Mega Attraction Angkor

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Veata F., Cambodia: "Why does Cambodia have child prostitutes at every street corner. Because the Cambodian law entices children to become child prostitutes by declaring that there is not punishment for a behavior that puts a lot of money into the pockets of children. The relevant paragraphs of the Cambodian law read as follows: 'A person who freely solicits another in public for the purpose of prostituting herself or himself shall be punished with imprisonment for one to six days and a fine of three thousand to ten thousand riel. A minor shall be exempted from punishment for the offence stipulated in this article.' As there is no punishement for it, it is therefore legal to be a child prostitute. No wonder Cambodia is full of them."

Row of giant statues

Photo: A row of giant statues at Angkor Thom

Angkor, a few kilometres to the north of the town of Siem Reap, is indisputably the most famous, most enormous, most impressive and most important attraction not only in Cambodia, but in all of Southeast Asia, and maybe even in all of Asia.

Compared to Angkor the old Royal Palace of Bangkok, the Shwedagon Pagoda of Rangoon or the Citadel at the old Vietnamese Emperor's town of Hué fade. Compared to Angkor many of the attractions, monuments or archaeological sites of other places appear small, if not irrelevant. Angkor is truly overpowering.

In its dimensions Angkor is best compared to the Egyptian Pyramids. But Angkor is far more than merely an agglomeration of huge geometrical structures. Despite its enormous constructional dimensions, it is ornamented in detail like Notre Dame of Paris and tells of an ancient art of architecture and sculpturing on a level of the Acropolis of Athens.

From the early 9th century, after the first independent Khmer kingdom was founded by King Jayavarman II, until 1431, when a large part of the population emigrated a few hundred kilometres to the Southeast, Angkor was the capital of a Khmer state, which in its prime covered the major part of Southeast Asia from present-day Myanmar to present-day southern Vietnam, from today's southern Chinese province of Yunnan deep down the Malayan peninsula.



Jungle

Photo: After the Khmers had abandoned their capital Angkor, the structures were claimed by the jungle. Unlike other parts of Angkor, Ta Prohm Temple, shown here, has remained overgrown as it had been found in the 19th century by the French explorer, Henri Mouhot.

Many publications create unnecessary confusion by citing the construction of a "new capital" again and again, whenever a new Khmer king constructed a new palace a few kilometres from the former palace and transferred his government there. (The construction of new palaces is treated similarly as a move of the capital in many guide books about Myanmar.)

Considering the case of the Angkor realm it can be read, that its first king, Jayavarman II, set up his capital in Rolous, the fourth Angkor king, Yasovarman, in Angkor by the name of Yashodharapura, the seventh Angkor king, Jayavarman IV, at Koh Ker, the ninth Angkor king, Rajendravarman, again at Angkor; and the 21st Angkor king, Jayavarman VII built the royal town of Angkor Thom.

Fact is: almost all of these so-called new capitals are only a few kilometres apart: the distance between Rolous and Angkor Thom is just 15 kilometres; only the distance from Angkor to Koh Ker is more than 50 kilometres.

Because the Angkor kingdom, as the most powerful state of Southeast Asia of its time, must have commanded a significant permanent army and a large centralized administrative apparatus, and because thousands of workers were needed for the construction and maintenance of the enormous building complexes, it can safely be assumed that around the stone constructions of the palaces and temples an appropriate city with a substantial population must have existed.

The city probably covered large areas of the empty terrain between the remainders of the temples and palaces. But there is nothing left of these surrounding settlements, probably because wood had been used as construction material, which has long since rotten, and jungle or rice farmers have reclaimed the former urban area.

Another cause for confusion is, that the entirety of the attraction is often named Angkor Wat. But strictly speaking, Angkor Wat is only a single temple within a total complex of many others, even though it is the most impressive one.

Photo: Archeologists of several countries, among them Japan, India and Poland, participate in the restoration of Angkor structures.

About one kilometer north of Angkor Wat is Angkor Thom, the royal town constructed during the reign of Jayavarman VII towards the end of the 12th century (about 400 years after the founding of the Angkor kingdom). The quadrangular palace area, enclosed by a wall and a moat running three kilometres on each side, roughly compares to the forbidden city of Beijing.

Angkor Thom was not built on open terrain. Numerous buildings within the area, which after the construction of the wall and the moat became Angkor Thom, had already existed earlier, parts for centuries. However, many older buildings had been partially or fully destroyed by a Cham armies when they occupied Angkor for some time.

Newly built by Jayavarman VII was the Bayon: a colossal central temple exactly in the middle of Angkor Thom.

East and west of Angkor Thom are two large artificial lakes, so-called Barays. The lakes are of about equal size measuring some 8 kilometres in east-west and about 2 kilometres in north-south direction.

It has earlier been assumed that those artificial lakes served as water reservoirs to irrigate the rice paddies around Angkor during the dry season, to be refilled during each rainy season. But current opinion is that the lakes are much too small for this purpose. It is now presumed that the lakes were created primarily with artistic intentions, just like the enormous temple buildings. At the same time, they may have served to raise fish. Even today the western Baray is used for fish farming; the eastern Baray is dry.

Numerous structures in the plain of Angkor are worth a visit - way too many for all of them to be accounted for in this summary. The most interesting structures certainly are Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom with the Bayon.

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Last updated: March 2, 2016