That’s why they call them ‘ruins’

There is a reason why they call them ‘ruins’

This is one of about a ten part series called ‘The Travel Thai-aries®‘.  I am about two years into this project, and still getting fresh ideas and memories.  Before reading below, please start here.  It is a brief pre-requisite read that will assist you and I greatly.

When you get to Cambodia, or any ancient site, you get to see this. It is pretty goddamn great.

ankgor wat

photo credit – me – Nov 2014

Then, you read it was discovered SO long ago. How amazing must that moment have been? You are just some French explorer (the French factor in heroically, in Cambodian history) wandering through the bush. Then… you stumble onto that in the jungle. I kept thinking what a transcendent moment it must have been for those first explorers when they stumbled upon these amazing ancient cities.

It’s romantic, isn’t it?  Guess what; they didn’t see anything like that above.  Analogy time (I can’t help myself).  Ed note:  really, he can’t.  It’s quite a bother for all of us.

for reference – here is the iconic ‘Furthur‘ bus in it’s heydey – 1965


Here is that same bus after it sat in the woods on Kesey’s property for 30 years.  Some would say this bus started the LSD revolution of the mid 60s.


Angkor Wat was that times 20 (600 years untouched in the jungle).  What does the famous hippy bus have to do with anything?  That destruction is simply what nature did to a man made structure in 30 years.  Here is why nothing survived after 600 years to be more than about 50 feet tall… look at these roots.  My god, they look like props in a horror movie.


Anyhow… just think what the people of it’s time saw. People smarter than us have done that work, and we have an idea that it looked like this.  If you are cruising Siem Riep in 1200 AD… you get this (below).


Angkor Wat wasn’t discovered by the outside world until 1860 (US Civil War era).  The nice folks who found Angkor Wat didn’t find that above.  They found this, below.


Actually, this has been partially reconstructed.  Point being, what they found in 1860 was mostly a bunch of rocks.  Through the magic of MS Paint, I chopped the top.  This is what they likely found.  No structures, just rocks.

angkor wat

Still pretty cool, mind you… but nothing like the sites we get to see today. All of these sites were in rubble. Weather, the jungle, time, and raiders destroy everything… quickly. I am sure it was still a great moment to stumble across this stuff in the jungle, but nothing that made you say ‘this is the most significant place and find in history.’  See, nothing in front of you is higher than the tree line.  Sure, it was 1,000 years ago.  Now, it is just rocks in the jungle.  That is why no one finds this stuff for ages.  Even in a plane, you would miss probably 90% of this stuff before it was restored.

Most of these sites have to be put back together. It is VERY expensive, and VERY time consuming. To put these things into the shape we get to see them (and by extension we assume the shape they were in during their heyday) they have to:

  • Identify every single piece that goes to the thing.
  • Dig it up. It is something that was made?  Or… just a rock?
  • Number it
  • figure out exactly where that went
  • how it went… exactly. Imagine putting a puzzle together where every single piece is grey.  Oh, and was out in the yard for 600 years.

Do you see a vision of transcendence? I did, too. It’s pretty great for us.

Think of putting together this puzzle, but it isn’t square. It’s 3D… in the shape of a castle, we think.  But, every piece is colored identically and someone threw away the box.  I mean… maybe this was a great castle.  Or… maybe this was a giant 12 story human foot.


The point of this story is that this is still very much a living work in progress.  The Ankgor Wat you go see in 5 years will be a prettier and better reconstructed one than we saw.  It is like the Sagrada Familia.  It has been being built for over a 100 years… and will still be under construction in our lifetime.  This is significant.  Most iconic world heritage sites are not changing.  Stonehenge and the Roman Colosseum look exactly the same today as when your grandparents saw it.  They will look exactly the same when your grandchildren go see it.  In 5,000 years, if there is still people, those two sites will mostly look the same.

Where do you get the millions needed to rebuild these?  France has been basically carrying Cambodia and their heritage sites for a couple of hundred years. When the Khmer Rouge came in and started destroying absolutely everything and everyone… the French smuggled out super valuable stuff to hold it safely. Then, they gave it all back… unlike England.  There are a bunch of charities now helping under the banner of the ‘World Heritage Sites‘, which is run by a wonderful multi-country initiative called ‘Unesco‘.  They are kinda single handedly holding the Earth’s most precious human creations together through awareness and fundraising.

*** tangent

 Wanna see the world?  Don’t have the time to travel around the world? Go to an English museum.  They used to run the world, and they have all the coolest shit.  Unlike France, England has kept all their cool stuff.  We got to see, and even touch, the actual motherfucking Rosetta Stone.  It unlocked ancient languages in a single swoop.  It could be the single most important human artifact on all of Earth.

I tell you this because there is a super duper cool aspect of this ‘in progress’. Go to Cambodia now, do it. They are wonderful, and need the money. The Cambodia you go to tomorrow will be different from the one your parents went to. Well, not your parents… but your friends’ more interesting parents. Your parents didn’t get to travel the world, because they had to raise your dumb ass. Instead of that trip to Rome for your mom and dad, you got braces. Best appreciate them.

Cambodia keeps getting better. Mind you, they have only been open to the world for about a decade or so. They are not ‘free’, either. Not in the sense you and I think of. They can’t leave Cambodia.  You could move to Cambodia, though, I guess.  This guy pretty much says “I dare ya“.

*** tangent too

Speaking of the French, America needs to stop talking shit about them. From what I learned, and this is anecdotal after a week in the country – France has carried Cambodia. They protected Cambodia, the bankrolled Cambodia, and they hid all of Cambodia’s cool shit when the Khmer came a killin. Remember, they bankrolled the US fight for independence against England.  Without France, you have no United States.  Without France, Cambodia would still be civil-warring itself into oblivion.



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