MORE THAN 1000 temples were built in Siem Reap under a succession of ambitious Kings between the 9th and 14th centuries. It is a heritage legacy to rival the Pharoahs.
A handful of the most magnificent temples hog the limelight, for the sheer size or unrivalled artworks or atmosphere. Many others see a steady stream of admirers, others a trickle, and others yet sit lonely and unloved. Whether it is location, state of preservation, scale, their gods and builders, each temple offers a different experience. No matter what your time-frame, it won’t be enough.
Besides temples, the Khmer kings built hospitals, enormous resevoirs, sturdy roads, walls, gates and terraces.
Some survive as a loose collection of stones.
Others are not more than an overgrown mound.
Angkor's building frenzies focused on temples. They are so numerous, my notes record this as simply "minor temple". (Research reveals it as North Khleang, possibly a state guesthouse.)
Fortunately, the Khmers left better records, usually in the form of Sanskrit tablets, recording dates and sponsors.
The capital was later moved to Yashodharapura (present-day Angkor) by Yashovarman I (reign 889 - 915).
Hariharalaya (present-day Roluos) was established as the capital by Jayavarman II (reign 802 - 835), founder of the Angkor Empire.
Few temples in Siem Reap pre-date those in the Rolous Group, site of the Preah Ko, Bakong and Lolei temples.
Preah Ko (879) is unusual for its 6 central towers in two staggered rows. A Shiva Hindu temple, the name means "sacred bull".
Slightly younger, Lolei originally sat on an island in the middle of a resevoir.
Inscriptions precisely record the temple's dedication occurring on Saturday July 11 in the year 893 at 48 minutes past midnight, and another Sunday July 12 between 12:41 and 2:41 AM.
Despite dating from the beginnings of Angkor, there are many surprisingly ornate carvings and reliefs in the Rolous group.
The largest temple in the group, Bakong was the first of Angkor's great mountain temples.
King Yashovarman moved the capital north at the end of the 9th century, from Roluos to the Angkor Thom area.
Angkor's kings ruled from the city known as Yasodharapura until th 1400s, embarking on unparallelled religious and civic building.
Just north of Angkor Thom's Bayon temple, Terrace of The Elephant and Terrace of The Leper King provided a platform for royalty to watch miltary parades and processions.
Behind those terraces was the long-gone royal palace, whose occupants ruled most of mainland South East Asia.
The influence of Angkor on culture, language, religion, music and art in Asia is still apparent.
Irrigation was the key to Angkor's power. Several massive reservoirs were built. Neak Pean, pictured, sits in the middle of the 3rd largest, Jayatataka, 900x1000m in area.
Neak Pean was built by Jayavarman VII in the 12th century, with the reservoir supporting the huge workforce in adjacent Preah Khan.
More than a temple, Jayavarman VII's Preah Khan was a city of 56 hectares, enclosed by walls and a moat.
15,000 monks, teachers, and students were supported here by 100,000 farmers.
The Buddhist temple's central shrine is surrounded by a score of smaller satellite shrines and temples, and a labyrinth of corridors and galleries form outer enclosures.
Now restored, this House Of Fire, which housed the ark of the King's sacred flame, is one of the few fully intact buildings in Angkor.
The Hall of Dancers (R) and this rare two-storey building sit between the 2nd enclosure and the main temple.
Possibly a granary, it is unique for its use of rounded pillars, a fact or two probably lost on most as they ramble among the myriad of buildings here.
Siem Reap is littered with monuments, stones crafted by man for the Gods. 800 years on, even a cursory glance at Google Maps reveals just how numerous they are.
My 2 visits of 3-4 days each were just a glimpse. The first, naturally I concentrated on the major temples.
More adventorous on my second, I waded waist-deep for several kms to 10th century Phnom Krom, whose three central towers dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma.
A personal favourite, Thommanon is a small Hindu temple east of Angkor Thom. Another small temple sits opposite, both built by Suryavarman II, creator of the colossul Angkor Wat.
The farmlands and villages around the temples were a delight to motorcyle around, with locals living their life shadowed by the great monuments.
Imagine having this as your playground growing up!
100s of generations of children have played under the watchful gaze of these celestial dancers, with sadly little in the way of development occuring.
10th century East Mebon sits in the middle of the massive east baray (reservoir) which has long since dried up.
As well as bas reliefs, sculpture at the East Mebon is noteworthy, including two-meter-high free-standing stone elephants.
It is constructed an array of materials: sandstone, brick, laterite and stucco. Four towers surround a central tower on the top level, where the views are great.
The delicate artwork, the massive towers, the engineering achievements, the atsronomical knowledge- Angkor excelled in so many ways.
Decline began roughly 500 years ago, with the capital relocating to near Phnom Penh. That decline reached its ultimate conclusion in the 1970s.
Despite the KR's attempts to wipe out religion, the monks and monastries in Siem Reap survived.