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Freitag, 27. Mai 2011

Part 16 - Preah Vihear No Man's Land

At the Edge

After passing the gallery it’s just a few meters over sandy and rocky grounds and the visitor stands at the edge of the Dangrek escarpment. One step further means certain death. The rim is unsecured. A large vertical cliffside faces Cambodia approximately 500 m below. 

There are traces of a small stone pit all over the place. It was here where the Khmers cut the early stones to lay down the foundation of Preah Vihear in the late 9th and early 10th century AD and built the first humble sanctuary dedicated to Lord Shiva.

A breathtaking view opens up onto the wide plains of Cambodia deep down. The sounds are cushioned as if the slight breeze carries them away before they reach the ear. Giant hawks and eagles surf the skies without a wing beat in the upcurrents, occasionally proclaiming their high pitch call of freedom.    

The Khmer empire was at no times a static affair with defined borders as we know them today. With the exception of the core around Ankor Wat the geography was ruled by more or less influential Khmer powers. The edges of the Khmer Kingdom continuously shrivelled away or expanded.

Almost unnoticed by chroniclers the so called Tai people seeped steadily but in relatively small numbers into North-Vietnam, North-Laos, Burma and North-Thailand long before the Khmer empire reached its peak in the 13th century AD. They did that in small groups travelling along the rivers. At first without ambitions to be self ruled on larger scale. That changed dramatically when the Mongolian chieftain Kublai Khan pressed south. Tens of thousand of Tai people took off, left their homelands in South-China, one of them Yunnan, and followed their ancestors into Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Thailand.         

After they reached the “critical mass” in North-Thailand it was only a question of time before a charismatic Tai leader was born who strived towards his own kingdom with independence from the Khmers as a final target.

In 1259 AD the Tai king Mengrai founded the Lan Na kingdom in North-Thailand with Chiang Rai first and Chiang Mai later as the center. Lan Na, the land of the million rice fields.

Almost at the same time, in the year 1238, Pho Khun Sri Indraditya founded the Kingdom of Sukhothai south of Lan Na. His son Ramkhamhaeng being known as the dear father of all Thai subjects. Both kings were warrior kings and expanded their kingdom significantly on the expense of the Khmers. Sukhothai, the dawn of happiness, as it is romantically idealised by the official Thai history books. The year 1238 AD is considered the birth year of the Thai-nation. That’s more than 400 years after the Khmer nation was founded. History books distinguish between “Tai” and “Thai” from now on, with the term “Siamese” for Tais in what is today Thailand becoming the most frequently used term.         

Sukhothai was then superseded by Ayutthaya with king U-Thong in the central plains of Thailand in 1350 AD.

In Laos changes took place too. Lan Ngum, a military Tai-man trained by the Khmers, founded the kingdom of Lan Chang, the land of the million elephants, in 1353.       

They all found themselves in competition with the Khmers. Whereas the Lan Na and Lan Chang kings seemed to be satisfied by the extent of their lands, nursing their farming, trading, handicraft and cultural skills, the Siamese warrior kings strived for more…  

Cautionary Remark: Whoever intends to visit Preah Vihear / Khao Pra Wihan should ask for advice beforehand. As of now, May 2011, the place is closed for visitors. Thai and Cambodian troops face each other in close proximity. Renewed battles could emerge at any time.   

stay tuned...

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