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A Rewarding First Visit to Angkor

As ICR’s Senior Scientist, I have been involved in WMF’s work at Angkor for about eight years. That work has included research on Khmer construction materials, along with the development and evaluation of specialized products for conservation of the sites. Until recently, my Angkor work was undertaken in ICR’s New York laboratory. But in January, I joined a multi-disciplinary team to carry out an initial needs survey at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a temple in the historic city of Ayutthaya, Thailand. This was an amazing opportunity to join my colleague Glenn Boornazian—WMF’s project director at Angkor—to make the short flight from Thailand to Siem Reap, to see the Angkor sights for the very first time.

Our first visit was to Phnom Bakheng, climbing that mountain to see the complex reconstruction work, and to participate in discussions of site drainage with our hydrologist and structural engineer. This was a bit personal for me, as one of the conservation materials created in ICR’s New York lab is being used here with great success. The level of visitation at this sacred place is truly astounding, as crowds gather at dusk, despite the strenuous climb. It is an extraordinarily moving place.

Angkor Wat is, of course, the central monument. Our re-roofing of the Churning of the Sea of Milk Gallery has been completed, but for me this was an opportunity to view the site in its totality, and to see the efforts of other national teams that have been working side-by-side with the Cambodians. Angkor Wat, with its complex structure of concentric square rings and towers, is truly huge. It is impossible to appreciate this fact without being there, and I began to wonder why I had never made the trip until now. Long flights? That issue now seemed absurd to me as I stood in wonder at Angkor Wat.

Finally, we went to see Preah Khan, a site that has simply been stabilized as a ruin. A stop at the visitor pavilion—modern and beautifully designed by WMF—was particularly valuable. We moved onward to see the site (and the very active stone workshop area), which is a fantastic place. It reinforces one’s sense of how much work has been accomplished at other Angkor sites, and at the same time it is—in an “as-is” state—romantic, wild, and beautiful.

This was a quick trip, and it left me wanting more time in the region. The monuments, the water/forest landscape, and (of course) the monkeys were a non-stop thrill, compacted into just a few days. Then it was back to New York, and back to our ICR laboratory. Perhaps as the project in nearby Thailand moves forward, there will be another chance for me to see Angkor again.