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ANGKOR: EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD

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ANGKOR: EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD

Angkor is the largest religious complex in the world and the greatest historic attraction in Southeast Asia. 20,000 words, 81 contemporary images, 18 historic images, 7 maps

  • Andrew Forbes and Colin Hinshelwood with photography by David Henley

For much of the second half of the 20th century Cambodia was racked by war and famine. Considered a ‘sideshow' in the Second Indochina War, or Vietnam War, the country was nevertheless invaded by both North and South Vietnam, bombed to smithereens by the United States, strewn with landmines and lethal weapons of every kind, and—worst of all—ruled, between 1975 and 1979, by Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Things were so bad that the very name ‘Cambodia' became synonymous with pain and suffering. Yet it was not always like this. Before its rice fields were stained with blood in the mid-1960s, Cambodia was celebrated as a land of fertile tranquillity where a predominantly Buddhist people continued the myriad artistic and cultural traditions of the old Khmer Empire—the first high civilisation in Southeast Asia, exemplified by the extraordinary temple of Angkor Wat, surely the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Finally returned to peace, Cambodia has striven over the past 20 years to rebuild both its economy and its image in the eyes of the world. Central to this endeavour is tourism, which the Phnom Penh government spares no effort in promoting. At the heart of this programme is the great temple complex at Angkor, which has been painstakingly cleared of landmines and is currently undergoing massive and very extensive restoration.

Angkor has to be seen to be believed. It is the largest religious site in the world and, beyond doubt, the major cultural and historical attraction in all of Southeast Asia. Even if one considers the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Mayan pyramids or Machu Picchu, it is still arguable that there exists any ancient site of comparable magnificence elsewhere in the world.

  • Andrew Forbes and David Henley are a writer-photographer team based in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai who have visited Angkor on many occasions and together wrote Insight Guides Laos and Cambodia. Colin Hinshelwood is also based in Chiang Mai and works closely with CPA Media as well as writing for Irrawaddy Magazine. Colin has spent time exploring the extensive complex at Angkor, while Andrew leads regular 'Indochine' tours to Angkor for California-based Wilderness Travel.

© 2012 CPA Media &  Cognoscenti Books. All Rights Reserved.