Original and reconstructed ancient stone monuments lead to Angkor Thom, once the capital city of the Khmer empire, in Siem Reap province.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
By Eugene Hoshiko
SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Tourists gather every day before dawn to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, a 12th-century temple and the grandest legacy of Cambodia’s once mighty Khmer empire. Even at 5 a.m., the heat and humidity is enough to make the visitors break into a sweat.
More than a million people come annually to see the remains of the Khmer temples that dot the sprawling Angkor region, 145 miles northwest of the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.
For Cambodians, the temples are nothing less than a symbol of their nation; an outline of Angkor Wat adorns the national flag.
A nearby temple, Wat Thmei, also includes a reminder of a dark chapter in recent Cambodian history. A memorial stupa houses bones and skulls from the victims of the “killing fields” executed by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that ruled in the late 1970s.
Today, Angkor is a vital contributor to the poor nation’s economy, with almost all visitors to the country traveling to the ruins. After a hot day visiting the temples, tourists head to the bars and Western-style air-conditioned restaurants in the nearby town of Siem Reap.