Seap Reap Day 2 (20 Oct 10) – Ang Kor Wat: Jewel Of Cambodia

The Magnificent Ang Kor Wat

Today is marks the first of my 3 day visit to the Ang Kor archeology sites. My first stop after purchasing my personalised 3-day pass into the Ang Kor archeology park, is the infamous Ang Kor Wat. This site doesn’t look as magnificent as one would imagine from the outside especially from the causeway leading into the monument. As explained by my guide, the Ang Kor Wat is built around 1133AD and till date it is the biggest religious monument built by mankind. The temple is built using 3 different type of materials, sandstone, brick and laterite. All the materials used to built this monument is transported down the Siem Reap river via rafts. The 65m tall temple as 3 layers and 5 main pillars at the centre. Each of these pillars represent the peaks surrounding Mt Meru, a holy mountain where the gods is believed to reside. The temple was originally built to honor Vishnu, however throughout the years the temple was “taken over” by the Buddhist believers and was transformed to honor Buddhism. Hence the Vishnu idol was shifted from the centre pagoda in the temple to the front most left gate, as one would enter into the temple. As my guide has explained, the 3 gates or pagodas that greeted millions of visitors who flocked to this monument, represented 3 gods: Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma, each representing protector, destroyer and creator. As I walked into the temple site from the gate, what impresses me is the amount of carvings representing the religious beliefs of people of that time. The walls are full of carvings, Khmer scripts detailing their religious aspects. My guide explained there are numerous Apsaras or female dancers carved throughout the temple walls, the last calculation done number them to be 1850! The statue of Vishnu is still seen at the entrance greeting visitors into the temples.

Ang Kor Wat at the Entrance
Couple of stone lion guardians
Causeway leading into Ang Kor Wat
Ang Kor Wat from the causeway
View of Ang Kor Wat from the Causeway
View of Ang Kor Wat from the Causeway
View of Ang Kor Wat from the Causeway
Walking into Ang Kor Wat

As we walked further in, there are 2 buildings that came into our sight. My guide explained that these are 2 of the numerous libraries within the temple. As we were walking into the temple, we side-tracked to this area which is usually missed out by visitors. There is a functional temple at the side of Ang Kor Wat, I could see monks, children and some buildings namely the dinning hall, the prayer hall and the living quarters for the residents.  As we walk towards the main Ang Kor Wat, I saw some pagoda looking structures. My guide explained that these are the tombs of the monks who once resided in the temple grounds. Not long after we reached the first level of Ang Kor Wat temple itself. Basically the temple has 3 levels. What greeted me at this level was the numerous carvings in the walls. These are not just carvings of apsaras, these detailed the mythological encounters of Vishnu. There is this stretch of panel representing the life of Vishnu in one of his reincarnations as Ramayana. There is also carvings telling tales of The battle of Lanka, and another telling about Gods battling demons. As my guide was explaining the mythological tales, it all made sense when I saw the carvings. The amount of work went into the building the temple and decorating it with carvings is the other factor that made this ancient site magnificent. As we were walking through the halls of carvings, what crossed our sight next was 4 pools. I was told that the significance of these 4 pools is for the apsaras, whom would perform for the kings, to cleanse themselves from their impurities before entering further into the temples.

Entering Ang Kor Wat
5 headed nagas are a common feature in Ang Kor Temples
Main Entrance into Ang Kor Wat
A 5 headed naga in front of Ang Kor Wat
Corridor on the ground floor of Ang Kor Wat
Ang Kor Wat was originally dedicated to this God
Dedicate carvings that survived for centuries
Close up of the god that Ang Kor Wat was originally meant for
Carvings of Apsaras is common in this temple
Ang Kor Wat Building up close
Carving of Apsara
Carvings on the walls of Ang Kor Wat
It seemed that there are more buildings around this temple
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
Close up of the Ang Kor architecture
One of the libraries in Ang Kor Wat compound
One of the libraries in Ang Kor Wat compound
Ang Kor Wat
Ang Kor Wat
A functional temple inside Ang Kor Wat grounds
Buried here are the remains of monks who served in the temple
Temple inside Ang Kor Wat compound
View of Ang Kor Wat from the functional temple
Ang Kor Wat up close, there are some restoration work being done
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
Carvings that survived centuries
One of the 4 water reservoirs in Ang Kor Wat
One of the 4 water reservoirs in Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Magnificent building that stood for centuries

At the second level of the temple, more carvings of apsaras were seen on the walls. However, there was this particular side of the temple where the carvings were incomplete as I could see the outlines of what seem to be the face with no facial features on them. The second level is where one would find a court yard for other people of that time to stay put, awaiting the king and high priests to complete their prayer. The steps leading to the third level was steep! As I climbed the metallic stairs made for tourists, I could see the original stairs beneath it. Those steps were smaller and steeper. I can’t help but wonder how these people climbed up in those days. As if climbing up did not pose enough problems, the descend on those tiny looking stairs really made me think for awhile, how the hell did they do it back then? Well the third level is considered the highest point where visitors can visit (not the highest point in the temple). On this level one can see the surroundings and the whole of the temple grounds from the 4 lookout towers, which represented the mountain ranges surrounding Mt Meru. The sight is refreshing and the breeze gently caressing your face seem to take all the heat that the merciless sun shone upon away. I spent some time enjoying the breeze and looking at the restoration at the front of the temple. Certain parts of the temple is out of bounds due to restoration works. After walking down from the third level, my guide brought me to the northern side of the temple to take some picture with no restoration constructions. Man he is good! As we were walking back towards the car getting ready to hit our next destination, what greeted me was a bunch of ladies…. good one might think, but these are the ladies trying to tout their products to visitors. I wanted to get a really good book talking about the temples in Siem Reap, and gotten one for mere USD5 (she initially quoted me USD10, but I told her the boy outside is selling for 5 and she brought down the price to USD5).

Interior of Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
One of the god statues that survived the test of time
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
View of the top of Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
View from the top of Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
View from the top of Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
This is the flight of stairs one would have to take to ascent to the top of the temple
The original steps
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Inside Ang Kor Wat
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
Ang Kor Wat from a different angle
Last glance of Ang Kor Wat

I was driven to the place where I would have my lunch. This Khmer restaurant is just next to what was a reservoir in the olden days. Again along the shore not only did I find kids fishing along the reservoir, I also find kids touting to passing tourists to buy their stuff… hhmm… is that the way of life here? After the lunch we headed for Ta Prohm.

Khmer food for lunch
Reservoir beside the restaurant
Reservoir beside the restaurant

The Temple in Ruins – Ta Prohm

This temple is perhaps made famous in the Tomb Raider movie, where one would see the forces of nature. This temple is one of the smallest temple around, it din take us long before we complete a walk around the temple. My first impression of Ta Prohm is it is a very ruined temple, very fitting of the title a temple lost in time. The state of ruins of this temple is as if the locals or even tourists has forgotten this temple and trees were allowed to grow their roots into the temple. Some of the temple collapsed as the roots tore into the structure of the temple. However at the entrance one can see restoration works were being done to the entrance gate as well as the inner gate. How I wish they would leave the temple to the works of the forces of nature, it kinda looked sexier that way. The carvings in the temple was not as grand as that in Ang Kor Wat, perhaps due to the size of the temple as well as the purpose of the temple. I was told that this temple was built as a Buddhist temple, as such the carvings are rather limited to apsaras and life then the story of Vishnu. As we were passing by one of the undestroyed part of the temple, my guide pointed out what I thought to be unusual carving. There was actually a carving of a dinosaur among others! I am not too sure if this dinosaur was carved in as a prank at the time it was built. As we walked around the temple, I saw this huge tree on top of one of the temple structures. My guide told me that it is actually 2 trees, that over the time grew to merged into 1. Around the temple, it is not tough to see tree roots growing over the temple structure. At one of the part of the temple, the tree laterally destroyed the temple as it was evident that part of the corridor gave way to the forces of nature.

Restoration works being done on Ta Prohm
The route towards Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Forces of nature in Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Trees growing all over Ta Prohm is a common site here
Ta Prohm
Ruins of Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Inside Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm standing against the forces of nature
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Carvings on Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Forces of nature in Ta Prohm
Forces of nature onTa Prohm
Forces of nature onTa Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Carvings in Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Apsara carvings in Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm
Forces of nature on Ta Prohm

The City of AngKor Thom

Leaving Ta Prohm, our next destination is AngKor Thom. My guide explained this is actually not a temple but a city. It was known as the largest Khmer cities until 17th century and was the capital of Cambodia once upon a time. As we were driving through the gates, we were greeted by 2 rolls of 54 statue each side. On the left side depicted a roll of gods and on the right side depicted a roll of demons, and according to the Khmer mythology, this scene is where the gods and demons worked together to churn out a sea of milk, with Vishnu reincarnated as a turtle. As we were approaching AngKor Thom, a statue head of 4 faces can be seen on the gate entrance. according to my guide, the 4 faces symbolises the 4 human emotions. Beyond the gate was a row of buildings, my guide had told me originally there were 12 of those buildings, worshiping the 12 gods. I did not do a count of how many were left, but I am certain that less then 12 remain standing. We climbed up what was the royal parade viewing platform, with the highest ranking officer stationing near to the king, who would sit on the centre and the tallest platform. The lowest ranking officer however got the first row of seats, doesn’t seem too bad at all. As we walked closer to the viewing platform, it was apparent that there are engravings of Garudas (half human, half bird creature), and lions at the base of the platform. 3 headed elephant and elephant carvings were also visible throughout the view platform, this is what the locals called the elephant terrace. This 300m terrace runs from the viewing platform to what the locals called the Leper King’s Terrace. More of that later. Beyond the platform is where the Phimeanakas used to be. The Phimeanakas is a temple within the royal palace, but the lack of surviving carvings means it isn’t worth climbing, plus the fact that I was rather tired so I decided to be lazy and not scale this pyramid.

Beyond the Phimeanakas is where the royal palace used to be, as I did not go beyond the Phimeanakas, I am not too sure if there are remains of the royal palace still exists, but the 2 pools that was within the palace can still be seen. My guide mentioned that those were the swimming pools of the time then. As we walked past the pools, we came to the Leper King’s Terrace. I was told that the Leper King’s Terrace got its name due to the corrosion on the Statue of Lord Yama (who was the keeper of the underworld). The corrosion on the statue created several white spots on it which looked like someone with Leprosy, hence the name Leper King’s Terrace. On the base of the Leper King’s Terrace, there were significant amount of demon carvings on it and beneath these demons were nagas and marine life. It seemed to depict some kind of ranking system in the underworld. After leaving the royal grounds, we headed for The Bayon, another temple within Angkor Thom.

A temple we spotted on our way to AngKor Thom
A temple we spotted on our way to AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
Carvings on AngKor Thom
Carvings on AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
Carvings on AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
Carvings that stood the test of time
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
AngKor Thom
Carvings of the Apsaras that survived time
More ancient carvings
More ancient carvings
More ancient carvings
Ancient AngKor Thom

Bayon – The Temple of Buddha Faces

The Bayon served as the state temple at that time. It was recorded to having 49 Towers in the Bayon, however only 37 remained standing to this date. All the towers has the 4 faces of Buddha, in total there were 196 faces of Buddha in the Bayon in its glory days. The Bayon was constructed to consist of 3 levels. The first level is where one would find the carvings of daily lives of people at that time. There were war scenes, daily market scenes, as well as apsaras dancing scenes. On the second level is where the mythology of churning of the sea of milk can be seen, while on the third level is where one would find the faces of Buddha. People usually to this temple as they can see the faces of Buddha at a close distance, as these faces usually appear on the top of the gates or the temples. The faces of the Buddha at such a close proximity indeed looked better then a far distance. At this distance, I can see the age of these towers, and this is the only place in Cambodia where one can get so close to so many Buddha faces. As this is the last stop of the day, we head back to town for a well deserved rest. I grabbed dinner in a restaurant in town called the Red Piano, and they were having Asian buffet. The food was so-so but i enjoyed the view from my table more as the streets of Siem Reap can be seen there. Nice place to chill out though. After dinner I got a foot massage for my tired out legs and prepare them better for a long journey tomorrow.

Faces of The Bayon
Faces of The Bayon
Faces of The Bayon
The Bayon
Faces of The Bayon
Faces of The Bayon
Faces of The Bayon up close
Faces of The Bayon up close
The Bayon
Pub Street at night
Dinner Time

 

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