Siem Reap, in the northwestern corner of Cambodia, is the home of the ancient kingdom of Angkor, which dominated the region from the 9th to 13th century AD.
It combines two things I love – Asia and history – making it one of my favorite places anywhere.
This ancient Khmer kingdom has some interesting facts attached to it:
At its peak, it had an agricultural and aqueduct system which feed an incredible one million people.
The temple ruins of Angkor are spread out over a huge stretch of land, each temple outdoing the other in grandeur and scope until you come upon the most famous of them all – Angkor Wat.
This Khmer kingdom was Hindu in influence, not Buddhist. Hinduism was also one of its downfalls as more egalitarian religions came upon the scene supplanting it.
The ruins of Angkor had largely been forgotten to the world until a French explorer, Henri Mouhot, stumbbled upon it during an expedition in the 1860s. What a grand discovery it must have been – walking through the forsaken jungle to suddenly come across some of the most majestic ruins in the world.
A day touring the ruins (see pictures below) is completely exhilarating and awe-inspiring. I even found the modern day town of Siem Reap to be quite charming with wonderful cafes and restaurants and an easy relaxing atmosphere to kick back and enjoy.
It’s a place I want to return to. It’s a place I highly recommend to anyone on this side of the world. It truly is a must see. That’s why it is #3 on my Asia list.
Let’s review the countdown:
10. Malacca, Malaysia
9. Chiang Mai, Thailand
7. Hong Kong
6. southern Vietnam
5. Sabah, West Malaysia
4. Beijing, China
3. Siem Reap, Cambodia
The great Kingdom of Angkor arose in the 10th century and lasted into the 14th century until it faded from regional consciousness, having the jungle wrapped the marvelous splendors of the era in its never ceasing grip. Why did the great kingdom fall? There were many reasons. Wars with the Siamese. Eroding aqueducts. The importance of the spice trade necessitating a move toward the coast. The rise of Buddhism. All of those contributed to the population base shifting away from northwestern Cambodia. The modern day Siem Reap became lost to the ages – except to the small number of locals who continued on in the region.
Fast forward to the latter half of the 19th century. The French had been capturing or influencing parts of Indochina including Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina – all three of which make up modern day Vietnam. They pushed westward into Cambodia and Laos – both extremely remote areas that the western world knew very little about.
An explorer named Henri Mouhot was leading a trek up the Mekong River and through the remote jungle of northwestern Cambodia when he stumbled upon the massive ruins of the Kingdom of Angkor. Imagine the scene – walking through a primitive landscape to suddenly stumble upon ruins of epic proportion. Towering structures with intricate carvings. Temples constructed with incredibly complex technology to rival any of the wonders of the world. He had ‘discovered’ a civilization which was previously unknown to the west. The discoveries were staggering.
One hundred and thirty-some years later, the discovery of the Kingdom of Angkor is still staggering. The temples, shrines, and structures are spread out over a huge area, each one seemingly bigger than the other. Angkor Thom and its massive stone pilings and passageways seems more like a surreal movie backdrop than a temple. You will stand in awe wondering how they built that in a place like this. And then, the granddaddy of them all – Angkor Wat – complete with moat, and surrounding gated wall that is impressive in itself. The famous reflecting poor which mirrors the spiraled stone steeples rising from the temple – the bathing pools – the stone carvings – all of it is awe-inspiring.
It’s one of those must places to visit during your lifestyle. Come discover for yourself what the Frenchmen couldn’t believe. You’ll feel the same way.