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February 15, 2012

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Best of Angkor Tour, January ’12

Posted by John H. Stubbs, Senior Advisor to WMF
World Monuments Fund

Last month we kicked off 2012 with a tour of the spectacular architectural remains at Angkor Archaeological Park during WMF’s classic “Best of Angkor” Tour. Nine enthusiastic travellers toured highlights of Angkor’s magnificent temples over five days in a special order determined by my trip co-leader, the star Khmer guide Khin Po-Thai (a.k.a. “Thai”), who made sure we saw everything with a minimum of other tourists present—that is no small feat these days!

This year’s tour included another feature that only Thai could have provided, his unmatched guided jungle trek along the walls of Angkor Thom, allowing our group to take in the Tonle Sap ecological marvel from an unusual access point.

After dozens of trips to Angkor since 1991 I am amazed at the grandness of ancient Angkor, and today there is more to see than ever. Especially heartening was the impressive progress being made by WMF’s current field team. They recently completed a five year project involving re-restoring the stone roof and related components of the intermediate gallery at Angkor Wat, which contains the iconic 150–foot-long Churning of the Sea of Milk bas-relief. Our group got a rare look at the gallery restoration from above after climbing to the high reaches of the bridge crane overhead shortly before it was dismantled. We also viewed major conservation work at three other WMF temple conservation projects: the rebuilding of the north tower at Ta Som; stabilization of the west gopura of Preah Khan; and now the biggest architectural conservation project of all underway at Angkor, WMF’s extensive stabilization and restoration of the east half of Phnom Bakheng. Seeing the conservation project in full swing at this huge early tenth-century Hindu temple with over 60 workers, two cranes swinging overhead, and a good amount of the work completed already was an inspiration.

What an honor it has been for WMF and its staff to be working for over two decades now at the World Heritage Site of Angkor, and what a privilege this year’s tour enjoyed in seeing Angkor’s architectural highlights and WMF’s current work from “behind the ropes.”