Angkor Wat

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Cambodia >> Siem Reap >> Attractions >> Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

History

The magnificent Hindu temples of Angkor Wat are the prime attractions on the shortlist of Cambodian tourist sights. Situated in the North Western part of Cambodia, about two hundred km from the border with Thailand, the temples are part of the ancient city of Angkor. The temples of Angkor Wat comprise of a huge complex, sprawling over an area of about 81 hectares and stand testament to the architectural achievements of the powerful Khmer empire. The main features of the complex are the five towers of Angkor Wat- an image which appears in the national flag of Cambodia.

Angkor Wat, and the temples which make up the entire complex, are probably one of the most splendid examples of ancient Hindu architecture- not just in Cambodia, not just in Asia, but in the whole world. The bas-relief along the outer gallery walls of the temples depicts scenes from Hindu mythology and is the longest continuous example of such work in the world.

Angkor Wat was at one time the gem of the Ancient Khmer Empire; with the fall of the empire, the temple too fell into a state of disrepair and came to light only centuries later, when an intrepid Frenchman stumbled upon them. Today they are on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, a national treasure for Cambodia and a definite crowd-puller.

The temples of Angkor (strictly speaking, the name `Angkor Wat’ is applied only to the largest temple in the complex of 100 temples) were built over a period of about 30 years, between 879 AD, and 1191 AD. This was the period that saw the glorious ancient Khmer Empire reach the zenith of power; the empire stretched from southern Vietnam to Yunan (in China), and to the Bay of Bengal. The epicentre of the empire was the city of Angkor in North West Cambodia, and it was from the citadel of Angkor Thom, established by Jayavarman II, that the Khmer kings ruled. The Khmer rulers were staunch Hindus, and they built the huge complex of Angkor Wat- the principal temples of the empire- in reverence to the Hindu Gods, and also as a symbol of their own divine right - one of the Khmer kings, Devaraja, had even assumed the title of god-king, and was worshipped by his subjects. King Suryavarman who built Angkor Wat, identified himself with the Hindu God Vishnu.

In the year 1431, Thai armies attacked Angkor, and a year later, the city was deserted by the Khmers. Thus set in a period of desolation, which was to last for centuries altogether-Angkor Wat was lost to the world, and seen only by itinerant Buddhist monks who embroidered their stories of the mysterious lost temples with fables of gods who had built the shrines. The temples remained isolated for years; adventurous European travellers reported having seen signs of it, but these tales were usually passed off as tall tales- until the Frenchman, Henri Mouhot, brought Angkor to the world’s attention in 1860. The French spearheaded a restoration project in 1908- a project that has continued up to the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, Angkor is in fairly good condition, but doubts are being raised by experts on what the effects of the huge influx of tourists will be on these old monuments.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Cambodia is in December and January, when the temperature’s fairly comfortable, and it isn’t pouring cats and dogs. The main rainy season, between April and October, is very wet, but can be a good time if you’re keen on seeing Angkor Wat in all its glory- that’s the time when all the moats are full and the vegetation is at its greenest. But it is advisable to avoid the rainy season and settle for the empty expanse of the dry moat.

Trivia

The strangest looking temple at Angkor is Bayon with 216 gigantic faces that smile benignly at you!

Timing

Angkor Wat is open through out the day. If you are looking to escape the crowds visit at midday even though it is hot.

Sunrise and sunset are both popular times and with reason – the temples are at their spectacular best at these times bathing the stone sculptures in shades of yellow and orange.


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