The realisation of just how fascinating the rule of the Khmer Empire was did not really sink in until I was on my flight out of South East Asia and thinking back over all I’d seen.
The Khmer Empire was pretty small in contrast to some of the others that dominated the world at that time. The Mongol empire, for example, covered 33 million square miles whilst Angkor was only 1.2 million.
My journey around the Khmer Empire started with a trek in the northern hills of Thailand. I spent two nights with two different hill tribes. The intriguing thing for me about these hill tribes was the fact that each had a different dialect. In some instances the language was so different that one group of villagers would be unable to communicate with another tribe that was only 10 kilometres away.
If this is the case in the 21st century where we have internet and telephones, imagine the struggles for the Khmer Empire 4000 years ago!
My fascination with the Khmer Empire was strengthened when I travelled down the Mekong River. The Mekong goes through all four countries that the Khmer Empire once controlled; Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
As I travelled down this incredible waterway I learnt that The Mekong enabled the Khmer Empire to produce enough food for themselves and also enough crops to be able to export to other countries, allowing the empire to have dominance over its neighbours. The river was also used as the main form of transport throughout the empire, allowing the city of Angkor to be able to exert the authority it had throughout the land.
My journey around South East Asia finished with a trip to the islands off the coast of Cambodia. Not only did these islands have incredible beaches but my visit also reinforced the fact that the empire had three different seas to worry about, carrying with them as they did the twin threats of colonisation and invasion.
It’s incredible that the Khmer Empire remained in power for such a long period, considering the factors Angkor had to compete with, and for me that is what makes the Khmer Empire so special in contrast to others, like the Mongols.