Selling the largest Hindu temple in the world

It seems blindingly obvious now, but the idea that Cambodia’s shining jewel, Angkor Wat is a popular tourist destination overlooks the fact that this “idea” is only of recent construction.


photo credit: nnice

Selling the largest Hindu temple in the world
The Times of India, 02 March 2008

The idea of Angkor as a tourist destination is a new one, and relatively foreign one:

This gilt-edged wrapping paper, however, is torn at places, revealing contradictions. In sharp contrast to the booming Asian Tigers that surround it, the Cambodian countryside is stark, famished and numbingly poor. Entirely different is Siem Reap, an artificial city, meant to service the many rich western and Japanese tourists who come to visit the Angkor temples. There are super markets everywhere, and the architecture is Baroque-meets-Surya Varman.

The obvious poverty of Cambodia seems to give way to a bubble of smooth highways and air-conditioned modernity. The economy seems as fissured: I could pay in Riel (the Cambodian currency), Baht or in US dollars.

It’s quite easy to forget that Angkor Wat remains a pilgrimage site for Buddhists – and is still managed by Buddhist monks – and before that was a temple to the Hindu god, Vishnu.

Related books:
Of Gods, Kings and Men: The Reliefs of Angkor Wat
+Le Temple D’Angkor Vat (Memoires Archeologiques / Publies Par L’Ecole Francaise D’Ex)
Cambodian Architecture: Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik) by J. Dumarcay and P. Royere
Angkor Wat and cultural ties with India by K. M. Srivastava

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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