A Temple City Reborn
Angkor, spread out over an area of about 40 miles in northwestern Cambodia, was the capital of the Khmer Empire from A.D. 800 to approximately 1200, and was abandoned in 1431, following the conquest of the Khmer kingdom.
After decades of war and strife, its temples and monuments are once more open to travelers, and are among the world’s premier architectural sites. The city’s highlight, Angkor Wat, is a temple complex built at the beginning of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. It took 25,000 workers over thirty-seven years to complete the construction, but after the fall of the empire, the complex remained unknown to the outside world until 1860, when French botanist Henri Mahout stumbled upon it deep in the jungle.
Constructed in the form of a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers, it was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and is embellished throughout with exquisite statues, carvings, and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.
Though considered a less-stellar attraction, the nearby fortified city of Angkor Thom boasts at its heart the Bayon, the last great temple built at Angkor. The Bayon is surrounded by fifty-four small towers that are now, like all of this magnificent religious complex, entangled in the dense growth of the implacable Cambodian jungle. The steamy undergrowth and mysterious play of light and shadows joins nature’s work to man’s, evoking an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom atmosphere.
Now restored to its 1930s colonial splendor by Raffles International, the Grand Hotel Angkor is the ideal home base in the area, with a state-of-the-art spa and 14 acres of gorgeous gardens.