John McDermott
Photographer John McDermott ventures to Angkor Wat and beyond to capture the area's remote temples and their surroundings for the April/May issue of Sherman's Travel magazine
Photographer John McDermott ventures to Angkor Wat and beyond to capture the area's remote temples and their surroundings for the April/May issue of Sherman's Travel magazine
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The Temples of Cambodia and Thailand

Head out on a two-pronged journey to discover some of the world's enduring wonders

By Laurel Delp

ShermansTravel.com

May 26th, 2009

Angkor Wat is on most everyone’s must-see list, but venturing beyond the fray to the area’s more remote temples can yield the experience of a lifetime. Here, a two-pronged journey to discover some of the world’s enduring wonders.  

To the right of the stone bridge leading to Angkor Wat, there is a spot from which all five towers of the legendary Cambodian temple are visible at once. Every part of the sandstone monument is carved, including the curved pediments and tiered eaves, and it looks not unlike the intricately designed headdresses worn by Cambodian dancers. The temple and its long approach are so magnificent that in the 16th century, when Portuguese explorers first set eyes on the site, they believed it could have been built only by the Romans. 

In fact, Angkor Wat was the crowning architectural achievement of the Khmer Empire, a series of dynasties that ruled from the 9th to the mid-15th centuries, when it fell to Thai invaders. For six centuries, every Khmer king built a grand state temple, and while Angkor Wat is the masterpiece, it’s only one part of the vast capital city of Angkor, which encompassed more than 386 square miles and was the heart of the empire at its height. 

Just 4 miles from the modern city of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, is one of the world’s great stone monuments, ranking at the top of any must-see list for passionate travelers, and an essential stop on a visit to Southeast Asia. Because of this, it’s almost always swarming with tourists – so overrun, and with so little protection, that UNESCO recently proclaimed it one of the world’s most threatened historic sites. 
 
Nonetheless, it’s absolutely worth braving the crowds. Angkor Wat is a testament to human creativity and a place that surpasses its legend. But there is so much more to the Khmer legacy than just this one temple. To really explore the Khmer ruins and have a truly one-of-a-kind experience, the trick is to drink in Angkor Wat, then visit Angkor Thom, and continue on into the farther reaches of the ancient empire where many exquisite, smaller temples can be contemplated in peace. 

At its height, the Khmer Empire extended north into what is now southern Laos and west across Thailand to Myanmar and the Malay Peninsula. While some of the more lightly visited temples are within driving distance of Siem Reap, a number of the most impressive are in northeast Thailand, in an area rarely frequented by tourists and not yet easily accessible from Cambodia. So the most ambitious tour of the Khmer temples requires two trips. Using Bangkok as a base, fly southeast to Siem Reap and tour the Angkor region, then return to Bangkok and drive northeast to the Khorat plateau in Thailand.
 
View our Temples of Cambodia & Thailand Slideshow by photographer John McDermott for glimpses of Angkor Wat and more enduring wonders.

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