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Google Trains Its Lenses On Cambodia's Ancient Temples

A Cambodian technician carries a backpack-mounted "Trekker" device housing 15 cameras as he demonstrates the technique used to digitally map the Angkor complex in Cambodia. (AFP/Getty Images)

Google has created a virtual trek through Cambodia's jungle temples that aims to transport cyber-travelers to a wonder of the ancient world.

In July 2013, Google began photographing the ancient Angkor World Heritage Site, sending in Street Cars, tripods and "Trekkers" — backpack-mounted devices with camera lenses pointed in different directions that continuously shoot pictures. Then they combined 90,000 panoramic images to create virtual Street View tours through the temples — without any need for bug spray, sun hats or gear to beat the tropical heat.

Angkor Wat joins the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and dozens of other monuments given the Street View treatment.

The Angkor experience is extremely immersive — arrows on the map beckon in multiple directions, through stone doorways and past trees whose roots are sunk into the stones. High-resolution images show moss growing on toppled pillars, intricately carved bas-reliefs, and the iconic and beatific smiles of Buddha statues.

The result, Cambodian tourism authorities reckon, is sure to entice virtual visitors to want to see the real thing: the light filtering through the Cambodian jungle canopy, the integration of the temple with the jungle foliage and the texture of the carved sandstone. Angkor is the crowning glory of the art and architecture of the ancient Khmer Empire, built beginning in the 12th century A.D. It is also the focus of Khmer pride, represented on the Cambodian national flag.

Through two decades of the Cambodian civil war, access to and preservation of the temples was impossible. Now the crush of tourists during peak season can detract from the experience.

The Phnom Penh Post newspaper has this video about the making of the virtual trek:

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