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The Wonders of Siem Reap

 Angkor Wat is the ultimate expression of Khmer genius – a breathtaking temple that is spectacular for both its majestic scale and its incredible detail. The site is voted by Lonely Planet as the world’s most popular place to visit, so it comes as no surprise that a visit to Cambodia’s World Heritage Temples is high on the list of many travellers to the region. Angkor Wat – built by Suryavarman II (1112–1152) – is the earthly depiction of Mount Meru, the Mount Olympus of the Hindu faith and the home of ancient gods. The Cambodian god-kings of old each endeavoured to better their ancestors’ structures in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in what is understood to be the world’s largest religious structure. The temple is the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride. Unlike the other Angkor shrines, it was never abandoned to the elements and has been in almost constant use since it was constructed.

Phnom Kulen is a holy mountain for Cambodians, held in high esteem as the birth place of the ancient Khmer Empire. In 802, King Jayavarman II declared independence from Java, according to an account of an inscription dating from the 11th century found in Thailand. It is not clear what is meant by ‘Java’. The usual interpretation is that it is the island of the same name, but some historians have argued that it could be the name of an area of today's southern Laos (Lava), or that of Champa, in today's central Vietnam. King Jayavarman II is reported to have united the Khmer principalities and to have declared himself ‘Chakravartin’, an ancient Indian title for a universal ruler or emperor (Java's kings also used this imperial title). The coronation on Mahendraparvata (Phnom Kulen) is considered to be the founding act of the Khmer empire.

The Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. It is located in the middle of Cambodia, with Siem Reap only 15 kilometres to its north. It is an ecological hotspot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997. In total, there are 170 fishing villages on the Tonle Sap. The lake is famous for its wealth of fish, and the fourth largest source of fresh water fish in the world. Here, fishermen can catch 300000 tonnes of fish per year, which equates to 75% of Cambodia's annual fresh water fishing. Siem Reap is an ideal location from which to take boat trips along the lake.