Cambodia – Siem Reap – Angkor World Heritage Site – Part 1

– DECEMBER 03-09, 2015

After our drama at the Cambodia border, we have made it to Siem Reap.  This is a very nice city with extremely nice people.  Big smiles and “hellos” from the people without asking you for anything in return.  It is very refreshing to see kindness for the sake of kindness.  The main attraction here is to go visit the Angkor World Heritage Site, which is close to the city of Siem Reap.  You can purchase a few different options of tickets, but we chose to go for the 3 day pass (good for any three days out of the next 7 days from when you bought the ticket).  This was a tremendous bargain, but the story behind the tickets was interesting in itself.  The following story was told to us by our driver, so consider it may not be completely accurate.  It seems that only 30% of the ticket sales to Angkor World Heritage Park goes to Cambodia…the other 70% goes to Vietnam, as the Cambodian government made a deal for Vietnam to lease the operations of the site.

The Angkor area is spread out over a considerable area which cannot be walked.   You need a scooter rental, or better a tuk tuk rental where the driver waits for you while you walk through each site.

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Angkor World Heritage Site Map

When a traveller arrives in Cambodia (and any other south east Asian country for that matter) you are swarmed by Tuk Tuk drivers begging for your patronage.  If you’re lucky you can find an honest man who will give you a fair price for his services.  Likely you will end up with a driver who asks for prices that seem okay at first, but then after you realise that they are 100% or 200% higher than what the local price actually is.  In our case, we ended up with Avash who is a quality guy and was honest from the start.

His motorcycle was very old and in disrepair.  It stalled out on while driving on every run we made and the tuk tuk (the carriage) was smaller than most with some heavy wear/tear on it.  It was the Charlie Brown version of a tuk tuk, but it was our proud ride because we liked Avash.

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Our Tuk Tuk driver Avash

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Our Tuk Tuk driver Avash

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Chilling out in the Tuk Tuk

Our tour through the Angkor Heritage Site started off at Angkor Wat.

ANGKOR WAT

Angkor Wat (or Capital Temple) is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, with site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 sq meters).  It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century.  It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in present day Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum.  Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu.  As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation.  The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture.  It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple.  It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next.  At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers.  Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; scholars are divided as to the significance of this.  The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

The modern name, Angkor Wat, means “Temple City” or “City of Temples”.

  • Angkor means “city” or “capital city 
  • Wat means “temple grounds“.

Angkor Wat is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire’s state temples and the later plan of concentric galleries.  The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat symbolise the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean.  Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.

Unlike most Khmer temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west rather than the east. This has led many to conclude that Suryavarman intended it to serve as his funerary temple.  Further evidence for this view is provided by the bas-reliefs, which proceed in a counter-clockwise direction—prasavya in Hindu terminology—as this is the reverse of the normal order.  Rituals take place in reverse order during Brahminic funeral services.  There was also a container found which may have been a funerary jar which was recovered from the central tower.  It has been nominated by some as the greatest expenditure of energy on the disposal of a corpse.  However, several other temples of Angkor depart from the typical eastern orientation, and suggest that Angkor Wat’s alignment was due to its dedication to Vishnu, who was associated with the west.

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name.  By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone as the main building material.  Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts.  The binding agent used to join the blocks is yet to be identified, although natural resins or slaked lime has been suggested.

The temple has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design. It attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions.  It is a work of power, unity and style.  Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the ogival, redented towers shaped like lotus buds; half-galleries to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple.  Typical decorative elements are devatas, bas-reliefs, and on pediments extensive garlands and narrative scenes.  The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work.  Other elements of the design have been destroyed by looting and the passage of time, including gilded stucco on the towers, gilding on some figures on the bas-reliefs, and wooden ceiling panels and doors.

Standing here for sunrise was an amazing experience that everyone needs to enjoy at some point in their life.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – VICTORY GATE

The Victory Gate in Cambodia is not in itself one of the Angkor temples, but one of the gates into the ancient town of Angkor Thom.  Of 5 separate gates, this is the 2nd most visited, but many consider it to be the most interesting.  The gate can be reached at the end of the Royal Road that extends from the compound of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom, near to the Terrace of Elephants, past the Prasat Suor Prat towers, and then eastwards toward Chau Say Tevoda.  Victory Gate Highlights include the marvellous carved heads (Gopuras) leading up Victory Way to the gate, and then the similar carved faces which make up the head of the gate, which are representations of both Gods and Demons, facing in the four cardinal directions.  Three headed Eyrawana elephants are located on the inner corner of the gate, having been well restored.  Although not of the same size and stature, the heads are nevertheless worthy of comparison with nearby Bayon in Angkor.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – BAYON TEMPLE

The Bayon Temple is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple at Angkor.  Built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom.  Following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences.

The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.  The temple is known also for two impressive sets of bas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat.

The Bayon was the last state temple to be built at Angkor, and the only Angkorian state temple to be built primarily as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Buddha, though a great number of minor and local deities were also encompassed as representatives of the various districts and cities of the realm.

The temple is oriented towards the east, and so its buildings are set back to the west inside enclosures elongated along the east-west axis.  Because the temple sits at the exact centre of Angkor Thom, roads lead to it directly from the gates at each of the city’s cardinal points.  The temple itself has no wall or moats, these being replaced by those of the city itself: the city-temple arrangement, with an area of 9 square kilometres, is much larger than that of Angkor Wat to the south (2 km²).  Within the temple itself, there are two galleried enclosures (the third and second enclosures) and an upper terrace (the first enclosure).  All of these elements are crowded against each other with little space between. Unlike Angkor Wat, which impresses with the grand scale of its architecture and open spaces, the Bayon gives the impression of being compressed within a frame which is too tight for it.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – BAYON TEMPLE

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – PHIMEANAKAS TEMPLE

Phimeanakas is a Hindu temple in the Khleang style, built at the end of the 10th century, during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968), then completed by Suryavarman I in the shape of a three tier pyramid as a Hindu temple.  On top of the pyramid there was a tower, while on the edge of top platform there are galleries.  Phimeanakas is located inside the walled enclosure of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom north of Baphuon.  The temple was the focal point of Suryavarman I’s capital.  The buildings there from his reign are enclosed by a wall 600 m by 250 m, with five gopuram, and include the Southern and Northern Khleangs.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – ROYAL PALACE

The Palace grounds were divided into several sections. An entry court to the East where the main entrance was, the Royal enclosures with the Royal Palace and an enclosure for the women in the West. Besides the Royal Palace, there was a great number of buildings for priests, the King’s wives and concubines, soldiers, Palace guards and others. All these structures that were built from perishable materials have long vanished.

At the center of the Royal Palace area is the Phimeanakas temple, that was built much earlier, between 950 and 1050. The exact location of the Royal Palace itself is unknown. Remains of buildings have been found South of the Phimeanakas temple, which are believed to be the foundations of the Palace. Directly to the East of these is a large cruciform terrace and four sanctuaries, that were possibly library buildings. In the Western section of the Palace grounds is an enclosed area, that might have been where the King’s concubines lived.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – PREAH PALILAY

Preah Palilay is a temple at Angkor. It is located 400m north-west of Phimeanakas.  The coexistence of Hindu and Buddhist elements and lacking of foundation stele or inscriptions make somewhat difficult dating this temple.  It is generally ascribed to Jayavarman VIII reign, but it seems difficult to explain how the Buddhist imagery could have survived from the iconoclast fury of that epoch.  Perhaps it was built in different periods: the sanctuary in the first half of 12th century, while the gopura in the late 13th or early 14th century.

The temple has a cross-shaped terrace, 8.5 m by 30 m long, with seven-headed nāga balaustrades in good conditions, on the east, guarded by two decapitated dvarapalas and a lion (of an original two).  A 33 m-long causeway connects it to the single sandstone gopura.  Before the laterite enclosure 50 m square there is a shrine with a 3 m tall statue of Buddha, sitting on a lotus, of a later period.

The gopura has three entrances, the east-facing pediment of the northern one shows “the offering of the animals in the forest of Parilyyaka“, where the Buddha retreated after leaving Kosambi.  It seems that the origin of Pralilay could have been the alteration of the name Parilyyaka.  Other pediments show other scenes from the life of the Buddha including Sujata’s offering of rice-milk to the Buddha-to-be, and the subjugation of the elephant Nalagiri.

Some parts of the pediments have been taken away for safe-keeping, others are lying on the ground. The visible parts show Indra on his mount, the elephant Airavata, and the assault of the demoniac army of Mara.
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ANGKOR THOM AREA – PREAH PALILAY

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – TEP PRANAM PAGODA

A long walkway with a Buddha figure at the far end, Tep Pranam was originally a Buddhist shrine in the 9th century under Yasovarman I, the king that moved the capital to Angkor.  It was expanded over the years with 12th century balustrades, 13th century lions and significant post-Angkorian modifications and additions.  The Buddha statue at the western end is made from reused material. It is unclear how long that particular Buddha has been there.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – LEPER KING PALACE

Terrace of the Leper King is located immediately north of the Terrace of the Elephants and it can be accessed from the main road. It was built at end of the 12th century by king Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1220).  The terrace of the Leper King carries on the theme of grandeur that characterises the building during Jayavarman VII’s reign.  It is faced with dramatic bas-reliefs, both on the interior and exterior. During clearing, the EFEO found a second wall with bas-relief similar in composition to those of the outer wall.  Some archaeologists believe that this second wall is evidence of a late rites, two meters wide of laterite faced with sandstone. It collapsed and a second wall of the materials, two meters wide, was built right in front of it without any of the rubble being cleared. Recently, the EFEO has created a false corridor which allows visitor to inspect the relief on the first wall.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – ELEPHANT TERRACE

The Terrace of the Elephants is part of the walled city of Angkor Thom, a ruined temple complex in Cambodia. The terrace was used by Angkor’s king Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. It was attached to the palace of Phimeanakas, of which only a few ruins remain.  Most of the original structure was made of organic material and has long since disappeared.  Most of what remains are the foundation platforms of the complex. The terrace is named for the carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

The 350m-long Terrace of Elephants was used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall.  It has five outworks extending towards the Central Square-three in the centre and one at each end.  The middle section of the retaining wall is decorated with life size garuda and lions; towards either end are the two parts of the famous parade of elephants complete with their Khmer mahouts.

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – ELEPHANT TERRACE

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ANGKOR THOM AREA – ELEPHANT TERRACE

This is only 1 of 3 posts (and thus 3 days within this site).  It is definitely worth it!

P.S. – Dec 3rd, Happy Birthday Ron

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.