30.07.2013 33 °C
I feel another post needs to be dedicated to some more of the tremendous temples at Angkor. Mainly because they are absolutely amazing and have taken my breath away on several occasions with their sheer vastness. But also because just documenting Angkor Wat would not do this place justice, although Angkor Wat is massive and the biggest single temple, it’s only part of a far larger complex with many temples nearly as large. I visited 13 or more temples during my 3 days exploration, here are just a few of the most impressive I came across.
Another tuk tuk right north from my hotel about 12km, past Angkor Wat, brought me to the southern gate of Angkor Thom then through to the Bayon temple at the centre. After being dropped and paying the agreed $3 for the trip I was ready to start exploring. Again it was hot and humid but more overcast today, perhaps it may rain shortly.
Angkor Thom literally meaning “Great City” in Khmer and is undeniably an expression of Khmer genius when their Empire was at its greatest. It’s the last capital of the Khmer Empire and was a fortified city housing priests, officials, the palace military as well as buildings for administering the vast Kingdom. Most structures were built of wood so have long perished but the remaining stone monuments and the massive city walls and gates still remain testifying to the grandeur this place had.
The city was established in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII and covers an area of 9 km². The old capital contains many grand temples and at its centre is Jayavarman's richly decorated state temple of Bayon, famous for its multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers that jut out from the upper terrace.
The Bayon temple lies at the centre of the city and was built late 12th early 13th century and is dedicated to Buddhism. The Japanese government who have been responsible for safeguarding this moment describe it as "the most striking expression of the baroque style" of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style of Angkor Wat. You can see this in the bas-reliefs which depict unusual scenes of mythology, history and the mundane.
For me the large serene stone faces overlooking you from the towers as you walk around this building are the most striking, they must have looked fabulous in their original state.
After the Bayon I decided to head west down one of the 4 roads that radiate straight from the centre to the 4 cardinal points east-west and north-south. I was trying to get to a hidden temple in the jungle but I never found an entrance and instead after about 1.5km of walking came to the west gate of Angkor Thom. The 23m high gates host large stone faces, similar to the Bayon faces. The wall itself runs 3km to each side and is made from laterite buttressed by earth standing 8m with a parapet on top.
As I headed back east to find another way around the heavens opened with a clap of thunder. I was beckoned over to take cover under an umbrella by some local Khmer girls selling coconuts beside the road. It came down like a sheet, like it only can in the tropics and I was thankful for the shelter, I knew it would probably only last half an hour to an hour.
By the way that V-sign she is using (either palm in or out) is an indication of cuteness when being photographed and not the sign we know it to be in the UK! As we huddled under the umbrella I gave the girls a dollar and in return got a cold can of coke and a fresh coconut to drink. The older of the two girls produced a machete and hacked off the top a coconut, shoved a straw inside ready for drinking. It was absolutely lovely and sweet tasting.
The girls were charming and their English surprisingly good and they told me about their life living in the jungle and selling fruits to tourists. They actually live within Angkor Thom, in a house in the jungle nearby. They harvest fresh coconut, mango and bananas from the jungle to sell. They go to school in the morning and sell fruits to the tourists in the afternoon.
As predicted the mid day down poor only lasted 45 minutes and I was back on my way exploring Angkor Thom again. Next was the Baphuon Temple close to the central Bayon and build in the mid-11th century. It is a 3 tiered Hindu temple mountain dedicated to Shiva. It measures 120m east-west by 100m north-south and at its base stands 34m without its tower. It’s thought the tower was lost during installation of a reclining Buddha in the 15th century when it was converted to Buddhism. With the tower it’s estimated to have been 50m tall.
Unfortunately the temple was originally built on land filled with sand and due to its immense weight much of the temple had collapsed, probably before the Buddha was installed in the 15th century. A huge effort by the French starting in 1995, and still going today, has seen most of the temple restored.
On my 3rd day I explored some of the remaining temples outside the city of Angkor. Preah Khan is an impressive temple for its scale, built in the 12th century lying north east of Angkor Thom. It was the centre of a substantial organisation, with almost 100,000 officials and servants.
The temple is a flat design and the best example I’ve seen of the galleried temple design. It has a basic plan of successive rectangular galleries around a Buddhist sanctuary complicated by Hindu satellite temples and numerous other additions. Like Ta Prohm it has been left largely unrestored, with numerous trees growing among the ruins.
Ta Prohm is probably one of the most famous temples here as it resembles something out of an Indiana Jones film. This was the last temple I visited on my 3 day exploration and certainly one of the more unique sites built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and located 1km east of Angkor Thom. The temple was built as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.
Unlike most temples it has been left just about as it was found. There are many trees growing out of the ruins with their roots twisting around the ancient stones, this along with the surrounding jungle gives it a haunting atmosphere. Also another claim to frame being the place they filmed that bad Tomb Raider flick with Angelina Jolie.
As I mentioned before this is just a sample of what, in my opinion, are the most impressive sites. But in all I explored over 13 individual temples. I will post the rest as image sets once I get back to the UK.
Before I even arrived at this magnificent place I was already curious. But now after experiencing a good chuck of this complex, clambering up and down the many stares and walking a considerable amount of miles I’m leaving with some even bigger questions on my mind. How did they do this? Why did they do this? And most of all, how hell did they afford it!