Siem Reap Day 4 (22 Oct 10) – From the Jungle to the Oldest: Bang Malea to Roluos Group Temples

Bang Melea – The Jungle Temple 

My day started with a long drive towards my first destination and the 2nd highlight of the trip. A trip to Bang Melea is considered a must for the locals other then Ang Kor Wat. Bang Melea is located some 70km from Siem Reap. When we first reach the grounds, there are lotus ponds on either side of the bridge leading into the temple grounds. As we passed the bridge, a lion which was originally facing outwards (and now facing the temple) caught my eye. My guide has explained that was not the original facing of the lions. All the lions in the temple grounds always face away from the temple. Beyond the lion was where the original front gate was located, despite its non-existence, the remains of the gate can still be seen on the sides. As we walked further in, what greeted me was a pile of ruins! My guide explained that the ruins that was before us was the original entrance into the temple. He further explained that the temple was in such a state was mainly attributed to the vegetation around. It was not destroyed by mankind, but by mother earth herself! The temple was entirely built with sandstone which source was a nearby sandstone quarry, however who built it still remains a mystery. When the temple was exactly built was unknown, there seemed to be no records for this temple. What could be tell of this temple is the period it was built. As if the current state of the temple is not mysterious enough, the unknown origins add a certain mysticism to this temple.

We started the temple visit by walking the parameters of the temple. I could see how majestic the temple was in its hay days. This temple is often called Jungle temple by people certainly deserve this name. If people had not discovered this temple, the extend of natural destruction would be more severe. We walked round the back of the temple and started to proceed into the temple grounds. What I see around this temple is numerous ruins caused by the growth of trees. As we walked on the wooden walkways within the temple site, the extend of destruction appears much greater then it seem from outside. Once inside the grounds, my guide pointed out the building in the centre with a tree on top was the middle of the temple. We walked through this dark tunnel to the other side of the wooden walkway. Soon a huge tree with its root extended onto the ground from the roof of a corridor became visible to our sight (the wall is about 10m high from the ground).

We walked around and then proceeded as the wooden walkway would led us, and we were led to the top of one of the walls (yes this part is about 10 m from the ground), from this side I could see the extend of the damage around this part of the temple. Collapsing corridors, walkways, doors are a common sight in this temple. Walking through this temple involves clambering through small spaces and along roof tops. You gotta come here and experience it yourself to understand the state of ruin, the exotics and the extend of rage mother nature cast upon this mysterious temple. Within the temple grounds, I saw local children running around, climbing from wall to wall as if this is their playground. I also saw some of these kids showing a couple of Asian tourists around the temple site, they really know where to go and what to see here.

On our way to Bang Melea
Walking towards Bang Melea
At the entrance of Bang Melea
At the entrance of Bang Melea
This is the original entrance to Bang Melea, however it is in such a ruins that restoration is not possible
Original entrance to Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Forces of nature has taken over Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
This temple is destroyed by forces of nature
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Some carvings are still apparent around the temple ruins
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Original carvings on the temple complex
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
This root is approximately 10m tall
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Trees growing on top of the temple complex is a common sight here
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Some of the carvings on Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Entrance to the interior of the temple
Some of the original carvings
Carvings on Bang Melea
Carvings on Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Ruins of Bang Melea
Carvings on Bang Melea

Leaving Bang Melea (the long drive is really worth it!), we headed to this restaurant for lunch. The uniqueness of this restaurant was the place it is built on, the dinning area of the restaurant is built on part of the river. Whenever someone walks around in the dinning area, the whole area will sway slightly. What an experience! I ordered myself the famous local dish Amok fish in young coconut, which is fish steamed with local spices to produce a curry like state. Not too bad.

Bicycle is a common transport in Siem Reap
Driving towards the restaurant for lunch
A Local town in Siem Reap
This is where I had my lunch
Khmer food for lunch
Khmer food for lunch

Lolei

Our next destination was the Roluos Group. This is a group of 3 temples named as it was near to the Roluos village and was part of the city of Hariharalaya, the first Khmer capital. The structures of these temples was later used as a template by later kings in their construction of the temples. This is where one would find the oldest temple in the Khmer history. The first of these 3 temples that we visited was Lolei. This late 9th century temple was originally built on an island in the middle of a baray. The then baray had dried up in present day. This small temple has 4 buildings, which the king had built a tower each for his grandfather, grandmother, father, and mother. The front two towers are for the males while the two towers at the back are for the females.  Despite its age, the carving of the Hindu god Indra riding on his 3 headed elephant mount can still be see on the lintels. The temple now shares a compound with a modern monastery, having a large building for prayers and living quarters for the monks. At this time of my visit, the young monks are playing soccer with some local kids.

Restoration works being done to Lolei
Restoration works being done to Lolei
Lolei up close
Lolei
Lolei
Carvings on Lolei

Oldest Khmer Temple – Preah Ko

The next temple that we visited was not far from Lolei, and is THE oldest temple in Khmer history. Built in 879, this temple of sacred bulls has 6 main towers. However the locals considered this temple to have only 5 towers as 2 of them were constructed very close to each other, often regarded as 1 by the locals. Preah Ko is got its name due to the presence of 3 bulls facing the first 3 towers in the temple. This temple is dedicated to Shiva and the bulls represent the mount of Shiva. Throughout the temple, I can see carvings of the immortal demon on the walls. The carvings of Shiva and Garuda was also visible on some of the lintels. However it seemed that this part of this temple as been restored using cement, especially the lintel that depicts a demon which looks like swallowing an elephant, with some dancers beneath it. This temple must have been grand at the time it was built, but compared to the others that I have visited so far, this is considered an average sized temple (most of the sizes of the temples were dwarfed by the sheer size of Ang Kor Wat).

Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Carvings on Preah Ko
Carvings on Preah Ko
Carvings on Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
There are some restoration works being done on Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
One of the bull statues in Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko
Ruins of Preah Ko

Bakong

The last temple for this trip was Bakong. This temple was built 2 years later then Preah Ko and this temple was magnificent given its days. As we walked into the temple, 2 statues of Nagas can be seen greeting visitors. Surrounding this temple is a moat, very similar to those I have seen in Ang Kor Wat. As we pass the moat, a 5-tiered pyramid temple caught our sight. This temple was built by the king before he passed his throne to his son. As my guide explained, in ancient days, kings ruled their country from the mountains, signifying that they are above the rest. As this king was about to retire, he wanted to me “down to earth”, hence he built this temple. Bakong has a main tower high in the centre with 8 other smaller towers built around it on the ground level. Throughout the 5 levels of the pyramid temple, I can see 4 elephant statues on each level. Thought there are some damage to the lintel on some of the ground level towers, I can still see the carvings on one of these towers showing a demon head above some nagas. As I scaled the pyramid, on the top most level is the main temple building. The age of the building is seen here as the carvings on the lintel was not very visible.

On the back side of the temple, I can see the carving on the lintel depicting apsaras dancing, however the carving on top of these apsaras is not visible. Walking around to the front of this tower, the carvings on the lintel is less visible. The carving on the top seem to depict a god which I thought could be Shiva (as this temple was dedicated to Shiva). What was carved beneath it has given way to elements throughout the time. Nothing much can be made out of these carvings. I spent a few moments enjoying the scenario at the top most level of this temple and met a couple from Shanghai. We had a short chat about our trip in Cambodia so far. As I was resting I saw 2 local kids who wanted me to take pictures of them. They are cheerful and carefree, using the temple as their playground. Soon I decided it is time for me to head back to town and do some shopping.

Entrance of Bakong
The Bakong temple
Ruins of Bakong
Ruins of Bakong
Ruins of Bakong
Ruins of Bakong
Ruins of Bakong
Ruins of Bakong
At the top of Bakong
View from the top of Bakong
View from the top of Bakong
These lovely kids wanted me to take a picture of them
Ruins of Bakong

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