Just can’t wait to be king

By Beth Pollak

For most Americans, kings are a thing of the past. In Cambodia, kings are alive and well in the present.

On our visit to Angkor Thom today, the current kingdom and remnants of dynasties past were intertwined as Cambodians flooded the temples to pay homage for the birthday of the country’s current king, Norodom Sihamoni. Streets were overrun with people, tuk-tuks, motos and more as residents lined the entranceways to the great ancient city for the three-day national holiday. According to Nimol, our guide, there will be huge parties and celebrations in the capital, Pnomh Penh, this week.

Inside the temple area, the celebrating visitors encountered many structures that were built to honor – or inflate the ego of – ancient kings. Phimeanakas was once the king’s private temple – no one was allowed to ascend the sandstone heights except His Majesty. Nearby is the king’s personal pool, 1,000-plus square feet of refreshment for royal swimming only. Not even his wife – or more likely, wives – would have been allowed into the pool – theirs was separate. On the king’s Elephant Terrace, where it is believed that he would sit to watch elephant fights, the large central entrance was for the king only, while other royals had to come in through smaller side doors. Each king was allowed to build as many temples as he wanted, but had to build at least one to serve as his tomb.

The many perks of being king continue today. In Cambodia, at least, His Majesty is treated like, well, royalty.

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