This ancient city is known to the world as Angkor Wat after its most beautiful temple, but the true wonder is the city itself, which is actually called Angkor.
The first temples were completed in the eighth century by early Khmer1 king Jayavarman and his heirs kept building on his legacy. The whole of Angkor was built over a period of about 600 years. It never stopped. It was to recreate in Hindu mythology the Mount Mira, the Hindu Heaven. And the kings wanted to elevate2 themselves to a godlike status and progressive kings enlarged upon it. And so it just grew and grew. Each king wanted to build another temple. They were trying to create Heaven on Earth.
The lush jungle paradise they created inevitably caught the attention of the neighboring kingdom of Siam3now known as Thailand. After one hundred years of off and on battle, the Thai armies began to get the upper hand. At the end of it, the Cambodian people were exhausted. Their resources had run out. The Thais had a relatively easy victory when they finally sacked1 Angkor in 1431. But a mystery surrounds their victory. Without warning the Thai armies abandoned Angkor as suddenly as they conquered it and to this day no one knows why.
The Royal Court just literally walked away from Angkor completely. The couple of temples were maintained and visited from time to time. But basically they just turned their back on2 it. And the magnificent city became lost in the mists of time. Rumors of this sacred city floated throughout the jungles of Southeast Asia for centuries.
The locals were telling stories. There had been French naturalists through the area, but no one believed the tales. Then, in 1860 the French explorer Henri Mahout set out to find Angkor. One day he stepped into a jungle clearing and found himself walking through the imperial3 ruins of the ancient city. Over one hundred years later, the world is also beginning to understand the glory of Angkor.
For being a heavenly city4 that transcends time, Angkor ascends to number three on our list.