Angkor Wat temples
Posted Date: 7/5/20139:26 AM
Oct 31, 2006
We arrived in Siem Reap on Saturday at about 2-3pm. I traveled by boat, but the girls went by bus to save a bit of money. Time wise it was pretty much the same, but the views from the boat were amazing. We were all up at about 6am, for departure of Phnom Penhat 6.30am! What is WITH all these early mornings?!
We had been chatting with the Australian girl Alexia about Siem Reap, as she had been the week before (a lot of travelers do the same trip as us, but backwards!!!! This is very odd, as doing it anti-clockwise seems very backwards to me…..). She advised a place called Popular guest house, which is by the markets and the bars. Siem Reap is not a çity in the conventional sense. It is made up of lots of little areas, with nothing in-between. Where we are is the backpacker area, but has the best section of restaurants and bars. It is not a hectic, bustling place, and tourists only come to see the temples, there is nothing else.
On Saturday, after the nice boat trip I went to watch the sunset at Angkor Wat temple. At first I was like, oh, it’s just another temple. But as you walk around and realize how old it is, and how well made and preserved – it really is quite spectacular. In order to see the sunset, you have to climb up HIGH! The steps up to the top of the towers are very steep and very, very narrow. Being pretty agile myself, they went a problem: shoes off and up like a monkey in no time. They were steeper than my stairs in West Didsbury (for those of you who know) !!! Unfortunately, the sunsets here are NOT magnificent. The sun goes bright red for a few minutes, then just disappears. THE END. Nowhere near the spectacular sunsets of the Philippines! But just being there and looking around you is enough.
King Jayavaraman II founded the Angkor kingdom (802-835) then called Hariharalaya, but it was further out of where it now stands. Jayavaraman III (835-877) continued his father’s work and built a number of shrines. Indravaraman (877-889) apparently overthrew Jayavaraman violently and then his son Yasovaraman (899-900) laid the foundations of the Angkor compound, by moving Hirharalaya to the now standing Angkor site. He built Angkor Wat temple for himself. He selected Bakheng (where we watched sunset on second day) as the place for his temple-mountain, a 5 storey pyramid. It was considered more complex than anything else built beforehand.
For 5 centuries the Angkor compound held power over a large area. At it’s height, it spread across half of SE Asia, from Burma to Indochina and from Yunnan to Malay. Which according to the books is very large, unfortunately, I don’t really know where they all are, so I can’t convince you. When the Thai’s invaded and took over in 1431, the Angkor city/complex was abandoned and the jungle/forest invaded. It wasn’t rediscovered until 1860, by Henri Mouhot (some Frog) who claimed it was ‘grander than anything of Greece or Rome”. Many of the temples are partially destroyed because of the jungle roots growing among all the stones and breaking them, and also by neglect. Angkor Wat temple is the best preserved as it has constantly had monks living in it
Angkor Wat is just one temple in the Angkor ‘compound’. The site holds about 400 different temples, walls, ponds etc originating from 9-15th century, although Angkor Wat temple is held as the most important. It is the largest religious monument ever built and is quite spectacular, people compare it to the Taj Mahal. It alone covers 81 hectors (whatever they are in real measurements) and has 5 distinctive towers. It was dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu and apparently took 30 years to complete! It seems that around the time this was built (12th century) there was a strong Indian influence and the books say that it was due to trade and NOT India trying to control Cambodia: there was no formal request for the county to follow Hinduism and no major immigration of Indians at this time. In order to meet the Romans’ demand for ‘exotic oriental’ merchandise, the Indians ventured to SE Asia. Once there, they had to stay for months on end, until the winds changes and could take them back home, it seems that during this time their culture and religion spread due to it’s ‘sophistication’. So before the 12th century (when Angkor/ Buddhism took over) architecture and art was distinctly Hindu. You can see the changes in the carvings on the walls, for example the pictures of Buddha. In pre-Buddhism, Hindu temples, the knees of the sitting Buddha are up in the air and the actual Buddist temples have the knees flat on the floor. Some temples even have both, where the origins are Hindu, but in order to convert the temple to Buddhism, they have re-carved the legs to be flat on the floor. It was interesting at the time anyway……
After the sunset, Lizzi, Gill, Pete and I went for some food. We found a little Italian, with the smallest menu in the world, but it had tomato and mozzarella salad with balsamic so I didn’t care! To follow, I had the world’s worst margarita pizza, but it didn’t matter, because of the salad. We didn’t stay out late and headed back for an early night as we were to be up early for the temples the following day.
The girls had already organized a tuctuc the previous day to take us all around the temples. The entire Angkor site is about the size of New York’s Manhattan, about a 25km radius. You cannot walk around it, you have to have transport. You can even have a horse and cart.
We did Angkor Wat temple first (where I had watched the sunset) and then headed on to Angkor Thom. This is considered a city (as it was for the Khmer empire in 12th century) and is entirely walled and surrounded by a moat. There are 5 huge entrance gates and historically, you could only use certain ones depending on your situation: for example there is the victory gate (for when you have won a battle) and the death gate (for when you have lost).
Angkor Thom holds about 10 other temples, but as we didn’t have much time, we only saw one called ‘Bayon’ which is the main one, and was Jayavaraman VII’s own temple. It has over 2000 faces carved into the walls and the faces have now become synonomous with the ‘Angkor temples’. It has a 45m high tower, with 4 huge faces carved on each side (each side of the compass, protection in all direction, they are very in to symbology). There are loads of historical scenes carved on to the internal walls of the temple, of Gods and legends and also bas-reliefs depicting daily life of the time. Also within the gates of Angkor Thom, is the Royal palace, the famous terrace of elephants (just a wall with tons of elephants engraved on to it) and the terrace of the lepar king, amoung others.
We left Angkor Thom and headed off to Takeo, which apparantly dates back to the year 1,000 and was left uncompleted. It is not an amazing temple, no great carvings or anything, but it is the style of a pyramid and had 4 sets of stairs up each side. You can see all the jungle from the top.
After this, we headed to Ta Prohm. This is where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider and the film ‘Two brothers’ with 2 tigers (disney) was filmed. The temple is fab. It is the only temple to be left with the jungle running through it. It was built by Jayavaraman VII to house the body of his mother. It also housed diamonds and gold thousands of pearls, these were all looted by the Khmer Rouge during the 70′s. It apparently functioned as a monestry and housed 18 abbots and 2,740 monks! It is pretty large, but nowhere near the size of Angkor Wat or Angkor Thom. The huge tree roots run through the sandstone and in doorways, across floors. You couldn’t even design a set that magical. It is prefect. I got a guide, just a young lad who was selling his paintings outside. He had great English and told me all about the history and pointed out tree roots that looked like other things: a man falling from a tree, an elephant, a cobra and a crocodile! He was only about 15 but was very informative. The girls wandered off, so I had my own private tour.
MAP WEBSITE: http://www.cambodia-photos.com/angkormap.php – this is the easiest map I have found online to show you where all the temples are, in relation to each other.
We headed back towards Angkor Wat (which is by the entrance to the compound) and went to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset. Which again, wasn’t particularly impressive itself, but it’s amazing to sit amongst all that history, hundreds of years old and just take it all in. Lizzi chatted to a lady from South Africa, who was sitting next to us, she worked in Hong Kong and was just coming to Angkor for the weekend-as you do. How nice.
After the long day of culture, we headed back and went out for some food and drinks with the boys. We went to a Mexican. As usual, 3 of us got our food served and the other 3 waited for 1/2 an hour for the rest. The others had all finished by the time ours arrived! I nearly exploded. When mine arrived, it was crap, as usual. So I had a liquid dinner to make up for it. We went to a bar and stayed out til about 4/5am having a little dance and drinking whiskey buckets.
The girls didn’t want to do the temples today, but I fancied a bit more, preferably with a guide. So I joined the boys and we did all the outer temples (the ones a bit further away) and we hired a guide. We were meant to be up at 8am, but as we’d been out late we stayed in bed til about 10.30am and headed off straight away.
Source: Danilovescats’ Blog – Travelpod