:: Temple History

Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking. It is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters from ground level. Angkor Wat is the centerpiece of any visit to the temples of Angkor.

At the apex of Khmer political and military dominance in the region, Suryavarman II constructed Angkor Wat in the form of a massive 'temple-mountain' dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. It served as his state temple, though the temple’s uncommon westward orientation has led some to suggest that it was constructed as Suryavarman II’s funerary temple. Other temples of the same style and period include Thommanon, Banteay Samre, Wat Atwea and Beng Melea, which may have served as a prototype to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall measuring 1300 meters x 1500 meters. The temple itself is 1 km square and consists of three levels surmounted by a central tower. The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with bas-reliefs and carvings. Nearly 2000 distinctively rendered apsara carvings adorn the walls throughout the temple and represent some of the finest examples of apsara carvings in Angkorian era art. But it is the exterior walls of the lower level that display the most extraordinary bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the historical wars of Suryavarman II. It is in the viewing of the bas-reliefs that a tour guide can be very helpful.

The northern reflecting pool in front is the most popular sunrise location. For sunrise, arrive very early, well before sunrise begins. The sun will rise behind Angkor Wat providing a silhouette of Angkor’s distinctively shaped towers against a colored sunrise sky. Some of the best colors appear just before the sun breaks over the horizon.

The visual impact of Angkor Wat, particularly on one's first visit, is awesome. As you pass through the outer gate and get your first glimpse, its size and architecture make it appear two dimensional, like a giant postcard photo against the sky. After you cross through the gate and approach the temple along the walkway it slowly gains depth and complexity. To maximize this effect you should make your first visit in optimal lighting conditions, i.e. after 2:00PM. Do not make your first visit to Angkor Wat in the morning when the backlighting obscures the view.

The first level of is the most artistically interesting. Most visitors begin their exploration with the bas-reliefs that cover the exterior wall of the first level, following the bas-reliefs counterclockwise around the temple. Bas-relief highlights include the mythological Battle of Kuru on the west wall; the historical march of the army of Suryavarman II, builder of Angkor Wat, against the Cham, followed by scenes from Heaven and Hell on the south wall; and the classic ‘Churning of the Ocean Milk’ on the east wall.

The temple interior is not as densely carved as the first level exterior, but still sports hundreds of fine carvings of apsaras and scenes from Hindu mythology. A guide can be quite helpful in explaining the stories of the various chambers, statues and architectural forms to be found in the interior. At the upper-most of your tour of the temple, the central tower on the third level houses four Buddha images, each facing a different cardinal point, highlighting the fact that though Angkor Wat was constructed as a Hindu temple, it has served as a Buddhist temple since Buddhism became Cambodia’s dominant religion in the 14th century. Some say that it is good luck to pay homage to all four Buddha images before departing Angkor.

Bayon Temple - If you see only two temples, Angkor Wat and Bayon should be the ones. The giant stone faces of Bayon have become one of the most recognizable images connected to classic Khmer art and architecture. There are 37 standing towers, most but not all sporting four carved faces oriented toward the cardinal points. Who the faces represent is a matter of debate but they may be Loksvara, Mahayana Buddhism's compassionate Bodhisattva, or perhaps a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Bayon was the Jayavarman VII's state-temple and in many ways represents the pinnacle of his massive building campaign. It appears to be, and is to some degree, an architectural muddle, in part because it was constructed in a somewhat piecemeal fashion for over a century.

The best of Bayon are the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level where the stone faces reside. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall contain real-life scenes from the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. It is not clear whether this represents the Cham invasion of 1177AD or a later battle in which the Khmer were victorious. Even more interesting are extensive carvings of unique and revealing scenes of everyday life that are interspersed among the battle scenes, including market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. Also note the unfinished carvings on other walls, likely indicating the death of Jayavarman VII and the subsequent end of his building campaign. Some of the reliefs on the inner walls were carved at a later date under the Hindu king Jayavarman VIII. The surrounding tall jungle makes Bayon a bit dark and flat for photographs near sunrise and sunset..

West Mebon Temple - Ruins of the central island temple of the West Baray. West Mebon is in poor shape, consisting primarily of a single wall displaying some carvings in fair condition. The carvings exhibit some of the first examples of carvings of animals in natural, non-mythological scenes, reminiscent of carving on Baphuon. West Mebon may have originally housed a renowned bronze Buddha statue which is now held at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The West Baray, though ancient, is filled with water year round and has become a local recreational area. Take route #6 west from town. Turn right about 3 km past the airport turnoff. A short boat ride is necessary to visit the ruins.
Ta Som Temple - Small, classic Bayon-style monastic complex consisting of a relatively flat enclosure, face tower gopuras and cruciform interior sanctuaries much like a miniature version of Ta Prohm. Many of the carvings are in good condition and display particularly fine execution for late 12th century works. Take note of the devata carvings which show an uncommon individuality. A huge tree grows from the top of the eastern gopura. It is destroying the gate but it is a photo classic. Best photographed in the afternoon. Ta Som is the most distant temple on the Grand Circuit.
Ta Prohm Kel - A single small sandstone tower located opposite Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm Kel is the ruin of the temple or ‘chapel’ of one of the 102 hospitals built by Jayavarman VII throughout the kingdom. Of very similar design and state of ruin to the Chapel of the Hospital near Ta Keo. The Buddhist-themed carving on the northern pediment is in fair condition and displays marks of vandalism characteristic of the 13th century Hindu resurgence. The coarsely rendered carvings on the interior of the temple are probably from a much latter period.
Ta Prohm Temple - Of similar design to the later Jayavarman VII temples of Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei, this quiet, sprawling monastic complex is only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. Intentionally left partially unrestored, massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers and corridors offering some of the best ‘tree-in-temple’ photo opportunities at Angkor. Flocks of noisy parrots flit from tree to tree adding to the jungle atmosphere. Ta Prohm is well worth an extended exploration of its dark corridors and open plazas. This temple was one of Jayavarman VII's first major temple projects. Ta Prohm was dedicated to his mother. (Preah Khan, built shortly after Ta Prohm in the same general style, was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father.) Ta Prohm was originally constructed as a Buddhist monastery and was enormously wealthy in its time, boasting of control over 3000 villages, thousands of support staff and vast stores of jewels and gold. Of the monastic complex style temples, Ta Prohm is a superior example and should be included in almost any temple itinerary.
Ta Nei Temple - Small (55m x 47m), semi-ruined, untouristed jungle temple reminiscent of Ta Som, and displaying classic Jayavarman VII artistry. Some of the apsara and lintel carvings are in pretty good condition. In much rougher shape than most of the temples on the main tour circuit. The primary road to Ta Nei from where it meets the Grand Circuit road near the southeast corner of Ta Keo was closed on last inspection. To get to Ta Nei, park at the end of the road near Ta Keo and walk the dirt road about 1km to Ta Nei, or by motorcycle, follow unmarked dirt road from just outside the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom to the 'French Dam.' Cross the dam and proceed 200m up a small path.
Srah Srang - Picturesque baray opposite the east entrance of Banteay Kdei. Originally constructed by the same architect that built Pre Rup. Remodeled in the 12th century as part of Jayavarman VII's massive building campaign. A multi-tiered landing platform on the west edge of the baray is adorned with naga balustrades and guardian lions. The very sparse remains of an island temple can be seen poking out of the middle of the lake during the dry season when the water is low. Srah Srang offers a pleasant, much less touristed sunrise alternative to Angkor Wat.
Ta Keo Temple - Towering but plainly decorated temple-mountain dedicated to Shiva. Known in its time as ‘the mountain with golden peaks.’ The first to be constructed wholly of sandstone, this temple employing huge sandstone blocks. Constructed under three kings, begun by Jayavarman V as his state-temple and continued under Jayaviravarman and Suryavarman I. When Jayavarman V first constructed Ta Keo, he part ways with previous kings, constructing his state temple outside of his main capital area. Construction on Ta Keo seems to have stopped particularly early in the decoration phase as evidenced by the lack of carvings. Ta Keo is well worth a visit, but if you are pressed for time, see Pre Rup instead.
Preah Ko Temple - Roluos Group. Six towers displaying set on a platform, all beautifully preserved carvings . Originally surrounded by walls and gopuras of which only vestiges remain. Preah Ko was one of the first major temples of the empire at the early Khmer capital of Hariharalaya. Preah Ko (Sacred Bull) derives its name from the statues of bulls at the front of the central towers.

Preah Khan Temple - is a huge, highly explorable monastic complex. Full of carvings, passages and photo opportunities. It originally served as a Buddhist monastery and school, engaging over 1000 monks. For a short period it was also the residence of King Jayavarman VII during the reconstruction of his permanent home in Angkor Thom. Preah Khan means 'sacred sword.’ In harmony with the architecturally similar Ta Prohm, which was dedicated to Jayavarman VII's mother, Preah Khan is dedicated to his father. Features of note: like most of Jayavarman VII's monuments, the Buddha images were vandalized in the later Hindu resurgence. Some Buddha carvings in the central corridor have been crudely carved over with Bodhisattvas, and in a couple of odd cases, a lotus flower and a linga. Also note the cylindrical columns on the building west of the main temple. It is one of the only examples of round columns and may be from a later period.
Pre Rub Temple - Architecturally and artistically superior temple-mountain. Beautifully carved false doors on upper level, as well as an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. Richly detailed, well-preserved carvings. Traditionally believed to be a funerary temple, but in fact the state temple of Rajendravarman II. Historically important in that it was the second temple built after the capital was returned to Angkor from Koh Ker after a period of political upheaval. The artistically similar East Mebon was the first to be constructed after the return to Angkor, less than a decade earlier.
Suor Prat Temple - Twelve nearly identical laterite and sandstone towers that stand opposite and parallel to the Terrace of the Elephants. The artistic and architectural style of the towers is somewhat unique, defying easy classification and dating. Construction may have begun under Jayavarman VII, but the towers do not display the classic Bayon-style characteristics. It has been argued that they may be post-Bayon or perhaps much earlier, as early the 11th century. The original function of the towers is a matter of debate but in the 13th century classic, "Customs of Cambodia," Chinese emissary to Angkor, Zhou Daguan, gives a romantic but dubious first hand account of their function. He wrote that the towers were used to settle legal disputes and matters of criminal justice. The belligerent parties were kept in the towers for a few days. The one to emerge in ill health was declared the loser, guilty by divine decree. Best photographed in the late afternoon.
Prei Temple - Small, untouristed temple ruins in a forest setting near Neak Pean. Remains of a gopura , the central tower and halls, and the vestiges of a library and surrounding wall. Some apsara and lintel carvings. A quiet, peaceful location..
Kravan Temple - East-facing brick towers containing unique bas-reliefs of Vishnu and Lakshmi rendered in brick - the only example of brick bas-reliefs in the Angkor area. Prasat Kravan was originally constructed by noblemen rather than a king and has a twin sister in Takeo Province south of Phnom Penh, Prasat Neang Khmau, which contained painting rather than bas-reliefs, some of which still survives. Prasat Kravan was reconstructed by archaeologists in the early 20th century. Look for modern replacement bricks labeled "CA.".
Bei Temple - A set of three brick towers between Baksei Chamkrong and the moat of Angkor Thom near the South Gate. The central prasat rises 10 meters. Construction was never completed. Some lintel carvings survive. Prasat Bei literally means 'towers three.' Best lighting in the morning.

Phnom Kulen Temple is a hoy mountain in Cambodia on which in 802, King Jayavarman II has been declared a god-king.
• An exquisite mountain region of waterfalls and riverbed carvings. Hundreds of images have been carved into the sandstone floors along a shady brook.
• The Khmer Rouge used the mountain as a final stronghold for two decades after losing power in 1979, so nothing is left from the temples which were built at the time of Javayarman II and successors..

Comments

• You will for sure enjoy the most beautiful section of the thousand lingas river cascades, where a majestic sunlit waterfall streams through dense jungle.
• I would like to organise there a pleasant recreation between the combined visits of Bantaey Srei and Bang Melea

Phnom Bakheng - The construction of this temple mountain on Phnom Bakheng (Bakheng Hill), the first major temple to be constructed in the Angkor area, marked the move of the capital of the Khmer empire from Roluos to Angkor in the late 9th century AD. It served as King Yasovarman I's state-temple at the center of his new capital city Yasodharapura. The foundation of Bakheng is carved from the existing rock edifice rather than the laterite and earthfill of most other temples. Bakheng's hilltop location makes it the most popular sunset location in the area, offering a view of the Tonle Sap Lake and a distant Angkor Wat in the jungle. (A good photo of Angkor Wat in the distance requires at least a 400mm lens.) The temple is usually overcrowded at sunset, sometimes even completely overrun by tourists. Due to overuse and damage, the main stairway up the mountain has been closed and an alternate path to the top has been opened. Elephant rides up and down the hill are also available from about 4:00PM till sunset. $15/person up the mountain. $10 per person down the mountain.
Phimeanakas Temple - Impressive laterite and sandstone pyramid. The lack of surviving carvings leaves it artistically uninteresting, but it is the tallest scalable temple in Angkor Thom, providing a nice view from the top. The western staircase (at the back) is the most easily ascended. Located inside the ancient Royal Palace compound, Phimeanakas served as the king’s temple. Legend has it that the golden tower crowned the temple and was inhabited by a serpent, which would transform into a woman. The kings of Angkor were required to make love with the serpent every night, lest disaster befall him or the kingdom.
Neak Pean Temple - A small island temple located in the middle of the last baray (the Preah Khan Baray or Jayatataka) to be constructed by a Khmer king in the Angkor area. The central temple sits at the axis of a cross or lotus pattern of eight pools. Originally known as Rajasri, Neak Pean took its modern appellation, which means ‘coiled serpents,’ from the encoiled nagas that encircled the temple. The temple is faced by a statue of the horse, Balaha, saving drowning sailors. Though originally dedicated to Buddha, Neak Pean contains several Hindu images. Neak Pean may have served an absolution function, and the waters were thought to have healing properties. During the dry season when the water is low, check out the animal and human headwater spouts at the outside center of each pool. Neak Pean is most photogenic in the wet season when the pools are full.
Lolei Temple - Roluos Group: Ruins of an island-temple built in the middle of a now dry baray, Indratataka, the first large-scale baray constructed by a Khmer king. Lolei consists of four brick towers on a double laterite platform. It was the last major temple built at Roluos before Yasovarman I moved the capital to the Angkor area. Though the towers are in poor condition, there are some lintel carvings in very good condition displaying the distinctively detailed Preah Ko style. An active pagoda has been built amongst the ruins. Of the Roluos Group ruins, allocate the least time Lolei.
Kutisvara Temple - Three prasats in a severe state of ruin with some come carvings still visible. Kutisvara is historically significant in that it was mentioned in an inscription in connection with the 9th century during the reign of Jayavarman II, the founder of the Angkor Empire. This is one of the earliest reference to an Angkor area temple. The central tower displays Preah Ko style. The outer towers are in Pre Rup style. Not many tourists visit this temple and some of the drivers don't know it. Just point it out on the map. It's a bit off the main road back amongst some rice paddies. During the wet season when the paddies are full, motos can't get all the way to the temple, requiring a short but potentially wet walk from the road to the temple.
Krol Ko Temple - A small temple with a single central tower surrounded by two laterite walls. Pediments displaying the most interesting carvings at the site are on the ground along the enclosure wall. Krol Ko is comparatively untouristed, offering a peaceful respite.
Khleangs (North and South) - Rectangular sandstone buildings set opposite the Terrace of Elephants, behind the Prasat Suor Prat. ‘Kleang’ means ‘storeroom’ but it is unlikely that this was its actual function. A royal oath of allegiance carved into the doorway indicates that they may have served as reception areas or even housing for visiting noblemen and ambassadors. The North Kleang was built in wood under Rajendravarman II and then rebuilt in stone by Jayavarman V, probably before the construction of the South Kleang. It also contains the best preserved carvings. The South Kleang was never completed. The Kleangs are unremarkable upon close inspection but picturesque from a distance, standing among the Prasat Suor Prat. Best photographed in the afternoon.
Kbal Spean Temple - A river of 1000 lingas’ is at Phnom Kulen. There are also carvings of Buddha and Buddhist images in the rock that date from a later period than the lingas. Entrance to the area closes at 3:00PM. Combine with a visit to Banteay Srey and allow a half-day for the two. Take the road straight past Banteay Srey about 12km. Look for the sign and parking area on the left side. Requires a moderately easy 45-minute uphill walk though the woods.
East Mebon Temple - East Mebon is a large temple-mountain-like ruin, rising three levels and crowned by five towers. Jayavarman IV, a usurper to the throne, moved the capital from Angkor to Koh Ker in 928AD. Sixteen years later Rajendravarman II returned the capital to Angkor and shortly thereafter constructed East Mebon on an island in the middle of the now dry Eastern Baray. The temple is dedicated to Shiva in honor of the king’s parents. Inscriptions indicate that it was also built to help reestablish the continuity of kingship at Angkor in light of the interruption that occurred when the seat of power had been moved to Koh Ker. There seems to be some scholarly debate as to whether East Mebon should be categorized as a temple-mountain. Inscriptions record activity at the temple as early as 947AD, but East Mebon was not consecrated until 952AD.
Chau Say Tevoda Temple - Chau Say Tevoda is a small temple of similar design and floor plan to that of Thommanon located across the street (except for additional gopuras and library), but for years appeared as Thommanon’s neglected sister, languishing in significantly worse condition than Thommanon, which had been restored back in the 1960s. Chau Say Tevoda is now undergoing an extensive restoration project, for the moment allowing the visitor a close up look at the restoration process. The small section of the temple pictured to the left is currently in the process of being reconstructed. Chau Say Tevoda seems to stand in partnership with Thommanon, but in fact was built much later in Suryavarman II’s rule. Chau Say Tevoda displays some well-executed carvings that are in still fair condition, especially those on the eastern gopura. Though most carvings are Hindu-themed, there are also some Buddhist-themed reliefs. The eastern walkway from the temple leads to the Siem Reap River a few hundred meters away..
Chapel of the Hospital - 102 hospitals were built throughout the empire under Jayavarman VII. The hospital itself was probably constructed of perishable materials such as wood and bamboo, which has long since disappeared, leaving only the sandstone hospital temple or ‘chapel’ for the ages. This temple and the one at Ta Prohm Kel opposite Angkor Wat offer two examples of hospital temples. Constructed of sandstone, this Chapel of the Hospital is in rough condition but some carvings are still visible. A quiet, meditative spot, easily accessible but visited by few tourists.
Beng Mealea Temple - Sprawling jungle temple covering over one square kilometer. The temple is largely overrun by vegetation and very lightly touristed, giving it an adventurous, ‘lost temple’ feel. Photographers: trees growing from the broken towers and galleries offer some of the best ‘tree in temple’ shots aside from Ta Prohm. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style under the same king that built Angkor Wat, Beng Melea preceded and may have served as a prototype of sorts for Angkor Wat. Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are comparatively sparse. When the temple was active, the walls may have been covered, painted or had frescos. In its time, Beng Melea was at the crossroads of several major highways that ran to Angkor, Koh Ker, Preah Vihear (in northern Cambodia) and northern Vietnam. Regular admission ticket are not required but there is a separate $5 entrance fee. Beng Melea is located 63km east of town. The road is now in good condition and the trip from Siem Reap takes 1-2 hours. Graded dirt road with occasional flooding in the rainy season.
Bat Chum Temple - Trio of small brick towers on a platform with two surviving lintels in pretty good condition. Bat Chum is a historically unique early Buddhist temple constructed at a time when Hinduism dominated. The inscriptions on the doorways note the Buddhist dedication, praise the architect (who was also the architect for East Mebon and Pre Rup,) and admonishes local elephant handlers to keep their beasts off the dikes, like an ancient 'keep off the grass' sign. Follow unmarked dirt road between Pre Rup and Srah Srang about 1 km.
Baphuon Temple - Angkor Thom: Huge temple-mountain in the heart of Angkor Thom. Largely collapsed and in ruined condition, the main temple area is undergoing extensive restoration and is not open to the public. The exterior entry gate and elevated walkway are open. Note the unique animal carvings at the walkway entrance, and the large reclining Buddha on the west side, added to the temple at a much later period
Banteay Srey Temple - Banteay Srey loosely translates to ‘citadel of the women,’ but this is a modern appellation that probably refers to the delicate beauty of the carvings. Built at a time when the Khmer Empire was gaining significant power and territory, the temple was constructed by a Brahmin counselor under a powerful king, Rajendravarman and later under Jayavarman V. Banteay Srey displays some of the finest examples of classical Khmer art. The walls are densely covered with some of the most beautiful, deep and intricate carvings of any Angkorian temple. The temple's relatively small size, pink sandstone construction and ornate design give it a fairyland ambiance. The colors are best before 10:30 AM and after 2:00 PM, but there are fewer tourists in the afternoon. This temple was discovered by French archaeologists relatively late, in 1914. The temple area closes at 5:00 PM. Banteay Srey lies 38 km from Siem Reap, requiring extra travel time. Drivers usually charge a fee in addition to their normal daily charge for the trip. Banteay Srey is well worth the extra effort. Combine a visit to Banteay Srey with Banteay Samre.
Banteay Samre Temple - Large, comparatively flat temple displaying distinctively Angkor Wat-style architecture and artistry. The temple underwent extensive restoration this century by archaeologists using the anastylosis method. Banteay Samre was constructed around the same time as Angkor Wat. The style of the towers and balustrades bear strong resemblance to the towers of Angkor Wat and even more so to Khmer temple of Phimai in Thailand. Many of the carvings are in excellent condition. Banteay Samre is a bit off the Grand Circuit, near the southeast corner of the East Baray. The trip there is a nice little 3km road excursion through villages and paddies. Combine a visit to Banteay Srey with a stop at Banteay Samre on the way back.
Banteay Prei Temple - Small, untouristed temple near Neak Pean. Similar to Ta Som in architectural / artistic style and scale. Some of the apsara and Buddhist-themed lintel carvings are in pretty good condition. Oddly small doors and windows. Quiet, meditation spot.
Banteay Kdei Temple - Sprawling, largely unrestored, monastic complex in much the same style as Ta Prum. It was originally constructed over the site of an earlier temple, and functioned as a Buddhist monastery under Jayavarman VII. As with other works of Jayavarman VII's era, it is a tightly packed architectural muddle, which like Bayon, suffered from several changes in the plans at the time of construction. It was also built using an interior grade of sandstone and using poor construction techniques, leading to much of the deterioration visible today. A restoration project is underway on many of the towers and corridors, and some areas are blocked off. The foundation stele of the temple has not been found so there is no record of to whom it is dedicated. The th13th century vandalism of Buddha images that is seen on many Jayavarman Vii temples is quite apparent on Banteay Kdey. Combine with a visit to Srah Srang, which is just opposite the east entrance.
Baksei Chamkrong Temple - A towering 12-meter tall brick and literate step-pyramid. Harshavarman I began construction or perhaps dedicated statues at the site in the early 10th century. It was later improved/restored by Rajendravarman II shortly after the capital was returned to Angkor from Koh Ker. According to inscriptions on the dorrway, Rajendravarman II consecrated the temple with the installation of a golden Shiva image in 947AD. It may have also served as a funerary temple. Combine with a visit to the South Gate in the morning or Phnom Bakheng in the evening. Lighting is best in the morning.
Bakong Temple - Roluos Group: The most impressive member of the Roluos Group, sitting at the center of the first Angkorian capital, Hariharalaya. Bakong stands 15 meters tall and is 650x850m at the outer wall. Constructed by the third Angkorian-era king as his state-temple, Bakong represents the first application of the temple-mountain architectural formula on a grand scale and set the architectural tone for the next 400 years. The temple displays a very early use of stone rather than brick. Though begun by Indravarman I, Bakong received additions and was expanded by later kings. The uppermost section and tower may have been added as late as the 12th century AD. Some of the lintel carvings, particularly on the outer towers, are in very good shape. Picturesque moat and vegetation surround Bakong.
Angkor Thom Temple - Angkor Thom (Big Angkor) is a 3km2 walled and moated royal city and was the last capital of the Angkorian Empire. After Jayavarman VII recaptured the Angkorian capital from the Cham invaders in 1181, he began a massive building campaign across the empire, constructing Angkor Thom as his new capital city. He began with existing structures such as Baphuon and Phimeanakas and built a grand enclosed city around them, adding the outer wall/moat and some of Angkor’s greatest temples including his state-temple, Bayon, set at the center of the city. There are five entrances (gates) to the city, one of each cardinal point, and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace area. Each gate is crowned with 4 giant faces. The South Gate is often the first stop on a tour.
Ak Yum Temple - Ak Yum is the earliest known example of the ‘temple-mountain’ architectural design formula, which was to become a primary design formula for many of the Angkorian periods temples including Angkor Wat.
 The Tonlé Sap (Khmer: ទន្លេសាប;), i.e., large body of water (Cambodian meaning "Large Fresh Water River," but more commonly translated as "Great Lake") is a combined lake and river system of huge importance to Cambodia. It is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is an ecological hotspot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.

The Tonlé Sap is unusual for two reasons: 1) its flow changes direction twice a year, and 2) the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. From November to May, Cambodia's dry season, the Tonlé Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. In June, however, when the year's heavy rains begin, the Tonlé Sap backs up to form an enormous lake.

For most of the year the lake is fairly small, around one meter deep and with an area of 2,700 square km. During the monsoon season, however, the Tonlé Sap river which connects the lake with the Mekong river reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area to 16,000 square km and its depth to up to nine meters, flooding nearby fields and forests. The floodplain provides a perfect breeding ground for fish.

The pulsing system with the large floodplain, rich biodiversity, and high annual sediment and nutrient fluxes from Mekong makes the Tonlé Sap one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world, supporting over 3 million people and providing over 75% of Cambodia's annual inland fish catch and 60% of the Cambodians' protein intake. At the end of the rainy season, the flow reverses and the fish are carried downriver.

National and local observers often state that the Tonlé Sap Lake is rapidly filling with sediment. However, recent long-term sedimentation studies show that net sedimentation within the lake proper has been in the range of 0.1-0.16 mm/year since ca. 5500 years before present (BP). Thus, there is no threat of the lake filling up with sediment. On the contrary, sediment is not a threat to the lake but an important part of its ecosystem, providing nutrients that drive the floodplain productivity.

 
Water dwelling on the lake of Tonle Sap near Siem Reap.The reversal of the Tonlé Sap river's flow also acts as a safety valve to prevent flooding further downstream. During the dry season (December to April) the Tonlé Sap Lake provides around 50% of the flow to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The lake occupies a depression created due to the geological stress induced by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with Asia. In recent years the building of high dams in Southern China and Laos has threatened the strength and volume of the reverse flow into Tonle Sap; a phenomena that environmentalists have been slow to recognize or raise concern about. Already fish catches are significantly down.

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