The ruins of Angkor are surrounded by forest and rice paddies, north of the Tonle Sap, south of the Kulen Hills and just minutes from the town of Siem Reap. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, over 1,000 temples can be found in the area – all that remain of the magnificent Khmer Empire which flourished from the 9th to the 13th centuries. The Angkorian period began in AD 802 when the Khmer Hindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself a “universal monarch” and “god-king”, and lasted until 1431 when Ayutthayan invaders sacked the Khmer capital, causing its population to migrate south towards modern-day Phnom Penh. In its heyday, Angkor is said to have been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with sophisticated agricultural systems capable of supporting up to one million people. Today, the ruins have been reclaimed by the jungle, but Angkor’s exceptional stone carvings speak eloquently of the region’s storied past.
The best-known and most enduring image of the ancient Khmer Empire is Angkor Wat with its intricately carved quincunx of towers. These soar skywards creating the impression of a ‘temple mountain’ symbolising mythological Mt. Meru, the centre of the universe. Built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city, it became the centre of Khmer Hindu tradition for the remainder of the century. Angkor Wat’s exterior walls are wrapped in extensive bas-reliefs. Of particular interest is the panel depicting the ‘Churning of the Sea of Milk’.
Described as the world’s largest three-dimensional puzzle and interrupted by civil war, it took archaeologists in Cambodia over half a century to painstakingly restore the 11th-century Baphuon ruins.
Baphuon was built by Udayadityavarman II. He remodeled the centre of Angkor by building his own state temple, the Baphuon next to the Royal Palace. The Baphuon is part of a vast landscape of ritual and water management. To the south the Baphuon is it connected to the 10th century Bakheng temple by a great roadway. To the west the Baphuon is aligned on the north bank of the early 11th century West Baray reservoir. In the centre of the West Baray he constructed a unique and exquisite water temple, the West Mebon. At the heart of the West Mebon, within a square, walled enclosure surrounded by the water of the baray, a 6m long reclining bronze statue of Vishnu looked out over a lily pond. From the middle of the eastern bank of the West Baray a huge canal ran eastwards to meet the great roadway between Phnom Bakheng and the Baphuon. This great, designed landscape epitomises the elaborate interconnection between complex ritual architecture and pragmatic water management engineering in Angkor.
Built in 907 AD on a natural hill, this was the centre of the first city at Angkor, called Yasodharapura after its founder Yasovarman I. Overlooking the Angkor site, the hilltop location offers excellent views of Angkor Wat and the Western Baray.
Only a kilometre from the legendary stone temples of Angkor Wat, and a short remork ride from Amansara, the conservation d’Angkor houses more that 6,000 pieces of priceless Khmer art. Conservation d’Angkor was originally charged with protecting all of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer artefacts and temples. Stone heads from gods and demons, carved stone Buddhas, immense shiva lingas, and hundreds of wood statues can be found in the conservation storerooms. Only a few visitors are permitted to the Conservation d’Angkor, though Amansara may be able to arrange private visits for their guests.