Khmer Temples & Mythology

Angkor Wat



"The domain of Khmer archaeology comprises on the One hand the alluvial plains of the Mekong and the basin of the Grand Lac Tonle Sap, and on the other the plateau of Khorat. As will be seen, The attempt to unite these two parts, so different from every point of view, resulted in a political unit which was never stable. The whole history of Cambodia is dominated by the struggle between the peoples of rhe highlands north of the Dongrek mountains and of the lowland to the south."

George Cordes: Angkor, An Introduction.


The Khmer Empire, which for aboul 500 years was the most powerful on the mainland of Southeast Asia, was ruled for the greater port of its history from Angkor, on ihe shores of Cambodia's Great Lake, the Tonle Sap. A pattern of conquests under successive kings, however, took the
frontiers way beyond the immediate limits of the city, At its height, the Empire stretched west to what is now Burma, south onto the Malay Peninsula, east to the Vietnamese coast, and north almost as for as Vientiane

Not all of this territory was under direct military control, and as more inscription are found and translated, a picture is emerging of on empire that was quite complex in its organization, and by' no mean stable. There were patters of allegiances, fiefdoms, semi-independent provinces, and periods of intense struggle, A great deal of Khmer history remain unknown, particularly the disputes of kingship and civil wars, but hints of these can be found in inscriptions and on a few, historical bas-reliefs, such as on the gallery walls of the Bayon at, Angkor and banteay Chhmar in the for northwest of Cambodia.

In fact, geography mode it almost inevitable that there would be political and social differences. Angkor lies on the fertile plain bordering the Great Lake in lowland Cambodia ,yet one of the major parts of the Empire occupied the large Khorat Plateau to the north, separated from The plains by the Dongrek Mountains. For much of their length they form a wall that can be crossed only through a few posses Beyond these mountains, in present-day Thailand, the broad, shallow valley of the Mun River was on independent centre of civilization, and it seems likely that the Khmers moved south into the lowlands from here Far from being a provincial backwater, this region furnished Cambodia and Angkor with two kings directly Jayavarman VI and Suryavarman II while JayavarmanVII, the last great Khmer ruler, was a cousin of SuryavarmanII.

The political frontiers have changed considerably since the time of the Khmer Empire, but the monuments remain - some 300 in what is now Thailand, Indeed, the southern part of the khorat Plateau where most of the Khmer temples are situated, is essentially Khmer-speaking. The dialect, however, is distinct from the Khmer spoken in present day Cambodia, and the Thais distinguish between the two forms - and the two peoples - as 'Khmer soong (High, or upland Khmer from the plateau) and `khmer tam` (low Khmer from the plains).

For the visitor, the Khmer temples of Thailand and Laos contain works of the first rank, both artistically and architecturally, and have their own special character, set in a distinctive environment, Apart from museums, this guide covers 40 temples and related sites - essentially those where there is still something to see, Virtually all are in Thailand, but ,he importance and beauty of Wat Phu in Southern Laos demand its inclusion Besides, it is not inconveniently far from the sites close to Ubon in Northeast Thailand, end the eastern end of the main string of Khmer temples on the plateau. Another mountain temple is Preach Vihear, known to the Thais as Khao Phra Viharn, Although in Cambodia (just-the border begins on its lower steps), It is only practicable to visit it from the Thai side, and far ihis reason is also included in the guide.

Wht Phu and Preach Vihear are just two of several major Khmer temples covered here - major, that is, by the highest standards of Khmer architecture, including the monuments at Angkor itself. The delight of these monuments, most of them in a continuous swathe across the Northeast of Thailand and across into Southern Laos, lies in discovery, Few people have seen any but a handful of them. The combination of, restoration programmes and changes in political circumstances have essentially opened up a new art and architectural experience.