Indiana Jones Territory – but with a lot of “extras.”
The Angkor Temple complex is huge – with boundaries well beyond the more famous Angkor Wat. Its Hindu origins were easily adapted for Buddhism by the Khmer dynasties. Temples were being built as early as 790. Smithsonian Magazine (April 2016) published a fascinating article about a “lost city” likely dating earlier than Angkor Wat, and possibly even a template for the newer site. Using state-of-the-art Lidar (laser) technology, archaeologists are able to visualize and map structures that are hidden beneath the surface.
The appearance of the Angkor Wat temple site was not surprising, but the massiveness of the entire complex was not expected. Nor were the thousands of Chinese and Korean tourists that flooded the area, in part due to the Chinese New Year holiday, but also because it was a good, dry time of year to visit. I predict UNESCO will have to step in and put in place more restrictions. They are doubling the entrance fee next week, but I think they will need to limit daily visitors and ban selfie sticks!
The Bayon Temple with its massive stone faces was surreal. The number of faces seems to be in dispute, but it’s safe to say there are more than 150 and maybe as many as 200. Photos cannot accurately convey the size and perspective found here.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by a massive moat, and the causeways are lined with the body of a large stone snake, Naga, culminating in multi-headed fanfare at each entrance.
Seeing Angkor Wat was incredible, but I actually loved the overgrown ruins of Ta Prohm the best. Even with the hordes of visitors, it wasn’t hard to block them out and imagine what it must’ve been like to discover these incredible structures deep in the jungle. This location was the site of filming for the Angelina Jolie movie Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. The complex was constructed by Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university.
That info immediately brings to mind the great Mayan learning center of Palenque – so let’s put this into perspective. Deep in the jungle of Chiapas, Mexico, Palenque dates from 200, with its major period being from 600-900. So these great civilizations and centers of learning were contemporary for a few hundred years. Of note, Palenque features architectural elements unusual for the area, including the use of the lotus flower, so key in Asian sites. In case you were wondering, the Inca’s Machu Picchu is much more recent – built in 1450.
I will now read more about these amazing structures and watch for news of what the new excavations will reveal.