Cambodia 2008
October 23, 2008: Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and many other temple complexes
After a good night sleep, I had breakfast in the dining room of the hotel. My guide arrived soon and
around 8 am we started our tour of Angkor. At first we drove to Angkor Thom. We entered through the
South Gate.
Angkor Thom was the religious and administrative centre of the Kmer Empire and was established in the
12th century. An estimated 1 million people lived within its walls and it was grander than any European
city at that time. Angkor Thom has lots of highlights: First we went to the Bayon.
The Bayon was a Buddhist temple
built in the 13th century by King
Jayavarman VII. He was the last
major king of the Khmer Empire and
is accredited for building more
monuments, roads, bridges and
houses than all other kings together.
Over 200 large faces carved on the
54 towers gives the Bayon a majestic
character. It is generally accepted
that the four faces on each tower are
images of King Jayavarman VII and
signify his omnipresence. The
Bayon is after Angkor Wat the most
visited site at Angkor.
After visiting the Bayon we walked north to the Baphuon. The Baphuon symbolizes Mount Meru but
much of the temple has either collapsed or been dismantled. Around it are scores of stones in neat piles
and categorized as it is currently being restored, a project to last quite a few years. A little further north of
the Baphuon is Phimeanakas, the Aerial Palace where the Kings worshipped. It is located inside the wall
of the Royal Palace and was built in the 11th century. Most structures of the Royal Palace, however, were
built out of wood and are no longer visible. The only part remaining are two paved ponds of which the
smaller, deeper pond was the women's bath and the larger one the men's bath.
We then walked through the jungle to the Terrace of the Leper King.
This terrace has beautiful bas-reliefs and on its top is a statue of the
Leper King. As to the name, there is uncertainity about its origins.
Some people believe that King Jayavarman VII was a leper and
hence the name.
From the Terrace of the Leper King we walked over to the
northern part of the Terrace of the Elephants. The Terrace of the
Elephants itself stretches for 300 meters from the Terrace of the
Leper King all the way to the Baphuon. Stretching along the wall
of the Terrace of Elephants are more beautiful bas-reliefs
including elephants and their riders and, at the northern platform,
horses with five heads. My guide told me that the King would be
standing on the middle platform and have his army parade on the
huge grounds in front of the Terrace. What a grand view that
must have been!!
Opposite of the Terrace of the Elephants are the 12 Prasats Suor
Prat (Towers of the Cord Dancers). According to my guide these
towers were used as the anchoring places for ropes which streched
from one tower to the next and where acrobates performed at
festivals.
We were done at Angkor Thom. Our next stop were 2 smaller complexes, Thommanom and Chau Say
Thevoda right outside the East Gate of Angkor Thom.
Then we drove to Ta Keo, the
Tower of Crystal. Ta Keo is
one of the larger temple
mountains at Angkor. It rises
to a height of 22 meters and it
is a steep climb up, too steep
for my lazy guide who send
me up by myself (it was really
hot and humid!). Ta Keo is
another replica of Mount Meru
(Mount Meru is a sacred
mountain in Hindu and
Buddhist cosmology and
considered to be the center of
all physical and spiritual
universes).
Ta Prohm was our next destination. It was made famous by the movie "Tombraider" with Angelina Jolie.
Ta Prohm is virtually untouched by archeologists except for the clearing of paths and structural
strengthening to avoid further deterioration. Because of its natural state, it is possible to experience this
temple complex in a state the early explorers must have found it. It is impressive to see the size of trees
growing on the ancient structures of Ta Prohm. Unfortunately, it started to pour rain. My guide and I were
sitting in a dry spot for quite a while until our driver "rescued" us by bringing umbrellas.
After we left Ta Prohm, the weather cleared up and I wanted to
continue the temple tour, but the driver and guide were hungry
and they dropped me off at a tourist restaurant although I wanted
to use the good weather to continue to sightsee. I wasn't too
happy about that and sure enough, we wasted good weather for a
lunch break.
After lunch we visited the nearly identical temple complexes of Pre Rup and East Mebon and then it
started raining again.
Ta Som and Neak Pean we visited in the rain and I hardly remember anything about these two complexes
other than that Neak Pean had a huge pond.
Our final temple complex was Preah Khan, the Sacred Sword. The rain had almost stopped by now. Preah
Khan was built as a monastery and centre for learning by King Jayavarman VII. The outer enclosure wall
of Preah Khan has a total of 72 sandstone sculptures of giant Garudas, the guardians and protectors of
Preah Khan. Some of Preah Khan has the same feeling as Ta Prohm with trees invading and towering
over the structures. In the middle of the temple is the Hall of Dancers. This structure has its name from the
many carvings on the walls of Apsaras, or celestial dancers. The architectural structure is very
symmetrical.
Once we left Preah Khan, it started to rain again and would not stop until late that night. On our way back
we made a quick stop at the Bayon at Angkor Thom and I took a couple of pictures with the Bayon
reflecting in the pond. We then drove back to the hotel where I took a long shower. As I was tired and it
was raining cats and dogs all afternoon and evening, I stayed at the hotel for dinner and chatted some
more with my bartender friend.
South Gate Angkor Thom
Bayon
Who looks more like a former Khmer God...my guide or I???
Bayon
Phimeanakas "Aerial Palace"
Statue of the Leper King
Terrace of the Elephants
Five Headed Horse
Thommanom (left) and Suor Prat (above)
Ta Keo
Pre Rup
East Mebon
Ta Som (left) and Neak Pean (above)