Angkor Wat - Jungle-enshrouded temples dating to the ninth century (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Angkor Wat
THE SOUNDS OF modern Siem Reap are clamor: the hustle of the market and blaring of tuk-tuk (three-wheeled rickshaw) horns; the chatter of tourists and locals. But in the jungle just north of this gateway city, thousands of dancing apsaras, carved into crumbling temple walls, are an emblem of an ancient world of religion, artistic inspiration, and architectural ambition. The temple complex at Angkor is not only one of the world’s largest religious monuments, it is an elaborate expression of Hindu cosmology.
Built during the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th centuries, the massive 400-square-mile (1,036 km2) Angkor temple complex rises out of the dense jungle in central Cambodia. It consists of dozens of temples in various states of ruin, among the last visible remnants of the capital cities of the Khmer Empire, whose domain once extended from modern-day Myanmar to Vietnam.
Angkor Wat is the undisputed star of these temples. It was constructed during the reign of King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as a home for Vishnu, one of the main deities of Hinduism. Its five stone pinnacles—a central one surrounded by four smaller ones—symbolize the peaks of the mythical Mount Meru, the center of the physical and spiritual universe of Hinduism.
Galleries of bas-reliefs depict characters and scenes from Hindu mythology and history, and rows of exquisite ornamental stone balusters fill the windows. Large columns help support the immense weight of the temple’s two tapered upper levels. A massive complex-encircling moat, about 650 feet (198 m) thick and guarded by sandstone lions and serpent-like naga deities, symbolizes the mythical ocean that separates Earth from the cosmos. But Angkor’s involved system of waterways once served a more prosaic purpose, too—it irrigated crops and provided the city’s population with freshwater.
Visitors stream into Angkor Wat by the thousands, ambling across its causeway and onto the temple grounds. They snap photos of the spires in reflecting pools at sunrise, and retreat to cool alcoves, thick with incense, later in the day.
With hired transport, visitors can hop from Angkor Wat to other must-sees in the complex. Highlights include Angkor Thom, a 3.5-square-mile (9 km2) city at the center of which is Bayon Temple, decorated by dozens of huge beaming stone faces; Preah Khan, a collapsing Buddhist university and city; and Ta Prohm, a 12th-century monastery being slowly strangled by the jungle roots of fig and silk-cotton trees.