Siem Reap - Day 2

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The South Gate
I was a bit delinquent in starting the day off right by waking up an hour late at 6am and missed watching the sunrise back at Angkor.  Nonetheless, I made a mad dash to maximize the second and only full day I had.  I asked my driver the day before that that I wouldn't be needing his services anymore as I wanted to take a tuk tuk (a local motorized passenger tricycle) instead of a car (he was driving the at the same speed, if not slower, and his AC was craving for freon).  Some people recognize the value of options and the enterprising chap that he was, offered to still take me out today in his very own tuktuk ($10-15/day). 

Entering Angkor once again, I went past Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng, and headed straight towards the South Gate of Angkor Thom.
The Bayon


Angkor Thom

The last capital of the Angkorian Empire, Angkor Thom was constructed in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII after recapturing the capital from the Cham invaders. This royal city covers an area of 9sqkm and is fortified by a wall 8m high and a moat 100m wide.  There are five gates to the city, and each gate is crowned with 4 giant carved faces that look north, south, east and west.  Inside the city are some of the grandest temples in Angkor.

First stop, the BayonLooking like a petrified but spectacular forest from afar, this is the State Temple of Jayavarman VII.   The massive stone mountain was constructed in a piecemeal fashion for over a century.
The Bayon Face Towers
  There are 3 levels and consists of Buddhist and Hindu elements, having passed through both religious phases.  It is largely characterized by the complex of face towers and the bas-reliefs narrating daily life and Khmer history.  The Bayon is one of the most enigmatic and powerful religious structures in the world - the giant face towers which served as shrines reach 43m at its central massif.  It is not known for certain who the faces on the towers  represent, whether it's Jayavarman VII, Buddha, Mahayana's Bodhisattva, or the bodhisattva Avalolitesvara.  Most of these towers have 4 faces, facing each cardinal point although some only have 2 or 3.  There is some dispute about the number of these towers from 47 - 54. Today, only 37 are standing.

It must've been about 8am by the time i finished going around and photographing the Bayon so I decided to have breakfast at one of the eateries nearby.
The Bapuon
   As in most third world countries, I was flocked by a number of children selling all sorts of souvenirs from fans to postcards to flutes!  But this time I was amazed by how well these very young peddlers spoke English.  It was highly conversational and went beyond the typical template of tourist jargon.  That brought a smile to my face.  Not because I wouldn't have to struggle to communicate (which can be really frustrating), but because they were fortunate enough to have more than adequately learned a second language.

Just northwest of the Bayon was my next stop - another gargantuan temple-mountain in the Royal Square, the Bapuon, the state temple of King Udayadityavarman II in the 11th century.
Phimeanakas
  The largest temple of its time until the construction of Angkor Wat a century later, the Bapuon is a five-tiered pyramid which stands on a rectangular base measuring 120m x 90m and reaching a height of over 50m.  In the middle used to be a sanctuary for the Shivalinga that stood on an artificial hill.  Time and the elements have been unkind and eventually caused it and the elevated causeway that leads to the entrance to collapse.  It's not easy to take a decent shot here and it isn't as picture-worthy as it should be.  They've been trying to restore the place since forever and is still ongoing today.

A few meters away is Phimeanakas, the State Temple of Suryavarman I during the late 10th - early 11th century.  According to Khmer legend, the king would climb these stairs every night to lay with the naga, a serpent-spirit in the form of a woman that inhabited the temple, before meeting his wife and concubines.
The Leper King Terrace
  Failure to do so would lead to his death.  An attempt to climb those steep, narrow steps would lead to my death. Next!

Around the Royal Square are other smaller temples and sanctuaries in ruins and at the deep end is another causeway that takes you to the Elephant Terrace - a 300 meter long stretch of carvings across the Royal Palace which served as the base of the king's audience pavillions, and the Leper King Terrace - a double terrace with reliefs of nagas, demons & mythological beings.  25 meters long and shaped like a U, the Leper King Terrace was named after the statue that once occupied the platform.  It was formerly thought to represent a legendary "leper king," but is now considered to represent Yama, the Lord of the Dead.
Ta Prohm The most photograpahed tree in the world
  The terrace itself might have functioned as a cremation platform.

Across the Elephant Terrace is the Prasat Suor Prat - 12 nearly identical towers whose function is debatable, from being the Tower of Rope Dancers to viewing pavillions, to houses where legal and criminal disputes were settled.  There's not much too see in there, they make a better view from across.

Hopping back on the tuktuk, I head on over to one of the Tomb Raider locations, Ta Prohm.  A buddhist monastic complex, Ta Prohm was built by Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his mother in the form of Prajnaparamita, the 'Perfection of Wisdom'.  The site was intentionally left in its 'original' state to somewhat exhibit what Angkor looked like in the 19th century when it was first discovered - shrouded in a dense jungle of fig, banyan and silk-cotton trees.
Ta Prohm
  This deliberate decision involved a tremendous amount of work to clear parts of the site for visitors while preventing further collapse.  Roots sprawling over the structures, trunks encroaching the stone pillars, branches intertwining through the cracks, all precariously balancing in the ruins.  All around is clear evidence of the state of ruin the temple is in, making it the most charming spot in Angkor.  Ahlavet.

And finally, Angkor Wat!  It's just as majestic up close as it is from afar, whether you're standing at the top of the bridge with a full view of the moat and the 3 central towers at the gateway, or 200 meters across the moat by the gateway overlooking the central compound and Angkor Wat itself, or another 300 meters down another causeway and right smack in front of it.
Angkor Wat
  It is so monumental and impressive, even the hundreds of tourists that crowded it couldn't stop me from appreciating its ancient, magnificent splendor. 

There are a lot more temples and ruins around Angkor though some of them were closed to the public at the time and I didn't have another day to explore the other, less commercial sites.  But no matter, seeing the mother of them all was one of the best sights I have ever set my eyes on. 












lagkat says:
I had completely forgotten that you've been to Cambodia! We plan to go late this year, you've GOT to give me tips! :-) You're much more experienced with researching and planning trips than I am, so I really need your advice.
Posted on: Mar 05, 2008
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The South Gate
The South Gate
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon Face Towers
The Bayon Face Towers
The Bapuon
The Bapuon
Phimeanakas
Phimeanakas
The Leper King Terrace
The Leper King Terrace
Ta Prohm
The most photograpahed t…
Ta Prohm The most photograpahed …
Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
The South Gate
The South Gate
Tuk tuk outside the South Gate
Tuk tuk outside the South Gate
Moat by by the South Gate
Moat by by the South Gate
The Bayon Face Towers
The Bayon Face Towers
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bayon
The Bapuon causeway
The Bapuon causeway
Silent sanctuary
Silent sanctuary
Causeway leading from the Royal Sq…
Causeway leading from the Royal S…
Prasat Suor Prat
Prasat Suor Prat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
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photo by: genetravelling