It seems like Cambodia is quickly becoming one of the hottest places on earth for tourists to select for where they will spend their vacation. We are not just talking about hot as in temperature, but are instead talking about making this the place to go.
There are beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife to see, and unbelievable waters to snorkel, swim and scuba dive in. Some of the most unusual species of animals exist in this country. In fact, in Ream National Park, a nature preserve located in the southwest portion of Cambodia, there is the largest number of threatened and endangered species of animals, plants, and insects on the planet Earth. This makes it so that tourists and visitors can see wildlife that they would find nowhere else on earth.
While Cambodia is known for all of these incredible attractions and sites that are drawing tourists and visitors to them, this ancient land also holds a large number of historical sites that make it a truly spectacular place to visit. None of these is more impressive than Angkor Wat.
Tell Us More About Angkor Wat
For those who are unfamiliar with this incredible location, this is a beautiful temple built nearly 900 years ago. This is such a majestic and beautiful site that it has been deemed as one of the seven Wonders of the World. Clearly this designation says a whole lot about how incredibly beautiful this temple is.
The Angkor Wat is not only the largest temple in Cambodia, but is actually the largest religious monument in the entire world. The temple monument covers 1,600,000 square meters and was originally built as a Hindu monument during the Khmer Empire. In less than 100 years this temple site would be transformed into the largest Buddhist monument on the planet, and still exists in this fashion today.
The site of the monument seems odd to many tourists and visitors because it is deeper within the Cambodian nation, however it needs to be understood that in the early 12th century Angkor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire. The work on this temple began under King Suryavarman II, but he would die long before the project was completed. It would later be finished under King Jayavarman VII.
This incredible monument began as to showpiece for the Khmer Empire, but is now become one of the most important monuments in all of Cambodia. Millions of people come to see this site each year, and it is used in much of the tourist literature to attract visitors to the nation. Beaches and scuba diving may be a key factor of why so many people want to come to this country on vacation, but Angkor Wat is the real highlight for any vacationer.
History of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is located about 3.5 miles away from the modern city of Seam Reap. The location was selected because Angkor Wat was to become the new capital of the Khmer Empire. Several other ancient temple structures are built in small regions near the site, but this was to be the granddaddy of them all.
The purpose of the temple was to become the new palace for PrechaKetMeelea, the son of Indra. According to the Chinese traveler Daguan Zhou, the temple was supposed to have been built in one single night as part of the divine intervention of the Hindu gods. This same traveler also proposed a story of the temple being built for the King son.
According to historical records the temple began to be constructed during the reign of Suryavarman II around the year 1113. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and was built to be the kings personal temple and headquarters for his new capital city.
Much of the early history related to Angkor Wat has come from word-of-mouth or documents from other civilizations speaking about the temple. There are no legal documents remaining from the early decades when the construction began, with the exception of references being made about it being dedicated to Vishnu.
From what historians have been able to surmise, construction of the temple area ended shortly after the death of Suryavarman. This may have been due to the city being sacked by the enemies of the Khmer, the Chams, which left the Empire in disarray for quite some time.
For nearly 27 years the temple complex remained dormant, as construction completely ended in the Empire was looking to try to regain its prior prominence. When King Jayavarman came to power he rebuilt the Khmer Empire, but decided to move his temple and capital city a few miles north from Angkor Wat. This led to the construction of Angkor Thom, however, he did decide to complete the building of the temple. This led to the final appearance of Angkor Wat, to include its decoration, carvings, and statues.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that the temple had been completed, there was still no real use for it within the Hindu faith of the region. With the new temple being built in Angkor Thom the one in Angkor Wat became virtually unnecessary. This allowed for it to move from a center of Hindu worship into one used by Buddhists. This is still true today.
For centuries after its completion, it was used as a Buddhist temple, but not one that was widely known about. This meant that a small number of monks maintained the structure, but large numbers of people did not flock to the temple for prayer or meditation.
Despite its massive size, the world was quite oblivious to the 12th century temple complex, that is until 1586. In that year, Antonio da Madalena, a monk from the nation of Portugal, came to Cambodia and became the first known westerner to lay his eyes on the complex. He was truly captivated by grandeur of the complex, and documented his discovery. Of the temple complex he wrote, “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.”
His description did not inspire many to come to see this beautiful complex, and so for nearly 100 years Angkor Wat was a temple used by Buddhists, but was largely abandoned for the most part. The temple seemed destined to become one of the greatest man-made inventions that no one knew about. That is until 1632.
In that year a group of Buddhists from the country of Japan came to visit the historic site. They chose to celebrate the Khmer New Year at Angkor Wat making it the largest celebration at the temple complex in over 400 years.
In the 1800s the cat was finally out of the bag. The great French explorer Henri Mouhot came to the site and published a series of notes and drawings depicting how spectacular the temple site was. Within 10 years of his discovery photographers came capturing images for the entire world. It had been wondered if this beautiful wonder of the world would lay unrecognized by most of the world, but that rapidly came to an end with the pictures drawn by Mouhot.
As an interesting side note, it was his discovery that led the French government to determine that they wanted to make Cambodia one of their protectorates. The government found this site to be of such universal importance that they wanted to prevent invading armies and thieves from Siam from taking the treasures or destroying the temple area. On August 11, 1863, the French named Cambodia as one of their protectorates nations, and dispatched an armed garrison to protect the temple complex and its treasures. A French colonial flag flew over the temple for over 90 years before Cambodia gained its independence from France on November 9, 1953.
A Description of the Site and Its Architecture
Angkor Wat is located in a mountainous area of Cambodia. In fact, the primary temple of the complex is located at the peak and is intended to honor Mount Meru, the mythical temple of the Hindu gods. The central geometric pattern was to symbolize the five peaks of this mount, while the walls in the moat surrounding the temple complex were to represent mountain ranges in the ocean where the gods lived.
During the early years that the temple existed all were welcome to enjoy the entire complex and to pray or meditate anywhere within the complex itself. It was built with the idea that all would be welcome despite the fact that the king chose to build this complex as a way to please the gods and to leave a long lasting legacy to himself. Over the years, certain portions of the complex, especially the upper areas of the temple have been restricted so that only the highest members of the Buddhist faith were allowed in while the laity were only allowed in the lower levels.
One of the interesting aspects of this temple is the fact that it is a variant it to the West rather than to the east. Many have believed that this was due to the fact that Suryavarman built the complex as a funerary temple. Support for this idea has come from the fact that the normal process by which the temple and its artifacts would appear, known as the bas-reliefs, is in a counterclockwise direction, the reverse of what would be normally true in Hindu temples. Others summarize that the Western orientation is because it is dedicated to the god Vishnu, who was associated with the West.
The Style of Angkor Wat
This incredible religious site is a prime example of the Khmer architecture. In fact, this style has become so synonymous with the temple area that the classical style is now referred to as Angkor Wat style. The architects of the time were quite skilled in using sandstone, thus the majority of the structure is built out of this material. As a biding agent they used natural resins and slaked lime.
From an architectural standpoint, the building uses a wide variety of different structures, including such things as redented towers that looks very much like lotus buds, half galleries that brought them into passageways, axial galleries that were used to connect various enclosures, and cruciform terraces which are built along the main axis of the temple. Angkor Wat is a truly spectacular architectural innovation, making it easy to see why it is considered one of the great Wonders of the World.
Key Features of Angkor Wat
There is a great deal to like about this beautiful complex. It starts with the outer wall, which has dimensions of over 1000 m by over 800 m wide, with a wall that is over 15 feet high. Stretching out from the outer wall is a moat that is 620 feet wide and in circles around the beautiful complex. Wooden bridges are placed strategically across the mode at several places allowing tourists the opportunity to enter the temple area and view the true majesty of this complex.
There are beautiful galleries that run between the towers. The access to these galleries is provided by large gates, referred to as the elephant dates, which were large enough to allow animals to be able to enter the complex. The ceiling of the temple is decorated with lotus rosettes, and the West face of the wall with a series of dancing figurines. On the east face of the wall are spectacular and enormous windows, decorated with dancing male figures on prancing animals.
The central area of the temple stands on a terrace that raises the level of the temple higher than the city itself. Constructed of three rectangular galleries which rise to display the central tower, the architects design this so that each level is higher than the previous. The Hindu gods Brahma and Vishnu are centrally displayed in the central tower and are important figures within the Hindu faith. Interestingly enough, when Buddhist monks took over the temple area they did not find it necessary to remove these depictions or statues from the Hindu faith.
The Great Tourist Attraction
Since the early 1990s Angkor Wat has been one of the most sought after tourist destinations for people around the world. Is incredible as this temple is it is easy to see why so many would find it an incredible place to visit. There were not only Buddhists who wish to take a pilgrimage to this historic landmark, but people who just want to see the beautiful structure that is existed for over 800 years.
Tourism to the site really began to pick up following 2004. In 1993 the government of Cambodia castoff the Khmer Rouge tyranny and a new democratic legacy began in the southeast Asian nation. In that year 7,650 visitors sought visas to come to the site. Just 10 years later that number increased to over 500,000 people coming from foreign countries to visit the spectacular landmark. Just four years later over 1 billion people have come to Cambodia to see the spectacular temple.
The increased traffic flow to Angkor Wat has created issues. The large number of people have led to destruction and graffiti in areas of the temple, as well as natural wear and tear from so many people visiting the site. Consider that for centuries very few people even knew about Angkor Wat and now millions of people are coming to it each and every year it’s a population explosion the temple appears not to of been ready for.
Fortunately, the government of Cambodia has been quick to ensure that its national treasure is being properly cared for. The government has made it so that 28% of ticket revenue used to reach the Angkor site is given directly to the restoration and protection of the religious temple. This has insured that the sanctity and beauty of this spectacular landmark has been well maintained and kept safe from those seeking to do what harm.
Clearly, this is a location that everyone should have the opportunity to see some point in their lifetime. It is such a beautiful look at the history of this nation that has been so well-maintained that you will not believe that this is survived nearly intact for over 800 years.
If you wish to get here the most sensible thing to do is to plan a trip to the city of Seam Reap. There you will find incredible hotel accommodations or resorts to stay in that are very reasonably priced. Once there you can buy tickets to come tour Angkor Wat. The cost ranges from $25-$50, depending on the sites you wish to see in the duration of time you wish to spend their, and often includes your travel from the city out to Angkor Wat to spend the day. The moment you step off the bus and take a look at this ancient city you will find that the prices well worth it.