The Ancient Angkor

Angkor Wat view in front surrounded by a moat

Angkor Wat viewed in front, surrounded by a moat – by Phuoc Thao

The Khmer civilization centred on Angkor was one of the most remarkable to flourish in Southeast Asia. Between the 8th and the 13th centuries, a succession of Hindu and Buddhist kings created magnificent temples in stone.

Siem Reap used to be the metropolis of Angkor monarchy, and now, this is a tourist city with many big and beautiful hotels and a lot of guest houses. It took us 6 hours to go to Siem Reap. On the way, I had chance to see the rural of Cambodia. I think this country is still poor, and the living standard is lower than in my country – Vit Nam. I found that they dont plant any thing on many fields in this season – the dry season, not the same in Vit Nam where the fields are always full of rice and and fruit-trees.

Siem Reap is a small city, but also noisy in the night although not as much as in H Chí Minh city. At the midnight, the streets are pretty deserted, most of the passengers on the streets are the tourists. I was told that there were 3 nightclubs in this town, and we decided to go to one of them. This was the first time I went to a nightclub, really exciting.

The Angkor region, bordering the Great Lake with its valuable supply of water, fish and fertile soil, has been settled since neolithic times. Angkor, a wonder aged over million years, is a grandiose work in the Cambodia history. This is a symbol of a short but great bloom in the Cambodian civilization.

We had a whole day to visit Angkor. It was a very short time to visit and discovery this wonder. The fee for one day – visiting Angkor is 20US$, only for the foreigners. The Cambodians are free to come in. Actually, you are free to come in Angkor, go around and seeing, but you have to pay money for coming in some big and main temples, for example Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bantey Srei, Ta Prohm…

Traditionally, the history of Angkor as we know it from inscriptions and the existing temples begins in the ninth century, when the King Jayavarman II declared himself the supreme sovereign and established his capital first in the Kulen Mountains. Hence, Angkor was started in the 9th century, and for a long time in seven centuries later, Angkor at that time was not only the great ambition of the Khmer Kings, but also the achievements from the deeply religious Khmer’s belief. Angkor was the colossal temple for performing religious servies (worship), and devoting to the Hinduism deities.

Beside of that, Angkor is a work of architecture and sculpture in Khmer civilization. You can’t find any smooth surface in these temples. All was carved (or engraved) showing the skill, perseverance and assiduousness of the Khmer people.

Angkor Wat:

Angkor Wat, in Khmer means Big Pagoda. In the past and now Angkor is the pinnacle of Khmer’s civilization which is a discontinuous civilization with many upheavals. In spite of all thing, now a day, Angkor is still standing here pensively in the full of pride.

The outer limits of Angkor Wat are set by its broad moat, faced in laterite and sandstone. They told that the moat where they kept the crocodiles (alligators) was dug with the purpose of preventing the enemy. Now a day, the moat is gentle with clear water and two rows of big trees along the banks.

Enter Angkor Wat city from the west by crossing the causeway over the moat. Behide the main entrance, Angkor Wat was used to be the Ancient Royal Palace, where the King lived and devoted to the God. In this temple, you can see the large sculpture, this is the very long wall, where they carved to tell you about daily life in the past, the interminable struggles, the Khmer legends.

The sculpture on the wall of the pavilion – by Phuoc Thao

The Angkor Wat temple proper combines two major features of Khmer architecture: a pyramid and concentric galleries. Pyramids, which in most cases were created by means of stepped terraces and were the Khmer method of symbolising the centre of the Hindu universe. Galleries, however, elvoled later, were the natural succession to a growing number of annex building surrounding the sanctuary. In the simple description, Angkor can be figured as a pyramid of three levels, each one enclosed by a well-developed gallery with fours gopuras and corner towers. The summit is crowned with five towers in a quincunx.

Angkor Wat with five towers behind – by Sambath

Angkor Wat in reflection in the basin – by Srijith K. Nair

The scale of Angkor Wat enabled the Khmer to give full expression to religious symbolism. It is, above all else, a microcosm of the Hindu universe. The moat represents the mythical oceans surrounding the earth and the succession of concentric galleries represent the mountain ranges that surround Mount Meru, the home of the Gods. The towers represent the mountain’s peaks, and the experience of the ascent to the central shrine, a fairly convincing imitation of climbing a real mountain. I don’t know exactly how high are these towers, but it is really exciting and thrilling when you climb these towers, very high towers with very narrow stairs. You can’t stand straight but bow down to crawl to the top of the tower, by this way, you express your worship to the Gods.

The uppermost level of the temple which carries the five towers and surrounding galleries, really looks like the final ascent of a great mountain. Their steep angle and proportion of the massif make the climb memorable. There is a wonderful view back to Angkor Wat from the top of the step.

Mysterious Angkor

Angkor Wat – in the sunrise – by Phuoc Thao

You also find here a lot of Buddha statues, seated and standing. There were many more, placed in the recent centuries by worshipper for whom Angkor Wat was a Theravada Buddhist pilgrimage site, giving this area the name “Hall of the Thousand Buddhas”. Most were remove for safety in the early 1970s, others were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge during the reign of terror.

A Buddha statue – By Phuoc Thao

It is frequently said that Angkor was discovered by the Europeans, but this is parently and simply reflects a Eurocentric view. The Khmer never forgot the existence of their monuments, and even if they neglectecd the majority of their temple, Angkor Wat always remained occupied and a place of worship. In 1863, Angkor was re-discovered, and from that time, Angkor, after a very long sleep lasting several centuries in the deep forest, appears suddenly and amazes the whole modern world.

Angkor Wat – viewed from one tower – by Phuoc Thao

More photos…


2 comments on “The Ancient Angkor

  1. Congratulations Thao for your intersting explanation about Cambodja and Angkor Wat. The Pagoda construction seems like a maya pyramid, but the maias disapeared 8th century d.c. Have the big pagoda a astronomic means or only religion and khmer style is that ? Very cool blog Thao.Call me Gilberto.BecauseFranco is the name of my parents what i have.

  2. Hi Gilberto, I dont think this pagoda is an astronomic mean, it was made for religious purpose for the King to express theirs worship to the God.

    Thank for visiting my blog.

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