Come to SEA: Angkor and the Roots of South-East Asian Fusion

By Krabi Magazine Jun 22, 2014
Tourists and adventurers visiting the South East Asian (SEA) region are filled with awe and wonder at the great variety of opportunities: monumental landscapes, beautiful beaches, culture festivals, exquisite food, and unique historical landmarks. Popular among the great historical features are the ancient temples and sites related to the Khmer Empire of the middle ages.

The Khmer Empire had spread over a vast region, and few are aware that the Empire actually extended into Southern Thailand (see map). Historians report that, in its golden age (889–1434 CE), the famed Empire extended over an vast area that included Cambodia, Laos, parts of Vietnam and parts of Thailand. The Empire apparently ended in the Malaysian peninsula at, what was then, the northern border of another great empire, the Sri Vijayan Empire. Unlike a few places in the central part Thailand, we unfortunately can not find evidence of Khmer temples in the southern Thailand region. However, the latest DNA technologies have allowed anthropologist and archaeologists to track the movements of tribal migrations of the middle ages. DNA testing has confirmed that the early Khmer people descended from Austroasiatic peoples and using their “Coastal Migration Theory”, scientists believe the Khmer probably entered Thailand from Malaysia. These findings support other evidence that various Austroasiatic tribes had long ago made South East Asia their home. [Even today, Mani-people can be found in Southern Thailand.] Apparently, these tribes speak an old form of Khmer language.

The Glory of Angkor

The Khmer Empire’s greatest legacy and seat of power is Angkor City. Today, Angkor City is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Overseas guests normally hear of “Angkor Wat”, which is the largest temple in the world and the most photographed of all buildings in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Tourists typically only learn after arrival that Angkor is actually an entire region of Siem Reap Province, covering over 1000 square kilometers and possessing hundreds of temples of varying size and stature. It is massive! The city had actually become the largest pre-industrial city on the planet. Visiting Angkor’s principal sites should be enough to fill your camera with gigabytes of pictures and satisfy your doctor that you got plenty of exercise on your vacation.

As there is an entrance fee to visit the Park, my strongest recommendation is to get the three-day pass. Use Day One to visit Angkor Wat and nearby sites like Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple. Use Day Two by taking a “Grand Tour” by Tuk Tuk which will take you to the further away sites like Ta Prohm (site of the famous “Tomb Raider” film) or Banteay Srei, and give you a breath-taking perspective of the larger Angkorian city. Then use Day Three in a more relaxing or meditative way, by visiting the places that gave you the most inspiration and get yourself deeper into the many details of the intricate stone carvings that can be found on every building and wall. Around the end of any day, visitors typically make their way up to the top of Bakheng hill for sunset photographs. The Angkorian people truly left the world a gift of immense proportions, and one that is now making us aware of a society that flourished in art and beauty. Angkor now pulls-in more than 2 million visitors each year. (Visitors to Angkor can not stay overnight in the Park; accommodation should be found in Siem Reap, which is about 7 km away from the park.)

Visitors to Krabi can find easy connections to Siem Reap from Krabi airport. Alternatively you can use Bangkok, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur shuttle flights on the way to or from Krabi.

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