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JOURNAL OF MY TOUR BY JEEP OF THAILAND, CAMBODJA AND VIETNAM

NOVEMBER, 1956 , page12

It was this last King, Jayavarman VII who was most productive during his 20 year reign. First of all, he repaired and reconstructed the buildings of his predecessors which had been destroyed in 1177 by a large fleet of Cham vessels sailing up the Tonle Sap via the Mekong River. The Chams were a mighty people whose capital was Qui-Nonh on the coast of Vietnam. Next, Jayavarman built the Bayon, a gigantic edifice I will describe later, and the Prah Khan. He distinguished himself from many of his forefathers because he also accomplished much useful work, including construction of roads, bridges, hospitals and extensive irrigation works. After his death, the empire crumbled and even though the army counted several millions, it could not hold out against the Siamese.

Of the various reasons given for the fall of the Khmer, the economic decay appeals to me most. As it still does nowadays, the Tonle Sap, or Great Lake, provided the essentials: first of all copious fish, and, indirectly by means of the annual flooding, the water (and mud) for irrigation of the rice fields.
As long as enough people were involved in fisheries and agriculture, all went well; but under Jayavarman, the burdens became too tough. On the one hand, the villages had to provide more and more labor to complete ever growing numbers of uneconomic tasks. On the other hand, they were charged with providing increasing tributes of rice and fish required to feed the laborers. Moreover, there were continuous wars, so that as the overall results of these problems the irrigation works fell in disrepair while regular agriculture was displaced by slashing and burning. In addition, the downfall was promoted by the change of attitude of the people due to the import of Buddhism, specifically the Hinayana type. The continuing slackening of activity through the centuries following Jayavarman makes it very difficult to understand how the present day Cambodjans could have ever accomplished such vast projects as Angkor.


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