It's Temple Time at Angkor
Trip Start Aug 14, 2010
188Trip End Aug 05, 2011
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Where I stayed
Prohm Roth Guesthouse / Inn
What I did
Explored the many temples of Angkor
So on Monday morning we got a taxi to the airport. We went into the international terminal to check in and discovered that we needed to go to the domestic terminal. Luckily this was only next door so we didn’t have too far to walk. Laos Airlines connect in Pakse so technically this was a domestic flight. We checked in and waited around in the waiting area, it was so hot and humid even at this early hour of the morning. We had a mix-match breakfast and boarded the flight on time. The flight to Pakse took just under an hour. At Pakse we had to disembark the plane and go through the terminal to go through immigration to exit Laos
Our free pick-up arrived after about ten minutes (our flight had arrived earlier than scheduled) and we were met by Gavin, one of the guesthouse employees. What was waiting for us in the car-park gave us a good laugh! A bright purple tuk-tuk, basically a small carriage attached to a motorbike. We were being picked up from the airport in style! We loaded on the rucksacks and secured them through each other and Gavin drove us into town to the guesthouse. It was great fun driving along these crazy streets in our little bright purple tuk-tuk!
We arrived at the guesthouse about fifteen minutes later where we met Meang, the owner. He showed us the room he had reserved for us but then offered us a room in his new guesthouse, which had only opened for business that day! We had booked three nights and he was offering us one of the nights free if we wanted to stay in his new guesthouse
That afternoon another one of Meang’s boys brought us in the purple tuk-tuk to a nearby petrol station to get something to eat and then we went to the Killing Fields nearby at Wat Thmei before making our way to the historical Angkor site for sunset. We climbed to the top of the Phnom Bakheng temple mountain to enjoy the amazing views at sunset. This temple dates from the late 9th century to early 10th century. It is believed to be the first built temple in the Angkor area and it marked the move of the capital of the Khmer empire from Roluos to Angkor in the late 9th century. It was very crowded here but we still managed to find a lovely spot to sit down and enjoy the colours of the sky changing as the sun set.
By the time we made it back down the temple mountain it was dark and Gavin dropped us at Pub Street where we had a very enjoyable evening with dinner and drinks (John especially loved the 50US cent beer!) in the World Lounge Restaurant
Angkor Temples Day 1
The following morning we had an unbelievably early start as we were heading to Angkor Wat for sunrise. As we woke up and left the guesthouse at 4:45am we found ourselves again asking “Why do we do this to ourselves?” It was dark as Gavin drove us in our purple tuk-tuk to the site. He dropped us off at the entrance to the Angkor Wat temple where we could see there were already lots of people gathering. We followed the crowds inside to the main open area and up to the reflection pool where we waited for the sun to rise. Unfortunately it was a slightly cloudy morning so it didn’t look how we’ve often seen it depicted in the many paintings for sale around Angkor. However, it was pretty amazing to see, especially as the sunlight made it’s way through the clouds changing the colours of the lotus like towers right in front of us. We waited and tried to take it all in capturing the moment with some photos, which looking back on them now, don’t look half as impressive as it does in person
From here we went back out and enjoyed the best tea we’ve had in South East Asia since the Cameron Highlands from a small street side vendor stall. We then went in search of breakfast and found a small café where we had some fruit and pancakes! Gavin picked us up from here and we headed to the Hindu Baksei Chamkrong temple for some photos. This 12 meter tall brick and laterite step-pyramid temple dates from the mid 10th century and was a pretty impressive sight. We were then dropped off at the South Gate of Angkor Thom where we walked over the bridge and the enormity of this site really began to sink in.
Angkor Thom is a 3km square walled and moated royal city which dates from the late 12th century to early 13th century and it was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. There are five gates to this ancient city, one for each cardinal point and the victory gate leading to the Royal Palace. Each gate is crowned with four giant faces. The South Gate was the one that we entered through.
The first temple we visited here was Bayon
From here we walked along up past Preah Ngoc to Baphuon. This temple is currently undergoing extensive renovation and while we were here we could only access the exterior entry gate and elevated causeway. We could see many massive stones all laid out on the ground around here, which are at present being sorted and used in the renovations. We looked for the animal carvings at the entrance but they weren’t very clear. We then continued onto the Terrace of the Elephants. This was constructed in the late 12th century in the Bayon style. It’s about two and half metres tall and 300 metres long, carved with elephants and garudas in front of Bayon, Phimeanahas and the Royal Palace area. As it was still early morning the sun light was shining directly on the wall and illuminated it very clearly
From here we continued up to the Terrace of the Leper King which is a double terrace wall dating from the late 12th century. Walking through the centre of the two walls, it was like an alleyway filled with carvings of nagas, demons and other mythological beings. This inner wall is an earlier version of the outer wall and it was only excavated by French archaeologists in the late 1990s. The terrace is named after the ‘Leper King’ statue that was found and it is debated as to why it was called this. Some say that when it was found it was so lichen-eaten that it gave the appearance of leprosy. After buying a much needed ice cold can of coke we met Gavin and went for a wander around the Preah Pithu Group of temples. These five small temples are set in a quiet area opposite the Terrace of the Leper King and are in a fairly bad state. It was lovely and peaceful around here and there were some intricate and interesting carvings in the lintels of the rocks scattered all around on the ground.
Back in our purple tuk-tuk we took shelter from the intense sun and heat and the breeze was amazing! We drove through the Victory Gate passing by Thommanom and Chau Say Thevoda. Gavin pointed out a very clear example of how trees are growing in, around and on top of the ancient structures through the example of the bridge here. We then stopped at Ta Keo. This is a temple mountain dating from the late 10th century to the early 11th century. The temple is of the Hindu religion and was constructed wholly of sandstone in the style of Khleang dedicated to Shiva. We spent some time here looking around before moving onto Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm was constructed in the mid 12th to early 13th century in the Bayon style
After this we went for lunch at Sras Srang. It was a tourist restaurant like everywhere here is but the food was great. We then continued on our temple exploration expedition taking in Banteay Kdei, Prasat Kravan before concluding at Angkor Wat tying the whole day up in a circle. Banteay Kdei is a Buddhist temple dating from the late 12th to the early 13th century. At it’s time of construction an inferior grade of sandstone was used and this, combined with poor construction techniques, has led to much of the deterioration visible today. Prasat Kravan is a Hindu temple constructed in the early 10th century and was restored and reconstructed by archaeologists in the early 20th century. We had a bit of a walk around both of these temples before moving onto Angkor Wat.
Having watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat this morning we were very much looking forward to coming back in the afternoon to explore. It is recommended to visit it in the afternoon after 2pm as this creates the best lighting for viewing the many details and carvings. On the way in we were met by a few people trying to sell us a tour around the place but we politely declined and made our way around ourselves. The front entrance is currently covered in scaffolding as it undergoes restoration so we entered through the left of the centre entrance
We started with a walk around the first level looking at these bas-reliefs including the depiction of the mythological Battle of Kuru on the west wall, the historical march of the army of Suryavaman III against the Cham, followed by scenes from Heaven and Hell on the south wall before making our way to the ‘Churning of the Ocean Milk’ on the east wall. Some of these carvings have been restored and parts of the classic ‘Churning of the Ocean Milk’ are currently covered in scaffolding as they are undergoing restoration also. Previous restoration efforts have damaged the original carvings and so they are taking steps and measures to ensure current and future restoration efforts won’t cause any more harm or damage to the original bas-reliefs and carvings.
We then had to walk back on ourselves as the scaffolding blocked the way to go through to the centre and to the tower
We decided to queue to go up to the third level where four Buddha images, each facing a different cardinal point are housed. To go up to this level you must have your shoulders and knees covered as it is a religious place. We braved the heat and climbed the steep stairs to the top where we had amazing views all over Angkor. It was while we were up here that the camera battery died. We guess we’ll just have to come back at the end of our itinerary tomorrow to get some photos!
We headed back out to the front gate to meet Gavin who dropped us back to the guesthouse where we had a bit of a rest before heading out to a lovely Indian restaurant just off Pub Street for dinner that evening
Angkor Temples Day 2
The following morning we left about 9:30am and Gavin brought us to a local restaurant for a Cambodian breakfast. We opted for the French roll and omelette with tea, the tea tasting more like custard! We then made our way towards Angkor taking on the Grand Tour circuit today. Our first stop was just after we passed through the South Gate of Angkor Thom where a group of monkeys were enjoying some morning snacks! They were very funny to watch and started climbing all over the tuk-tuk pulling things apart. Hopping back in the tuk-tuk (minus the monkeys) we drove past all the areas we’d explored the previous day and passed through the North Gate where we stopped for a photo.
We then continued on for some more temple exploring. We stopped at Preah Khan, a late 12th century monastic complex. Some of the Buddha carvings in the corridors here have been crudely carved over with Bodhisattvas and in some cases with a lotus flower. There are also some unusual cylindrical columns in the west part of the building which were not typical of the time of construction
John’s been doing great haggling with the locals here. They tried to charge us $1 for one water or one coke, he’s since managed to get both for a dollar. Anyway, we then visited Neak Pean which is also a late 12th century construction. This temple is a little different from the other temples we’ve seen as it sits at the central axis of a cross or lotus pattern of eight pools. While we were here the pools were quite dry and not all of them had water in them. We were able to see the animal and human head carvings in the corner of each pool as the water was extremely low. During the wet season the pools are full of water. From here we visited Ta Som, another late 12th century building. This one contains a huge tree growing from the top of the eastern gopura, which can only mean it's an essential photo opportunity! This was also where we bought some postcards from one of the many many children running around trying to sell you everything and anything!
Our next stop of the day was East Mebon. This large temple mountain like ruin dates from the 10th century and is a Hindu temple. From here we continued onto Pre Rup, also a late 10th century Hindu temple before stopping for lunch in the same place as yesterday. We then paid another visit to Angkor Wat, this time we entered the grounds from the rear entrance
After another exhausting day exploring we were very ready to go back to the guesthouse where we took some time out from the heat in our lovely air conditioned room. We had dinner that night in the "Khmer Ideas" restaurant before going for a last wander around the Night Market. All in all we were very satisfied with our three days here exploring the many temples of Angkor and everything else Siem Reap had to offer. Next stop Phnom Penh!