I have had a lifelong fascination with archeology. My interest in ancient cultures and civilization arose after I spent several summers roaming the Four Corners area in search of carefully perched cliff-dwellings, pottery shards, and arrowhead points left behind by the Anasazi Indians. When Dan and I made our “wish list” of places that we wanted to see on our year long adventure, Cambodia and the legendary Angkor Wat were on the top of my list.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument on Earth. What I didn’t realize, was that the surrounding archeological park is also massive. Built by the Khmer civilization between the 9th and 13th centuries AD, the temples and structures surrounding Angkor span over 400 square kilometers. At its peak, this area was a bustling metropolis covering 1,000 square km with nearly one million residents. Artificial canals, dikes, and reservoirs surrounded many of the temples harnessing much needed water that helped the people of Angkor survive.
In 2012, 370 square kilometers of lidar was flown over Angkor Archaeological Park and the results surprised archeologists. Lidar striped the dense jungle away and revealed an elaborate network of boulevards and waterways, evidence of large-scale hydraulic engineering, and the footprints of undiscovered temples. In April of 2015, the Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative flew more lidar over an area of 1,600 square kilometers. Wow! Some of their preliminary results can be found here. As some of you know, I worked with lidar data at my previous job mapping landslides, so I have a lot of lidar love 🙂
Angkor Wat is the most famous of all the temples in the archeological park. So famous, it appears on the nation’s flag. Constructed in the 12th century , Angkor Wat was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu. Towards the end of the 12th century, Angkor Wat gradually transformed from a Hindu to a Buddhist center of worship.
The outer limits are surrounded by a 190 meter wide moat and visitors must cross a causeway to enter the temple grounds. Once inside the expansive temple grounds, we wandered freely for hours examining all of the detailed carvings and bas-reliefs along the inner walls.
Due to the 100+ degree weather, we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to Angkor and to drive us between temple sites. Our next stop was Angkor Thom and the Bayon temple. Built in the late 12th century, Bayon is famous for its 54 towers (37 of which are still standing) that have gigantic faces carved on cardinal points, totaling 216 faces.
The massive five-tiered pyramid of Baphuon sits just to the northwest of Bayon. Built in the 11th century, the pyramid rises 24 meters above ground level and provides an incredible view at the top.
One of my favorite temples at Angkor was Ta Prohm. Unlike many of the other temples at Angkor, some of Ta Prohm has been left in the condition in which it was found. The jungle has taken over parts of the ruins as strangler fig and silk-cotton tree roots twist, turn and wind themselves in and out and over walls, windows and doorways. Most tuk tuk drivers refer to this temple as the “Tomb Raider Temple” as parts of the movie were filmed here.
After our visit to Ta Prohm, we were tired, hot and sweaty (the usual feeling that we have encountered at the end of every day in SE Asia). Knowing how large the archeological area of Angkor is and how many ruins there are, we bought a three day pass. Days two and three coming soon!