By Heather Van Hull- Booking and Social Media Coordinator, Cambodia
Looking at history, a key challenge every major civilization had to overcome was the problem of ensuring a constant water supply- the Romans built cross-country aqueducts and even early Thai civilizations built canals. The Khmer Empire decided to go above and beyond in their attempt to conquer an environment that was practically desert for half the year during dry season by constructing not one, but two, vast reservoirs now known as East and West Baray.
This past weekend I took advantage of the cool spell, when it was a somewhat frigid 30C instead of the normal 35-40C, and went on a long bike ride to West Baray which is the larger of these two ancient water-holding devices. West Baray, constructed in the 11th Century during the reigns of King Suryavarman I and his successor King Udayadityavarman II (try saying those names 5 times fast), measures an impressive 8 by 2.1 kilometres and can hold over 50 MILLION cubic metres of water. The enormous size of the reservoir and the dikes which help contain the water easily make West Baray an engineering marvel of its time.
On a more interesting note though, as with any great body of water, West Baray is said to have its own monster of the deep. According to Khmer legend, one fateful day a gigantic and very hungry crocodile rose out of the depths of the reservoir to attack and eat the young daughter of a ruler of Angkor. Unfortunately the giant crocodile, probably one of the last remaining members of its’ very endangered species, was captured and killed by local villagers. The princess was, however, rescued from the crocodile’s stomach.
Today, West Baray continues to serve as an important reservoir for the town of Siem Reap as well as a popular weekend destination for local families. When the weather is nice people flock to West Baray to go swimming, visit the West Mebon temple located on an artificial island in the centre of the lake or other ruins nearby, or simply to enjoy lunch at one of the many local restaurants.
Want to check out West Baray for yourself? Contact us for more information on our Siem Reap tours!