During our second week of in-country orientation, the YAGM Cambodia group, along with our language instructor Long Di, made our way to Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor. I've seen an immense number of old structures in my life, but I was not prepared for how utterly moved I would be by the grand ruins left behind by Cambodia's greatest empire. The Angkorian complex goes on for ages - we explored for three days and I felt did not even scratch the surface of what was hiding deep between the trees. Despite large number of tourists at some of the larger temples, for the most part the ruins remain ethereal and inspiring for the imagination. The structures are the fusion of the spirutal and the ambitious, immense mazes in which asparas, heavenly faces, and epic battle scenes delight around every corner.
The Angkorian period spanned more than 600 years from 802 AD to 1432. During this time period, the Khmer empire rose as one of the greatest powers in Asia. Under rulers like Suryavarman II (r 1112-52) Jayavarman VII (r 1181-1219), the capitol city of Angkor Thom flourished, growing larger than any other city in the world at the time period. Temples and palaces of stone were built to honor both Hindu and Buddhist dieties, dpending on the fancies of the ruler at the time. These temples include many of the famous ones known by visitors to the Angkor complex: Bayon Temple (the one with all the faces), Ta Prohm (the one Angelina Jolie made famous from Tomb Raider), and, of course, Angkor Wat, which on its own is considered the largest religious structure in the world and today graces the Cambodian national flag.