Angkor Wat – 1/3/2013

Not far from Siem Reap lies the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park.  The site has been home to various capitals between the 9th to 15th centuries where the monarchs ruled lands spreading from Myanmar to Vietnam. Angkor was constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, during the reign of Suryavarman II.  By the end of the 12th century the temple had been transformed to a Buddhist temple.  Each new ruler endeavored to create Temples that were larger and more beautiful than their predecessors, culminating in the construction of Angkor Wat, considered to be one of the largest religious monuments in the world. 

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Angkor Wat at sunset

We had an early morning start at 5 am to reach the temple in time for sunrise, along with all the other tourists.  Unfortunately the sky was very hazy so we didn’t get any great photos, but it was still amazing.  

Avenue

Following the sunrise we made our way back along the 475 meter long avenue towards the main entrance. The avenue connects the temple with the main entrance and has elaborately decorated balustrades. 

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We arrived at the Angkor balloon, a tethered balloon that rises 135 meters for views over Angkor Wat, unless its hazy.  The kids enjoyed the trip up, except Tristan who is not fond of heights.

Moat

Angkor Wat is surrounded by a 190 meter wide moat.  The moat and temple are enclosed by an outer wall with gates on each side and a main entrance decorated with carvings and sculptures.  The moat has religious significance to the Hindus.  While the central tower represents Mt Meru, the home of the Hindu gods, the shorter temples are mountains, the courtyards represent the continents and the moat represents the ocean. 

In fact, the water system in Angkor includes not only the moat, but also a series of man made canals, reservoirs and dikes.  The water system was necessary for the population of 750 000 people, as well as to irrigate crops like rice, the staple in the Khmer diet.  Some scholars surmise that the reason the capital moved to Phnom Penh, was because the water system silted up because of a period of week monsoons and/or deforestation.  Today the moat is used for recreational purposes by the locals and is a gathering point for tourists eager to capture the perfect picture or to just relax.   

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Returning to the temple after breakfast we were surprised to see a boat meandering around the moat.

Bas-Relief Galleries

The temple maybe an architectural triumph, but it is also filled with artistic treasures. The most visited is the 800-meter-long intricate bas-relief galleries home to over 3000 apsaras or heavenly nymphs that are carved into the wall.  Each nymphs is unique and the galleries show 37 different hairstyles on the nymphs alone. 

The bas-reliefs tell not only the tales of Cambodia’s history, but also the Hindu myths and legends.

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Temple

The three story main temple complex is made of laterite, a reddish soil that was shaped into bricks and encloses a square of interconnected galleries. 

Towers

There are five towers, each topped with large domes that are adorned with rows of lotuses and from a distance they look like giant lotus buds. The towers with its lotus bud tops are designed to be visible when the temple is viewed from any angle. 

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How best to end the day? A Cambodian curry, all the flavour of a Thai curry, but without the heat.

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Temples of Angkor Thom, Baphuan and Terrace of the Elephants – 25/2/2013

Written by Tristan (aged 12)

Brief History of Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was founded in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII and became the last capital of the Angkor empire.  The name Ankor Thom was bestowed on the city from the 16th century onwards, when it was no longer the Khmer capital.   The meaning of Angkor Thom is derived from the two words, Angkor meaning ‘city’ and Thom meaning ‘big, large or grand.’  Prior to this the city was called, ‘Yahodharapura.’ The remains of Angkor Thom have been overtaken by jungle and the original wooden structures have disintegrated over time, leaving the city scarcely resembling what is believed to be larger than any contemporary European city. 

Angkor Thom was constructed during the rule of King Jayavarman VII’s, one of the most important Khmer kings.  During his reign he had three major achievements.  In 1181 he drove out the Cham invaders who had overtaken Angkor in 1171.  Jayavarman then became the first King to adopt Buddhism as the official religion and finally he was the most prolific builder in the Khmer empire history.  The buildings constructed during his reign are now referred to as built in ‘Bayon style.’  Angkor Thom was not the first city constructed on this sight, there had been several in the centuries prior by Jayavarman’s predecessors.

Our Visit

Angkor Thom Attractions

  • Bayon and Angkor Thom Gates

The main attraction of Angkor Thom’s and the most visited after Angkor Wat is the Bayon temple. The Bayon temple has giant, slightly smiling faces found at the city gates and surrounding the temple and are speculated to represent either a Khmer version of Buddha, King Jayavarman VII or a combination of the two.  

Originally there were 54 prasats, each of them had four giant faces, looking at each of the cardinal directions.  While the Louvre has the Mona Lisa, Angkor Thom has the Khmer faces that follow you.

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Another visited area at the site is the gallery, similar to those at Angkor Wat, but with less detail.  The gallery has detailed scenes describing not only the king’s achievements, but also the facets of everyday life during the 12th century and included feasts and markets.

Angkor was originally surrounded by 3 km long walls and a 100 meter wide moat on each side.  Our guide told us that the moat had been hand dug.  The walls had four city gates at each of the cardinal points, plus an additional one in the east.  There are two gates that have been partially repaired, the finest being the South Gate.  The gateways were held together with no mortar, instead with keystones.  The south gate has a tower, topped with the four faces of Buddha and a bridge with balustrades decorated with sculptures.

While we were in this area our guide demonstrated how you could lift the giant blocks using a rope and a stick, a bit like a fishing rod.  We all had a go at doing it.

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  • Royal Palace area

Jayavaran VII enlarged the Royal Palace which had been constructed by his predecessors, however over time the wooden structures have disappeared and only the outer walls remain.  Other nearby structures include the Phimeanakas temple and the 300 metres long Elephant Terrace facing the Royal palace, other structures in the complex were modified or altered by Jayavarman VIII.

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The Elephant Terrace

  • Baphuon Temple

The temple Baphuon  means ‘hidden temple’ and honours the god, ‘Shiva the destroyer’.  It is believed that at the time Baphuon was the most spectacular of Angkor’s temples and was designed in a pyramidal representation of Mt Meru, standing 43 meters high. The Hindu temple was constructed prior to Angkor Thom during the 11th century, under Suryavarman I reign and completed by Udayadityavarman II. 

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The pyramidal shaped Baphuon Temple

Prior to the civil war in Cambodia, archaeologists dismantled the Baphuon temple to fix the sand-based foundations which had caused the temple to collapse.  The archaeologists had kept meticulous records for the rebuilding process, which were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign. This left experts in 1996 to try to solve the ‘world’s largest jigsaw puzzle’ of 300 000 stones and piece the temple back together.  By 2011 experts had partially restored the temple and it opened to the public in 2012.

Only Josh, Mum, Dad and I climbed to the top of the temple.  The stairs got steeper the higher up you go, which was meant to signify that it is easy to go to hell, a bit easy to do average on Earth and it is very hard to get to heaven.

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Staircase leading up to the temple top.

By the time we had finished we were all hot and starving, time for lunch.