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The temples of Angkor are architectural masterpieces laden with artistic treasures, like the bas-relief galleries that tell enduring tales of Cambodian history and legend.
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Deep in the forests of Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, an ancient stone city soars skyward. This is the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park. The site is located in the northwestern region of the country and is only four miles from the city of Siem Reap. The Khmer Empire’s various capitals thrived here from the 9th to 15th centuries, over an empire that stretched from Myanmar to Vietnam. Including forested areas and newly discovered “suburbs” Angkor covers more than 400 square miles—an area considerably larger than New York City’s five boroughs.
The massive Angkor Wat is the most famed of all Cambodia’s temples—it even appears on the nation’s flag. The 12th century “temple-mountain” was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu.
The temples of Angkor are architectural masterpieces laden with artistic treasures like the bas-relief galleries that tell enduring tales of Cambodian history and legend.
Angkor is as much about water as it is about stone—the site boasts an enormous system of artificial canals, dikes, and reservoirs. The West Baray reservoir is the largest of which at 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. These massive works skillfully harnessed river and rainwater to quench the thirst of some 750,000 residents in the world’s largest preindustrial city. That water also irrigated wealth-producing crops like rice, which served the Khmer as currency.
It’s still a mystery to scientists why the city’s rulers abandoned the site and resettled near the modern capital of Phenom Penh. Some scholars speculate that the downfall of this elaborate water system led to the end of Angkor.
The town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor and is filled with lodging, dining, and tour-package options for all budgets. Those preferring to travel by boat can also make the trip from Phnom Penh in some five or six hours—about the same travel time as by road. The airport in Siem Reap has service to Phnom Penh and regular flights abroad to Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, and Laos. The airport in Siem Reap has service to the capital and regular flights to nearby countries.
Peak tourist season in Angkor is December and January, when rainfall is less likely and the climate is most kind. No matter the time of year, a visit to Angkor is sure to leave you awestruck.
Read more in “Soar Over Cambodia’s Stunning Stone City”
In Cambodia, a City of Towering Temples in the Forest | National Geographic