text here. It includes more details from the project director JB about the Phnom Kulen Archaeological Project.
In other news readers in Cambodia can check out my “Insider’s Guide to the Royal Palace” in the most current issue of TouchStone magazine, available at bars and restaurants around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. There are lot of other interesting articles in the issue including some about ancient Angkorian rice fields, and contemporary artists in Cambodia, definitely worth checking out!
Read more about Phnom Kulen after jump:
2005 was my first trip to Cambodia and I came as a volunteer with the Lower Mekong Archaeological Project (LOMAP) with Dr. Miriam Stark at the University of Hawai’i. This trip had a major impact on my academic career trajectory. I had just finished my first year of graduate school and was almost 100% sure I was ready to focus my research in Southeast Asia, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect having never been here. I spent an amazing summer based in the city of Angkor Borei in Takeo Province doing survey with LOMAP, and by the end became quite sure that I was ready to focus my research here. I’ve spent the time since learning Khmer, taking my quals, finishing classes, writing my dissertation proposal, teaching, applying and receiving funding and now finally here doing PhD research.
Angkor Borei is a large site in the Mekong Delta region of Cambodia, not far from the Vietnamese border. It is believed to have been one of the capitals of a pre-Angkorian kingdom the Chinese called Funan. It was linked by a sophisticated canal system with a similar site in Vietnam called Oc Eo. Oc Eo was excavated in the 1940s by an archaeologist named Louis Malleret with the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient (EFEO). Angkor Borei was known to the French and mapped by them but archaeological research did not begin in earnest until the 1990s with LOMAP. Prior to this project most of the evidence about this site and the kingdom of Funan were known from Chinese historical documents and the brief excavations undertaken by Malleret. There are still more questions than answers but it does appear that this site was inhabited as early as a few centuries BC (2nd or 3rd C) continuously through the Angkorian period (9th-15th century AD). [The LOMAP project and Miriam Stark’s webpage (linked above) have links to PDFs on articles about Angkor Borei and the LOMAP project.]
My PhD research includes materials from Angkor Borei and it is definitely one of the most important archaeological sites in Cambodia. Recently while checking out Google Earth I noticed that higher resolution images had been posted of this area and I couldn’t resist sharing them along with a very brief background and some photos from my trip in 2005. Read on below.
Above: Angkor Borei Town
Finally back home in Phnom Penh after being gone for so long. I really loved spending time in the countryside but it’s nice to be back and stop living out of a suitcase. I have one last post about my time away about a short trip I took to visit Phnom Kulen, a mountain site not far from Siem Reap that is well-known for its Angkorian period pottery kilns. I was lucky enough to join some folks from a Center for Khmer Studies workshop who came up for a field trip and we got to visit the excavation and conservation project run by the French archaeologist known as JB (for Americans reading that is pronounced Gee Bey). JB is wrapping up the first year of a 3-year project excavating and doing conservation on some of the many brick temple sites located on Phnom Kulen mountain. One amazing side note: his project is privately funded entirely from donations from rich business people in England. Attention rich business people: I am currently accepting applications for the position of benefactor! I mentioned below my lack of jungle experience in Cambodia but a trip to Kulen mountain changed all that. More after the jump.
Last year when I was working on the excavations at Ban Non Wat in Thailand, the squares I was working in had a lot of very very deep holes. There were so many of them we were kind of baffled about what they were used for. One suggestion was that they were used for salt production as this is a fairly common practice in this region today. While I was at Ban Non Wat this year, we were fortunate enough to see a local village woman making salt. One of the Thai archaeologists asked her about the process and she said this was only her 4th or 5th time making salt, as each time she had done it she produced enough salt to last her 10-15 years. This was a technique she had learned from her mother (although it is not exclusively done by women). I documented the process in photos below.
This is the area where she was doing he salt production. On the very right-hand side you can see the very edge of a big pile of soil she was extracting salt from. The large contraption on the left is a new technique for making salt she was trying out. The traditional method for extracting salt is in the center.
This is a small hole she had dug where she put the salty soil and some water together to make a nice salinated mixture.
This is a funky angle but to the left is the corner of the same little pit above. Next to it she dug a deep hole where she put a ceramic jar. She dug a small hole between the two areas and stuck a bamboo tube between them that acts as a conduit for the salty water to drip from the small pit into the jug.
The salty water from the small jug above is then placed into these larger ceramic jars where it is stored until just the right moment.
This is the new contraption the woman was trying out to filter out the salt into the salt water solution. She’d never tried it before but it does the same thing without all that hole-digging.
Here’s another view of the operation a few days later. The storage tanks are on the right, the big mound of salty soil in the middle, and on the left is a little rectangular pan on a fire.
A closer view of the pan. After a few days in the jugs she has now moved the salinated water to this pan and is boiling off the water to get the salt.
The final product after the boiling process-salt! Looks kinda like couscous.