A young Chinese diplomat named Zhou Dagnan had a life destined to pass unremarkably as a footnote in history, but this idea quickly evaporated in the thirteenth century, when he boarded a great junk leaving south-eastern China. He sailed down the two thousand kilometres of coastline of what was to become Vietnam, turned up the mighty Mekong Delta and followed its Tonle Sap river tributary heading up into Cambodia’s heart. Here he found Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire, built beside a great inland freshwater sea where fishes as large as two men swam. He wrote a record both of his travels and his stay in Angkor for a period of twelve months. Though much now is lost, what writings remain describe the culture of the Cambodian people living in the city of Angkor Thom and the adjoining temples more than seven hundred years ago.
Cambodia, positioned just above the Equator in South-east Asia, wedged between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, is a country lucky to exist if not for the Mekong River running through, splitting it in two. Through millennia, torrents of silt carried downstream by swelling floodwaters from the melting Himalayan snow caps formed vast flat floodplains, pushing Cambodia’s coastline further south each season until reaching its present point in the Gulf of Thailand.
Completing its country-building tasks, the Mekong turned east, snaking its way through southern Vietnam, then split into hundreds of lesser tributaries and opened out into a vast delta. In Cambodia’s north, it left behind an immense inland sea covering over two thousand square kilometres, draining through Tonle Sap River and feeding into the Mekong hundreds of kilometres south. Oddly, it reversed direction each year, with the rising floodwaters refilling the lake until it covered an area six times larger, forming Cambodia’s lungs, breathing in and out the fertile waters that brought life to the country.
From this lake came the Cambodian people, born of the Naga. Legends imply that the Naga, a snakelike reptilian race of beings, possessed a large easterly kingdom in the Pacific Ocean, while to the west resided an Indian people called the Kambuja. The Naga King’s daughter, Mera, married the Kambuja King and united both cultures.
Zhou Dagnan came to witness these peoples born of the Naga and reigned over by a God King whose lineage endures into modern times. No records were kept of birth years or surnames, most merely using only the name of the day of their birth, so unimportant were time and age. These aspects were immortal in Buddha’s reincarnation within Cambodia, where the Buddha provided peace within. If at any point the Buddha left the lands, the tranquillity and calm would crumble, allowing the kingdom to fall into disarray........................................................................................