Angkor Wat was the last temple complex used during the Angkorian period of the Khmer empire. However the UNESCO world heritage site is massive, using satellite imagery, the network of temple complexes extends over 1,000 square kilometers (329 square miles). Our driver Chantra told us there were over 1,000 temples. (There are just under 100 named temple complexes, each having multiple temples within the compound – some having as many as 50 in one compound). Nearly all of these were built between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Most people use a bus or a tuk tuk to go from site to site, although we did see walkers and bicyclists. Our driver Chantra was wonderful! He gave us plenty of time at each site, make great recommendations about what to see, and never pressured us to leave. He even had great stories and kernels of information about each of the sites we visited.
Large stones quarried over 60 kilometers away in the mountains were moved by human and elephant power to form these amazing structures.
Not too far from where they quarried the stones was the 1000 Lingas waterway. Carved into the creek bed were Lingas and alters. Fantastic. These carvings went on for at least 100 meters.
Equally as impressive were the large constructed waterways, lakes, pools, and moats — all lined with the same large stones. The size and scope alone of this was impressive. As we were sweating at 10am walking around this place, I thought about the laborers who moved and carved heavy stone all day in the sweltering heat.
Most of the early temples were erected during a time of Hinduism in the region; however the later temples were Buddhist, with many of the earlier temples being re-purposed to Buddhism.
Getting up and down these temples was a challenge. The steps were steep and narrow.
The temples were not just for paying homage to deities. There were libraries and hospitals as well as other public works projects. The size and sheer scope of projects were amazing.
Preah Khan for example was the temporary royal residence while the king’s palace was being built. He later gifted it to his parents.
Entrances to temple complexes were equally as impressive.
Many of these large structures had long hallways. I found them captivating.
Westerners have been captivated as to why all these temples were abandoned. When I first read about Angkor Wat in the 80s, it was a big mystery. “Why did the people leave?” The same book had the same questions about the Maya. The perspective was one of capitalism and why turn away from such a large investment unless something forced them to make the change.
There is no great mystery here. According to placards in the National History Museum, a new king moved the capital city from Angkor to Phenom Penh. There were foreign pressures from the Champa and Siamese Kingdoms. In fact, in the 1400s the Siamese Kingdom sacked Angkor Wat.
In conjunction with this, property upkeep was expensive. An army of workers weeded waterways by hand, cut grass with a sickle, swept mounds of accumulated leaves, and climbed over the temples to weed by hand. It was no wonder the price of a three day visit increased from $40 to $62 in the last two years.
Without upkeep, nature wins. Since the 1400s nature has been busy reclaiming the land and the temples.
There was too much history and too many details to absorb. Most of the time we spent walking and exploring.
In all it was a three day temple smorgasbord. We looked and learned until the tropical heat beat us into submission. Gobsmacked by the amount of building done withing a 400 period really made me wonder about the government and the wealth of the Ankorian Kingdom. In three days we still didn’t even get to a quarter of the structures.
Angkor Wat – Sunrise
Tonle Om (South Gate Angkor Tom)
Prasat Preah Palilay
Terrace of the Elephants
Preah Khan Temple
Eastern Gateway to ankor thom
Prasat Suor Prat
Kbal Spean – The 1000 Lingas