Explore the Mekong Sub-Region’s Ancient Empires

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Image courtesy of the Ministry of Hotels & Tourism Myanmar

The Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms that once ruled over vast “mandalas” around the Mekong still live on, if only through the temple and palace ruins that hint at the powers that once held sway around the river.

Start in Bagan, Myanmar, where over 2,000 Buddhist stupas and temples still stand. They were constructed by both commoners and nobility centuries ago as acts of piety, and remain as the most visible reminders of the Bagan empire’s glory days.

Must-visit Bagan temples include Shwezigon, whose compelling gold stupa inspired Shwedagon in Yangon; Htilominlo, a symmetrical beauty with gorgeous brickwork; and Bupaya, a riverside temple whose gourd-like shape relates to its founding legend.

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of the Cambodia Ministry of Tourism

 

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, the sprawling Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap covers over 400 square kilometres of jungle. Inside this expanse, tourists flock to explore the remnants of the Khmer Empire that ruled from the 9th to the 15th century AD.

If you can only see one temple here, it’s definitely Angkor Wat: a gargantuan set of five stone towers whose size belies its beautiful symmetry and intricate internal handiwork. The 208-hectare square temple includes delicate carvings of Khmer dancing girls and a massive relief sculpture of the Churning of the Sea of Milk, a Hindu myth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of the Vietnam National Authority of Tourism

 

Finally, Po Klong Garai, Viet Nam marks the location of a religious complex built by the Cham Empire, who ruled central and southern Vietnam from the 7th to the 14th century AD, and battled both the Khmer and the Dai Viet until their empire’s eclipse.

Today, a cluster of three Champa towers stands in Po Klong Garai. The remaining Cham community in Ninh Thuan still consider this their most sacred place and celebrates Kate Festival here every July. The best-preserved specimens of Cham’s ancient art and culture can be seen at the nearby Museum of Cham Ethnic Culture in Phan Rang.

 

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