One of the best things about travelling is the opportunity to learn new things: things about history, geography, geology, nature, and especially about people around the world. We learned something about all of these topics on our recent trip to Cambodia. Our first stop was Siem Reap, a city in the northwest of the country that is home to the ruins of the Angkor Empire, including the well-known World Heritage site, Angkor Wat. In fact, although Angkor Wat is an enormous temple site on its own – the largest religious site ever built in the world at about 400 sq. kms. (250 sq. mi.), there are several other temple sites in the area as well, including the captivating Angkor Thom.
The Angkor Empire was at its peak from 800 A.D. to 1430 A.D. and is also known as the Khmer Empire, for the Khmer people who continue to account for about 90% of Cambodia’s population. The population of the Khmer Empire is estimated to have been about 4 million people, with the capital city being Angkor (near modern-day Siem Reap). In the early 12th century the Khmer King at the time built the temples in Angkor Wat as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, showing the close influence of India at that time. However, by the end of the 12th century, the empire and hence the temples had become Buddhist, and Cambodia continues to be a primarily Buddhist country.
The scope, grandeur, and extraordinary artistic and architectural detail of the temples speak to the heights the Khmer civilization reached during those centuries. I will try to tell a bit of their story through pictures, although it’s really not the same without experiencing the heat and humidity at the same time! It is no wonder that the jungle takes over if people aren’t relentless in keeping it at bay. The fact that there was a moat around the Angkor Wat site was a significant factor in protecting it from jungle encroachment and enabling its continual use.
Images at Angkor Wat:
Images at Angkor Thom: