The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066 in cloth. The walls of Angkor Wat tell similar stories, except they cover an area hundreds of times larger and are carved in stone. It is impossible for a short-time visitor to comprehend so many carvings. However, understanding a few helps one understand the whole. Consider the following section from the carvings.
This panel shows a war boat, which was the ancient equivalent of a stealth bomber. The rows of heads represent the sailors heading for battle. The Khmer were devastated by their enemy’s use of this technology until their king, Jayavarman VII, a few years after the Norman Conquest, taught them naval warfare. This was so significant that there are boat races each year to commemorate their subsequent victory over their enemy.
Here is another detail from the carvings: a broken-down cart. The men on the left are trying to upright the cart, the men beneath them are repairing the cart, and the woman on the ground is blowing into an oven to start a fire (we saw a boy starting a cooking fire in an iron oven just like this last week).
Finally, there are thouands of carvings of dancers, called Apsara, spread throughout the temple. They came to symbolize our visit to the Ankor complex so much that we bought a “genuine fake” carving of an Apsara from Angkor Artisans (we passed up the chance to buy a “fake genuine” carving at a nearby “antique” store).