Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | February 9, 2015

Exploring Ancient Temples

Siem Reap | Angkor Complex | Cambodia

The temples of Angkor, the largest ancient religious complex in the world, are magnificent. I first learned about Angkor from my Uncle Phil when I was a kid. When he visited Angkor, tourists were allowed to make pencil rubbings of the bas-reliefs carved on the temple walls of Angkor Wat, the signature temple in the complex. Uncle Phil had these rubbings framed and then hung them in my grandparents’ home. As a curious kid, I was fascinated by the images and wondered what stories they told.

Bas-Reliefs
Over the years I have visited the main temples in the complex several times, including the famous Ta Prohm Temple featured in the movie “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.” There are, however, many more temples scattered and hidden throughout the surrounding jungle. Angkor must have been an absolutely amazing place in its day, bustling with activity as Hindus and later Buddhists worshiped here. If the Apostle Paul had lived in Southeast Asia, then Angkor would have been the Mars Hill of his day. This is likely where he would have come and initiated what is one of the most strategic dialogues in the book of Acts.

Omar at Crumbling Temple
I am still fascinated by the temples of Angkor. Our team had a free afternoon today before we fly back to the States tomorrow, so I decided to head into the jungle to explore Angkor’s hidden temples — places far off the beaten tourist path. This is my second excursion into the jungle on a mountain bike. I hired a guide to lead me down the winding and sometimes technical single-track trails that lead to some amazing temples. Over the course of 24-miles we stopped at several of these sites that are under constant threat of being reclaimed by the jungle.

Canal in Angkor
Understanding Angkor is key to understanding Pol Pot, the genocidal leader who orchestrated the brutal murder of half of Cambodia’s population between 1975 and 1978. He gleaned many of the torture methods employed by his sadistic troops from the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat. Somewhere around 10-miles into my excursion today we came across a large canal. I stopped on the bridge and asked my guide if this was the work of those held captive by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. “Yes,” he replied. “Many died doing this kind of work under harsh jungle conditions and with little food.” His uncle was among those who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Omar at Jungle Temple
The ancient temples of Angkor are a reminder that God has indeed set eternity in the hearts of people (Ecc. 3:11). Christian philosopher Blaise Paschal understood that. He said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Angkor is a place that reminds us that throughout the centuries, people have searched for that something or someone to fill that God shaped vacuum. Throughout the world today, people are still searching for the same answers as those who built and once worshiped at Angkor.

As a Christ-follower, I am in agreement with Paschal. I believe that the God shaped vacuum within us can be filled only by God, made known through Jesus Christ. And, like the Apostle Paul, I believe that I am under obligation or in debt to those who do not know Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:14). I do, in fact, owe Christ to every person who does not know Him. I’m grateful to have had another opportunity to visit Angkor’s hidden temples and to reflect on the fact that each of us have only a single lifetime in which to connect with the only One who can fill the void in our hearts.


Responses

  1. I must ask: Did you carry your bike with you or find a rental there? Awesome single track I bet!

    • I rented a bike from Angkor Cycling. They offer very reasonable packages complete with a guide. And yes, the trails are amazing and in many sections barely wider than the handlebars. Had to portage bike across a ditch in one place. Arriving at temple sites is very cool. Like riding through history.


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