The American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP) had organized a weekend expedition for its students to the revered historical site of the Preah Vihear temple on the third of March, 2017. It was a much needed break for the students who have been rigorously involved with their academic obligations. AUPP believes in the all-round development of the students, and having an expedition of this nature was the perfect occasion for the students to blow-off some steam and come back rejuvenated for their upcoming exams.
In total there were thirty eight students who embarked upon this journey, accompanied by three faculty members. On the first day of the trip, the students were excited to leave the hullaballoo of the city behind and enter into the serenity of nature. The first temple they visited was the Beng Mealea temple. This ancient sandstone temple is located 40 km east of the main group of temples at Angkor. Built as a Hindu temple, this site also showcases carvings depicting Buddhist motifs. In this temple the students witnessed the beautiful amalgamation of the two religions, in spirit and art, which epitomizes the harmonic inculcation that defines the Angkorian architecture. After a short exploration of the temple, the AUPP bandwagon continued on with their journey to the next temple.
Travelling further northeast, the students then reached the Koh Ker temple. Historically, between 928-944 AD, under the reign of the kings Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II, Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the whole Angkorian Empire. Coming from the modern capital of Cambodia to the ancient one, the students had the opportunity to appreciate and wonder the magnitude and magnificence of the ancient capital, or what remains of it.
On the second day of the trip, the students ascended 525-metre to the cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains and were profoundly amazed to see the beautiful Preah Vihear temple nested there. They were greeted by an insightful tour guide who informed them that this ancient temple was built as a homage to the Hindu God Shiva. The students were then addressed by Mr. Pheng Som Oeurn, the Director of Archaeological Department, who shared some light with them about the history of the temple.
Some of the facts that the students learned were that the Preah Vihear temple has the most spectacular setting as it was supported and modified by successive kings, and that it bears the elements of several architectural styles accumulated during the six-centuries long Khmer Empire reign. The students also learned that for the longest time the ownership of this temple was disputed between the Cambodian and the Thai Governments, and finally in 1962 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ruled that the temple was Cambodia’s. They were also informed that this site is well preserved, mainly due to its remote location and stands out for its beautiful architecture and exceptional quality of carved stone ornamentation. The students unanimously agreed that the Preah Vihear temple was indeed an outstanding masterpiece of Khmer architecture. After a day-long exploration of the temple the students finally headed back to their hotel, and with a little celebration of their own, took some time to reflect on their expedition of the past two days. The following day, the students and faculty made their way back to Phnom Penh. On being asked what they thought of this expedition, this is what some of the students had to say.
“Preah Vihear illustrates the diligence, passion and intelligence of Khmer people. The trip inspired me to work as hard as my ancestors.”- Serey Rithiya
“Preah Vihear trip was a jaw-dropping experience because it allowed me to really feel closer to my ancestors. I can feel the greatness and the pride in every drop of my blood. This represents our pure identity that must be preserved at all cost.”- Chivit Chhoeun
“I considered the Preah Vihear trip as a bonding trip. It is a great chance for me to get to know my school mates better.”- Sun Rachana Pom
We here at AUPP hope that this trip has given our students the opportunity to reflect and rejuvenate. Providing the best education in Cambodia maybe atop our priority list, but it has always been in our interest to nurture all-round students and develop the next generation of leaders in Cambodia and the world. By arranging this trip to Preah Vihear, we hope that we have taken a step closer to achieving just that. With educational programs and trips like these we want our students to experience and explore the best and at the same time instill in them the humility and pride of their rich heritage, appreciate the hard work and diligence of their ancestors, and inspire them to aspire for newer glories to come. Earnest Hemmingway had once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end”, and as such, we wish all the luck and success to our students and hope they find their own journeys that matter in the end.