Angkor Wat, this legendary temple and city or state of the Khmer Empire has been part of our discussions for the last two years. The Khmer Empire existed between 800 and 1430 AD. The Khmer kings built wonderful temples and huge city states, and enlarged their empire by including also large parts of Thailand. Whenever the Khmer Empire is discussed, their enormous dependency on water is mentioned. This can be seen by the construction of moats, barays (large water reservoirs) and canals, which provided enough water for irrigating the surrounding paddy fields.
The Khmer Empire more or less suddenly vanished or was replaced by another powerful empire. Hypotheses to explain the weakening of the empire often invoke drought, i.e. that several intervals with a distinctly weaker summer monsoon would have pushed the water-dependent society over the edge. Tree ring records and our own famous record from Pa Kho register intervals of severe drought which more or less coincide in time with the final decades of the Khmer Empire. But did water scarcity and climate really made this empire disappear, or was it not rather the strict hierarchical society and the inability to cope with changing conditions?
Last weekend, together with Moo and Pare, I finally managed to see this mythical place, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and many of the other wonderful sites that are clustered around the main big temple.
We left our hotel at 5:30 am to be there in time for the sunrise. We were not alone! Hundreds of people had the same idea, of course and were waiting for the magical moment when the sun rose behind and above the towers of Angkor Wat. But not only tourists were busy waiting for the sunrise, local hawkers (adults and children) saw their moment to sell breakfast, coffee, books, what ever, to the waiting tourists.
And then the sun suddenly rose – and within no time it was high above the sky and a very hot day started. Time for us to finally eat breakfast and get ready for a full-day tour of the remains of the Khmer Empire!