My driver who was recommended by two friends who had visited Cambodia, picked me up at the hotel at 8:30 a.m and we headed towards Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually the name of the largest temple and they call the entire area that but it is filled with temples. After a brief discussion with my driver Hung, we decided to go backwards and avoid the crowds and I have to say it worked. Hung would drive me to an area, give me a brief history and then let me go.
There are more than 1,000 temples and structures at Angkor Wat ranging from piles of bricks to monsterous palaces. In 2007 reseachers concluded tha Angkor had been the largest preindustrial city in the world with an urban sprawl of 3000 square kilometres. It could have housed 1 million people. It seems the first temples were constructed by Hindu Kings and then later structures by Buddist rulers and some of the Hindu structures were converted or made into Buddist structures at least superficially.
I started at Suor Prat Temple which now is just 12 towers all in a row. They may have been constructed as early as the 11th Century and as late as the 13th. My guide said that they used to string ropes between the towers and acrobats would entertain the King and Queen.
After Suar Prat I wandered around in the back woods before heading towards the Leper King’s terrace. Behind the terrace were a couple of giant Buddhas and sever children playing on the stone lions.
Next stop after the big Buddhas was the Terrace of the Leper King. It was built in the Bayon style under Jayavarman VII, though its modern name derives from a 15th century sculpture discovered at the site. The statue depicts the Hindu god Yama, the god of Death. He was called the Leper King because discoloration and moss growing on the original statue was reminiscent of a person with leprosy, and also because it fit in with a Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king who had leprosy. The name that the Cambodians know him by, however, is Dharmaraja, as this is what was etched at the bottom of the original statue.
Right next to the Terrace of the Leper King is the Terrace of Elephants stretching 350m is is part of the walled city of Angkor Tom. The terrace was used by Angkor’s King Javavarma VII s a platform from which to view his victorious returning army. It was also used as a giant reviewing stand for public ceremonies and served as a base for the king’s grand audience hall. Inside the terrace was Prima Ka the center of the royal palace.
Please note the lack of Japanese tourists in my photos, that took a great deal of effort. After visiting the above, I went to Banyon Temple or as it’s more commonly referred to the Big Face Temple which is at the center of Ankor Tom. There were several levels to this temple and I’m not sure if the steps are so step and narrow because of erosion, it’s either that or ancient Cambodians were super long-legged and had tiny, tiny feet.
The Bayon is a well-known and richly decorated Khmer temple. Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist KingJavavarma VII following Jayavarman’s death, it was modified and augmented by later Hindu and Theravada (oldest surving Buddhist school founded in India relatively conservative) Buddhist kings in accordance with their religous preferences. After Bayon my next stop was the Mountain Temple and I thought the different levels of Bayon were difficult.
Next stop was Ta Keo or the Mountain Temple built as the state temple of Javarma V, it is incomplete because it was hit by lightening which was viewed as a bad omen, or so my guide told me. It was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. Standing east of the Victory Gate of Angkor Tom Ta Keo is a symbolic depiction of Mount Meru, home of the Hindu Gods.
It has five levels and of course I had to go to the very top on very steep steps, I kept thinking to myself it’s going to be bummer to have survived Iraq only to tumble down and kill myself on these stairs. Going up was less scary and I scrooched back down five levels mainly on my butt.
After surviving the Mountain Temple my last stop in Angkor Tom was Chao Sey Tevoda a Hindu Temple built in the mid-12th century it is currently being renovated by the Chinese.
After a morning of temple exploring and my near death experience at the Mountain Temple (not really) I headed back to hang out at the pool at the hotel. I swam, had a drink took a nap and then headed to the central market to haggle with the locals and find some dinner. After getting the majority of my shopping done, I had dinner at the Khmer Kitchen right next to the market, to date it’s the best local food I’ve had. The hotel I’m staying at the Shanti Mani, is very nice, but I’m not crazy about their food and the poolside service is a bit slow. I wouldn’t recommend it, it’s too expensive for the service and I think you can do better in town; however I would highly recommend staying someplace with a pool, becuase after a hot sandy morning at the temples it’s great to come back and have a swim.