Ancient Angkor Complex


The sunset trip to the Angkor complex last evening was a bit disappointing.  There were tons of Korean and Japanese tourists and it was really too crowded to make it to the top of the hill to watch the sunset on the other temples. It gets cool when the sun goes down with the temperature dropping rapidly about 15-20 degrees.

My tuk-tuk driver was a strict businessman trying to book tourists back-to-back his entire day. I will try a different driver and do plan to go to the Angkor complex again several times.  Bought a book that groups the temples and helps you better understand their significance and which ones to visit at the same time.  Apparently all the great views are at and just before sunrise.  The noisy tourists seemed inappropriate at such a revered site, so hopefully I can find a quieter time of day to visit. Together the tourists and the deafening song of the cicadas made a very loud noise indeed!

The dance performances last night were fantastic!  The dancers were from the Sangkheum (hope in Khmer) Center for Children.  The organization houses 53 orphans and provides social, scholastic, and medical support to others.  Altogether 250 children participate in their socio-educational program. I didn’t take photos of the performance as it would have been disruptive to their dancing. The dances were so well done and some of those performed included a large number of girls and boys.

These are brief summaries of just a few of the many impressive  temples to visit at Ancient Angkor:

Angkor Wat is the most famous and majestic temple of the site. It’s a temple Hindus dedicated to their god Vishnu.  Angkor Wat construction began at the beginning of the XIIth century during the reign of king Suryavarman II and lasted 37 years.  The name means the city pagoda in Khmer. The main tower of the central temple represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods and center of the universe for the Hindus (but also the Buddhists).  During the war which began in 1970 the inhabitants of Siem Reap took refuge inside the temple.

Ta Phrom is one of the most romantic temples of Angkor’s site. Built in 1186, it is partly collapsed from trees interlaced among the ruins where nature “resumed its rights and disrupted the work of the men”. It’s a magic place and the trees intertwined among the ruins are responsible for Ta Phnom’s atmosphere.  “It’s a place loaded with emotion and poetry for meditation and a magnificent temple in the sunset.”

There are two species of trees intertwined with the structure – silk cotton trees and strangler fig trees.  “The plants take hold in a crevice somewhere in the superstructure of a building, usually where a bird has deposited a seed, and extends roots downwards to the soil.  In doing this the roots work their way between the masonry so that as they grow thicker they gradually wedge open the blocks.”

Preah Khan (sacred sword of the King) was a real city with over 10,000 people and a Buddhist Sanscrit university. It has some magnificent sculptures. Originally it was a Buddhist convent and Brahmans (Indian priests) destroyed many of the sculptures and replaced them with Hindu representations.  A single Buddha representation remains. To reach the center of the temple you pass by rows of galleries and doors which become lower and lower as you approach the center (to show respect). In the centre there is a big stone stuppa brought in the XVth century. Supposedly small holes in all the walls in the center of the building contained gold and diamonds encasements later removed and resold by the Red Khmers. Ta Phrom has luxuriant vegetation!

Ta Keo has sandstone construction which took place between 968 and 1001. Ta Keo has five sanctuary towers built on the uppermost level of a five-tier pyramid surrounded by a moat.  Its design depicts five-peaked Mount Meru and its massive appearance is due to no external decorations since carving had just begun when the works stopped.  The decorations were never finished because carving in wills was very hard.

Terrace of the Leper King is one of Angkor’s mysteries. The name is from a 15th century sculpture discovered on top standing independent of the other structures surrounding the Royal Square of Angkor Thom.  The statue represents King Yasovarman who died from leprosy. Another explanation is that the solitary statue represents Yama, the god of death, and the terrace would have been a royal crematorium. The highly rated terrace has a narrow and long trench with magnificent well-preserved sculptures representing Apsaras, geniuses, and monsters, and divinities. This long corridor was completely restored with every unsettled sculpture resettled on the new walls.

Built at the beginning of the XIIIth century, Terrace of Elephants borders the Jayavarman VIIth royal palace. It was the foundation for royal reception pavilions and named for the elephant carvings along its walls. They say it is best seen in the morning.

Built in 921 and dedicated to the god Vishnu, Prasat Kravan (cardamom sanctuary) construction is entirely from bricks of clay.  It is famous for its numerous representations of the God Vishnu and the northerly towers with low reliefs represent the goddess Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife.

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