Angkor Wat may be located in modern day Cambodia, but there are several spectacular Khmer temples built at the same time as Angkor to be found in Thailand.
Angkor Wat has become so famous now that it exists almost as a city state in its own right. Many visitors to Angkor don’t bother with seeing the rest of Cambodia, opting to fly in and out of Siem Reap Airport after a couple of days of touring Angkor’s incredible temples. It’s easy to fly to Angkor Wat from Bangkok and indeed, it’s easy to see why many people think Angkor Wat is actually in Thailand – after all, the Thais did invade occupy Angkor in the 14th century and only handed it back to the Cambodians at the behest of the French in the early part of the 20th century.
However, while Thailand cannot lay claim to Angkor Wat itself anymore (although there is a huge scale model of Angkor within Bangkok’s Grand Palace), there are plenty of other spectacular Khmer temples dating from the same era as Angkor Wat still within modern Thailand’s boundaries. The most famous of these is perhaps Preah Viharn, a huge, mountain top temple that lies on the border between Thailand and Cambodia and remains a source of simmering hostilities between the two countries. More firmly within Thailand and located in the north east of the country are Phanom Rung and Phimai, two beautiful temple complexes that are still very well preserved and unique examples of Khmer architecture in their own right.
The Khmer influence is also apparent at Sukthothai and Ayutthaya, two of Thailand’s most sacred sites. Sukhothai is the cradle of Thai civilisation and began life as an outpost of the Khmer Empire against which it eventually rebelled. Ayutthaya became the Thai capital much later until it was razed to the ground by the Burmese and the Thai Royal Family decamped to Bangkok.
While Khmer style architecture is noticable at Sukhothai, the exquisite Sukhothai style of craftsmanship, particularly of the Buddha figures that range from tiny carvings to skyscraper high statues is more in evidence. It makes a fantastic contrast to the more ornate Khmer style, and shows off the transition from Angkor’s Khmer architecture to the Thais’ own Sukhothai style perfectly.
I wrote about the contrast between Angkor, Sukhothai and Bagan in Myanmar in an article for Asian Geographic magazine which I’ll be adding to Travelhappy soon. If you want a crash course in Angkor’s history, this documentary on Youtube does a great job.