Angkor Wat lies 5.5 kilometres (3.4 mi) north of the modern town of Siem Reap, and a short distance south and slightly east of the previous capital, which was centred at Baphuon. In an area of Cambodia where there is an important group of ancient structures, it is the southernmost of Angkor's main sites.
According to legend, the construction of Angkor Wat was ordered by Indra to serve as a palace for his son Precha Ket Mealea. According to the 13th-century Chinese traveller Zhou Daguan, some believed that the temple was constructed in a single night by a divine architect.
The initial design and construction of the temple took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (ruled 1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king's state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation stela nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as "Varah Vishnu-lok" after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king's death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished. In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.
Towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu centre of worship to Buddhism, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.
One of the first Western visitors to the temple was António da Madalena, a Portuguese monk who visited in 1586 and said that it "is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of."
By the 17th century, Angkor Wat was not completely abandoned and functioned as a Buddhist temple. Fourteen inscriptions dated from the 17th century discovered in Angkor area testify to Japanese Buddhist pilgrims that had established small settlements alongside Khmer locals. At that time, the temple was thought by the Japanese visitors as the famed Jetavana garden of the Buddha, which originally located in the kingdom of Magadha, India. The best-known inscription tells of Ukondafu Kazufusa, who celebrated the Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat in 1632.
In the mid-19th century, the temple was visited by the French naturalist and explorer Henri Mouhot, who popularised the site in the West through the publication of travel notes, in which he wrote:
"One of these temples—a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged."
Mouhot, like other early Western visitors, found it difficult to believe that the Khmers could have built the temple and mistakenly dated it to around the same era as Rome. The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the subsequent clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site. There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement, including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of the monuments themselves.
Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the Cambodian Civil War and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period. Camping Khmer Rouge forces used whatever wood remained in the building structures for firewood, a pavilion was ruined by a stray American shell, and a shoot-out between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces put a few bullet holes in a bas relief. Far more damage was done after the wars, by art thieves working out of Thailand, which, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, claimed almost every head that could be lopped off the structures, including reconstructions.
The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia's diplomatic relations with France, the United States and its neighbour Thailand. A depiction of Angkor Wat has been a part of Cambodian national flags since the introduction of the first version circa 1863. From a larger historical and even transcultural perspective, however, the temple of Angkor Wat did not become a symbol of national pride sui generis but had been inscribed into a larger politico-cultural process of French-colonial heritage production in which the original temple site was presented in French colonial and universal exhibitions in Paris and Marseille between 1889 and 1937. Angkor Wat's aesthetics were also on display in the plaster cast museum of Louis Delaporte called musée Indo-chinois which existed in the Parisian Trocadero Palace from c.1880 to the mid-1920s.
The splendid artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on 11 August 1863 and invading Siam to take control of the ruins. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Siamese (Thai) control since AD 1351 (Manich Jumsai 2001), or by some accounts, AD 1431. Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time. It is safe to say that from the colonial period onwards until the site's nomination as UNESCO World Heritage in 1992, this specific temple of Angkor Wat was instrumental in the formation of the modern and gradually globalised concept of built cultural heritage.
In December 2015, it was announced that a research team from University of Sydney had found a previously unseen ensemble of buried towers built and demolished during the construction of Angkor Wat, as well as massive structure of unknown purpose on its south side and wooden fortifications. The findings also include evidence of low-density residential occupation in the region, with a road grid, ponds and mounds. These indicate that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been used exclusively by the priestly elite, as was previously thought. The team used LiDAR, ground-penetrating radar and targeted excavation to map Angkor Wat.
Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
The Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary has become one of the most important breeding grounds for endangered water birds in Southeast Asia. Located in the marshes of Tonle Sap Lake, this bird sanctuary provides a chance to tour by boat and see rare birds outside of captivity. You can make arrangements to visit Prek Toal through your guest house or hire a boat from Phnom Krom/Chong Khneas boat dock (US $35 - $45 return). You’ll be dropped off at the Prek Toal Environmental Research Station (entrance fee: $5), where you can pick up more information about the area’s wildlife and plant life, or book a boat tour of the sanctuary ($15-25).
It is well recommended as a must see temple by all previous clients.
It was built as a Hindu temple, but there are some carvings depicting buddhist motifs. Its primary material is sandstone and it is largely unrestored, with trees and thick brush thriving amidst its towers and courtyards and many of its stones lying in great heaps. For years it was difficult to reach, but a road recently built to the temple complex of Koh Ker passes Beng Mealea and more visitors are coming to the site, as it is 77 km from Siem Reap by road.
The history of the temple is unknown and it can be dated only by its architectural style, identical to Angkor Wat, so scholars assumed it was built during the reign of king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Smaller in size than Angkor Wat, the king's main monument, Beng Mealea nonetheless ranks among the Khmer empire's larger temples: the gallery which forms the outer enclosure of the temple is 181 m by 152 m. It was the center of a town, surrounded by a moat 1025 m by 875 m large and 45 m wide.[1
Beng Mealea is oriented toward the east, but has entranceways from the other three cardinal directions. The basic layout is three enclosing galleries around a central sanctuary, collapsed at present. The enclosures are tied with "cruciform cloisters", like Angkor Wat. Structures known as libraries lie to the right and left of the avenue that leads in from the east. There is extensive carving of scenes from Hindu mythology, including the Churning of the Sea of Milk and Vishnu being borne by the bird god Garuda. Causeways have long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.
It was built mostly of sandstone: Beng Mealea is only 7 km far from the angkorian sandstone quarries of Phnom Kulen, as the crow flies. Presumably sandstone blocks used for Angkor were transported along artificial water canals and passed from here. Despite of lack of information, the quality of architecture and decorations has drawn the attention of French scholars just from its discovery.
Koh Ker is a remote archaeological site in northern Cambodia about 120 kilometres (75 mi) away from Siem Reap and the ancient site of Angkor. It is a very jungle filled region that is sparsely populated. More than 180 sanctuaries were found in a protected area of 81 square kilometres (31 sq mi). Only about two dozen monuments can be visited by tourists because most of the sanctuaries are hidden in the forest and the whole area is not fully demined.
Koh Ker is the modern name for an important city of the Khmer empire. In inscriptions the town is mentioned as Lingapura (city of lingams) or Chok Gargyar (sometimes translated as city of glance, sometimes as iron tree forest).
Under the reign of the kings Jayavarman IV and Harshavarman II Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the whole empire (928–944 AD). Jayavarman IV forced an ambitious building program. An enormous water-tank and about forty temples were constructed under his rule. The most significant templeâ€‘complex, a double sanctuary (Prasat Thom/Prang), follows a linear plan and not a concentric one like most of the temples of the Khmer kings. Unparalleled is the sevenâ€‘tiered and 36-metre (118 ft) high pyramid, which most probably served as state temple of Jayavarman IV. Really impressive too are the shrines with the twoâ€‘meter 6 ft 7 in high lingas.
Under Jayavarman IV the style of Koh Ker was developed and the art of sculpture reached a pinnacle. A great variety of wonderful statues were chiselled. Because of its remoteness the site of Koh Ker was plundered many times by looters. Sculptures of Koh Ker can be found not only in different museums but also in private collections. Masterpieces of Koh Ker are offered occasionally at auctions. These pieces in present times are considered stolen art.
The site is about two and half hours away from Siem Reap, and basic visitors' facilities are now being built. This makes Koh Ker very attractive for anyone who would like to experience lonely temples partly overgrown by the forest.
Angkor Thom was established as the capital of Jayavarman VII's empire, and was the centre of his massive building programme. One inscription found in the city refers to Jayavarman as the groom and the city as his bride.
Angkor Thom seems not to be the first Khmer capital on the site, however. Yasodharapura, dating from three centuries earlier, was centred slightly further northwest, and Angkor Thom overlapped parts of it. The most notable earlier temples within the city are the former state temple of Baphuon, and Phimeanakas, which was incorporated into the Royal Palace. The Khmers did not draw any clear distinctions between Angkor Thom and Yashodharapura: even in the fourteenth century an inscription used the earlier name. The name of Angkor Thom—great city—was in use from the 16th century.
The last temple known to have been constructed in Angkor Thom was Mangalartha, which was dedicated in 1295. Thereafter the existing structures continued to be modified from time to time, but any new creations were in perishable materials and have not survived.
Angkor Thom was abandoned some time prior to 1609, when an early western visitor wrote of an uninhabited city, "as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato". It is believed to have sustained a population of 80,000–150,000 people.
Like Angkor Thom, the temple of Banteay Chhmar was accomplished during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century. One of the temple's shrines once held an image of Srindrakumararajaputra (the crown prince), a son of Jayavarman VII who died before him. The temple doors record Yasovarman I's failed invasion of Champa.
The long Old Khmer inscription found at the site (K.227), and now on display in the National Museum, Phnom Penh, relates how Prince Srindrakumara was protected on two different occasions by four companions in arms, once against Rahu, and once on a military campaign against Champa. Their four statues, with one of the prince, was placed in the central chapel.
PreahKhan Kompong Svay
The archeological complex of Preah Khan (of) Kampong Svay or Prasat Bakan (according to local pronunciation) or Bakan Svay Rolay is located 100 km east of Angkor, in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. It stands as the largest single religious complex ever built during Angkorian Era, as its exterior enclosure is about 5 km square,even if the isolated location makes it one of less visited Angkorian sites.
Preah Khan Kompong Svay covers an area about 5 kilometers square, is oriented to north-east and has four concentric enclosures. It was provided with water by a large baray (2.8 km by 750 m but almost completely dried at present), which crosses the eastern side.:95 On an artificial island (mebon) in the middle of the baray there is Preah Thkol , a cruciform temple in sandstone with a standing central towe. In the southeastern corner stands the remains of the 15 metres high pyramid of Preah Damrei, with laterite enclosure and two stone elephants (Damrei means elephant) at its upper corners. The other two elephants are exhibited at the National Museum of Phnom Penh and Guimet Museum in Paris.
Inside the exterior enclosure, in the middle of the western side of baray, there is Prasat Preah Stung , with a peculiar four-faced central tower in Bayon style, which is preceded by a landing-stage with nÄga balaustrades. A laterite causeway leads from here to a centric enclosure, 701 m by 1097 m, surrounded by a moat and endowed with four gopuras similar to Angkor Thom. Near the eastern gopura there is a dharmasala.
The inner laterite enclosure contains the central sanctuary, that stands on a two-tier platform. The central tower collapsed because of a looting attempt in 2003.It has entrances in all cardinal directions and is rounded by a windowed gallery.
Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992.
Today, it is one of the most visited complexes in Cambodia’s Angkor region. The conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm is a partnership project of the Archaeological Survey of India and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap).