From 802 to 1431 AD, the Khmer Empire thrived in the area that is now called Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam. The capital of the Khmer Empire was Angkor, which was one of the most populated areas of the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it was as large as New York is today.
The people predominantly followed Hinduism and Buddhism, and more than 100 temples were built in the Angkor area in honor of Hindu and Buddhist gods and legends. Today, these temples stand in various states of preservation, where viewers can not only see the spectacular artwork left behind, but astonishing views of the jungles and cities that have grown up around these ancient relics.
Though all of the temples are undoubtedly remarkable, there are a few that every visitor truly must see. Here is a list of the most popular and enjoyable Cambodian temples to tour during a Mekong river cruise.
By far the most well-known and visited of the Cambodian temples is Angkor Wat. Built during the 12 century, it took 37 years to complete. It was constructed by Suryavarman II to honor Vishnu, a Hindu god. The walls and moats surrounding the temple represent the mountains and seas, and how they are cosmically intertwined. Angkor Wat is the temple depicted on the Cambodian national flag. The main tower of the temple represents Meru, the mountain at the center of the Buddhist and Hindu cultures. Nearby is Siem Reap, a town that offers a fabulous mix of the old Khmer Empire and modern conveniences. Several of the temples can be visited conveniently from Siem Reap.
Translated literally as "Great City," Angkor Thom was built as much for defense as for worship. Constructed in response to a surprise attack by the Chams on the city of Angkor, the walls and moats served as almost impenetrable barriers to would-be invaders. When entering through the southern gate, visitors are most struck by the depiction of the Hindu legend "The Churning of the Ocean Milk," featuring statues of 54 gods and 54 demons.
Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple that was built by King Jayavarman VI to honor his mother and the Buddhist goddess of wisdom, Prajnaparamita, was also constructed in the 12th century. A stone in the center of the temple depicts the dedication and calls for successive generations to preserve and protect the construction. At the height of the Khmer Empire, Ta Prohm was home to 12,500 people, and served as a place of worship for some 80,000 villagers from surrounding areas. Now, the site posses an eerie, surreal quality as jungle trees attempt to overtake the human structures there.
Other Notable Cambodian Temples
Though the number of surviving temples are too many to discuss here, visitors arriving by river cruise lines also enjoy a number of other local temples along the route. Banteay Srei, the Temple of Women, is a Hindu temple that is notable because it was built by one of the king's advisors instead of the king himself. The temple features numerous depictions of Hindu legends, including the burning of the Khandava Forest, Narasimha slaying the demon Hiranyakashipu, and Bali and Sugriva.
Preh Khan was built by King Jayavarman. This Buddhist temple is likely built where the king defeated Champa raiders, which came from the area now known as southern Vietnam. Preh Khan is notable because Vaishnava and Shaiva worshipers shared this Buddhist temple, and because it served as a university as well as a place of worship.
Bayon temple features massive towers and stone carvings, including a carving of the face of the king and numerous Hindu and Buddhist worship messages. Once, over 200 towers stood at Bayon, but not all of them survived the ages.
AmaWaterways offers travelers a different way to see the world's most beautiful and desirable destinations. On a slow-moving riverboat, you have the time and luxury to see the landscape and get a feel for the area that can't be afforded by speedier means of travel, like airplanes, buses, and trains. On a river cruise, you can meander along the waterways of exotic locations like Vietnam and Cambodia, and take the time to get to know the landscape, people, and fabulous relics left behind by the civilizations of yesterday. Choose an AmaWaterways river cruise for your next vacation and see the world from an entirely different perspective.