Cambodia is a beautiful country, but with a complicated history. In five thousand years that territory in Indochina has seen Hinduism, Buddhism, Khmer monarchy, European colonialism, a Japanese occupation and, in recent history, the struggle between the Vietnamese invaders and the Khmer Rouge. Because of this humanitarian conflict, Cambodia is a young, very young nation, where only three percent of the population exceeds 65 years.
The guide who took me through the temples of Angkor Wat told me that these struggles had erased his family tree from his parents and grandparents.
It is hard to ignore that information as we looked at the buildings, which are there; close to what is now Siem Reap, since the 12th century. During the Hindu stage of the country, the complex of temples was dedicated to the god Vishnu. After invasions and abandonment by the Khmer Rouge, it was converted into a Buddhist center and remains so today. These stones have seen through their forehead all sorts of sadness and happiness. One on top of the other, the walls of these temples endure the passage of time stoically, without anything preventing them from living the present and looking steadfast towards the future.
The city of Angkor has stood the test of time and wars to show the world treasures that bear witness to a rich cultural heritage.
The relationship between kings of South India and Cambodia!
The friendly relationship between the Chola kings and Cambodia is attested by a significant but little-known incident. When Kulottunga I, the Chola Kings, was constructing or enlarging the famous Shiva Temple at Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu), Suryavarman II, the king of Cambodia and builder of Angkor Wat, offered to send a block of stone as a gift for the new construction. Kulottunga gratefully accepted the unusual gift, installed it in the temple and engraved an inscription informing that the stone was from Cambodia.
At the beautiful temple of Banteay Srei, 30 km from Angkor Wat, one of the most intricately carved temples, one can see a small, frail female figure that has been identified as Karaikal Ammaiar, the famous Tamil saint.
Towering majestically over the jungle, and sometimes entangled in its gigantic roots, the temples of the ancient city of Angkor in Cambodia have elicited admiration for centuries.
The crown jewel of Angkor is the impressive Angkor Wat temple, built in the 12th century, and said to be a miniature replica of the stone universe. It adorns the Cambodian flag, postcards, and many posters, so it has become synonymous with the small country of Southeast Asia.
I (MacroTraveller) choose some of Cambodia’s most impressive architectural treasures, in Angkor and beyond, from an itinerary that could be for Indiana Jones or Lara Croft or for those who are passionate about travel.
Renting a scooter or motorcycle or even the back of an elephant are highly recommended ways to get around the extensive ruins, as well as help counteract tiredness.
Angkor Wat: It is the jewel of the archaeological park of Angkor. The construction of this temple took 30 years. It was built in the 12th century, in the time of Khmer King Suryavarman II, as a personal mausoleum and Hindu temple. It later became a Buddhist monastery, and the result is a fascinating mix of two cultures.
With its elegant conical towers reminiscent of lotus buds, sculptures, bas-reliefs, and statues, the temple complex is a feast for the eyes. Perhaps its most striking feature is the size called “the agitation of the ocean of milk,” which represents the myth of creation according to Hinduism.
Baphuon: Recently reopened after half a century of restoration projects. Baphuon is the second largest temple in Angkor, after Angkor Wat, but surpasses it with a century of existence.
The temple is a three-level mountain composed of 300,000 blocks of sandstone, which had to be numbered and handled carefully to rebuild it again, amidst the onslaught of inclement weather and changes in political regime.
Ta Prohm: Better known as Tomb Raider Temple! The temple of Ta Prohm was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. Part of the charm of this temple is its rusticity. The trees in the jungle have been “fit for the strength” of the stones, and their walls are a powerful example of the dominion of nature over man.
Its crumbling towers, boulders, and front hall hampered by large roots make this one of the most picturesque temples in the region.
Angkor Thom: This huge walled city, which is guarded by monumental statues of gods and demons, is the last great city of the Khmer empire, built between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th century.
Within the carved towers and labyrinthine complex of Bayon temple is an elephant terrace: an observation platform for King Khmer composed of elephant sculptures. This set shows some of the most amazing features of Angkor Thom.
Beyond Angkor! Angkor has the highest concentration of temples, in the rest of the country. There are other points worth visiting and do not have so much tourism.
The ruins of Ek Phnom, which lies in a beautiful lush landscape, not far from the city of Battambang, are less significant than those of Angkor, but the view is quieter. A temple of new construction next to the ruins is a place where every year the inhabitants of the region celebrate their festivities.
To the north of the country, on the border of Thailand and almost on a cliff, is the beautiful temple of Preah Vihear. Built within the 11th and 12th centuries, it is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. It is composed of a series of shrines carved and joined by sidewalks and stairs.
Preah Vihear has been the subject of a long-running dispute, in which even blood has been shed, between Thais and Cambodians. Both are fighting their property because it offers breathtaking views of each country.
The steep ascent from the Cambodian side, along with its disputed property make this a must visit for temple lovers.
For a more accurate view of the treasures located in these fascinating temples, you can visit the collection of the National Museum of Phnom Penh, where works in bronze, stone, wood and ceramics show the art of ancient Khmer.