The town of Siem Reap, the provincial capital in the north of Cambodia, is a pleasant backwater town, serving as a base for visitors to the ancient capital of Angkor. The more than one hundred ancient temples and monuments in the area are situated just north of Siem Reap. The city center has a large night market and bars street area with restaurants and bars, massage parlors and tourist agency’s selling trips to The Ankor area and other parts of the country.
There is a Coworking space called Ankor Hub in town if you are interested in getting some work done. If you fancy working at coffee shops, there are Wi-Fi and western food options in numerous cafes around town. I spent three days working from different cafes. “The Hive” had good healthy juices, excellent breakfast, and exquisite cappuccino. “Twenty5” had super tasty lunches, and cappuccino, and working dinner at “café central” was tasty but noisy as the night marked outside was on.
I got a tuk to show me the most important sights in town. We stopped at the memorial of people killed by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. The horror stories from the almost four-year-long nightmare are impossible to grasp. We went to the Kings summer house but were pulled over by the police. Apparently, the King had celebrity guests arriving in the many black limos’ driving up the road to his palace. It was the premiere day of the movie about life under the Khmer Rouge regime, and I later heard that Angelina Jolie was there for the premiere night. The tuk continued to Wat Damnan, a beautiful quiet garden containing schools, a cemetery and living quarters for the monks studying English. The Monks were happy to talk to me and explained that they studied English literature and worked as English teachers in the local school. The last stop was at a temple called Wat Preah Prom Rath. An Asien beauty with symbols from both the Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Historically the population of the Ankor area grew when trade started flourishing between the East and the West. The Indian traders sailed to this region to establish Indian trading posts to collect goods and products. The traders brought with them their civilization, culture, and religion. The natives adopted Hinduism as their religion and its gods Shiva and Vishnu were revered as their supreme gods. In addition to the religious belief, the residents also learned the engineering skills such as the irrigation system you can see at Ankor Wat, as well as stone carving.
The Headphone guide at Ankor Wat revealed that in 802, Jayavarman II crowned himself for the second time, which marked as a starting point of the Khmer Civilization and the Birth of the Angkor Empire. In the ritual, he worshiped Shiva, who was known by the Khmer as a God of protection. Adopting the Indian concept of divine kingship proved to be an ingenious strategy and served as a healthy root for the growth of the Angkor Civilization. Jayavarman II did not randomly select the location of his capital. He considered its inland location surrounded by jungle, a strategic location. The only way to access the kingdom was through Tonle Sap lake. The nation became strongly unified and later evolved into an empire.
Ankor Wat is the largest religious building in the world. The entire property of Angkor covers about 100 km2 and includes about 100 structures and temples. Many kings built the city over a 600-year period, between 1113 and 1150. The city surrounding the stone structures was constructed in wood and other degradable building materials and is gone today. At the center of Angkor Thom is the Bayon Temple, famous for its distinct 50 towers, each bearing the large faces of a Buddha on the four sides. These faces look like the actual face of the king who got the temple built. According to the legend, he had a smile so gentle that it is known as “the Khmer smile.” The temple is most referred to as the location for the movie “Tomb Rider” with Angelina Jolie. About one kilometer east of Ankor Thom you can find Ta Prom. This temple is in much the same condition in which it was found. The photogenic combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings is a magic combination and have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples to visit.
After being seized by the Thai army in 1431, it appears that the Angkor empire entered a dark period as there is almost no inscription found in later centuries. The West did not know anything about the existence of the Khmer Civilization until a French botanist, Henri Mouhot published his finding of this lost empire in 1861. Today it is a Unesco world heritage site, and hundreds of thousands visit the ancient city every year. The best way to get around the temple areas is by renting a Tuk for the day. I prayed USD 15 for a full day and got free history lessons from the Tuk driver thrown in. This destination has been on my bucket list for years, and is a must visit if you are interested in ancient history and architecture. Like the pyramids in Egypt, it is still a mystery how these giant stone structures were built.