And the other Jewels in the Angkorian Crown

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January 28th 2008
Published: April 7th 2008
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Angkor Wat is by no means the only jewel in the ancient Khmers Empires crown with other temple treasures like Bayon and Ta Prohm you are hard pushed to see half the delights on a 3 Day Pass. This is especially the case if you are like us and decide to go by peddle power instead of tuk tuk which is admittedly a pleasant way to see the Angkorian delights and surrounding countryside but under the blazing sun it is a slow sticky way to work your way around the temples and it eats away valuable viewing time but for those on a shoes string budget it saves at least 14 USD daily. So we did two days by bike and on the last day we resorted to Tuk tuk to see as much as possible that remained but we ended up on missing out on some of the further afield delights like Bantreay Srei and the Rolous Group - mainly because Rani and I virtually doubled the estimated time to view each of the temples by pouring over the bas reliefs and the crumbling architecture and as such should probably should have taken a 7 day pass option instead.

Angkor Wat has been covered in my earlier blog because the sheer number of photos I took over the 3 days and as it is so amazing that it justifies a blog to itself and surely deserved more hours than we had time to give it.

Covering the small circuit by bike was a mixed experience it was lovely to be under our own schedule but riding in the hot sun and with several kilometres between the three temples we visited before having to ride all the way back to our hotel was hot and exhausting to the point that after watching sunset following climbing a mountain we resorted to a tuk tuk to get home - pushing and shoving the bikes in alongside us which made from a hilarious sight if we had not been too exhausted to manage anything more than a chuckle. First temple on the marathon bike ride was Banteay Kdei and as our first temple other than Angkor Wat we were mesmerized as we entered through the face tower entrance which sits opposite Srag Srang, a small baray (artificial reservoir) which has retained much of its water and still has the old landing stage with guardian lions and naga balustrades. But is Banteay Kdei that drew our attention and took time crossing over the naga causeway and wandering between pillars decorated with apsaras (celestial dancers) and devatas (female deities), which were to discover would dance and watch from nearly every wall of every temple we would visit during our time exploring the temples.

But it was the romantic lost world atmosphere of Ta Prohm that truly captured our hearts and imaginations with hidden corners and with fig and silk cotton trees with massive winding roots entwining and strangle holding the crumbling moss covered ruins in a both destructive and supportive way - the roots growing in size pushing apart the stone work but holding the loosened stones in place whilst the tree remains alive. The unrestored state of Ta Prohm gave a view of what Angkor Wat would have looked like before restoration and that feeling of been an explorer discovering the lost ruins which is probably why for both Rani and I it became our favourite temple, ever the romantics. Mystery is ever present at Ta Prohm especially when on the wall of Gopura III W there is a carving that has a remarkable resemblance to a stegosaurus, did dinosaurs still wander the Khmer empire long after there supposed extinction?!!!

But north of Angkor Wat is Angkor Thom build by one the greatest Cambodian Deveraja (God Kings), Jayavarman VII (1181-1217), it is a real fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion, a fortified city that at its peak had 1 million temples but became a Lost city forgotten in time after the fall of the Khmer Empire.

Feel like you are being watched? Well you are as you enter into the walled city by one of the 5 large monumemental gates adorned with heads of Avolokileshvara, you enter under his watchful eyes and are guided by a row of demons to the left and gods to the right.

Still have the feeling of been watched then you must be in Bayon Temple. 216 Avolokileshvara faces look down from lofty perches at this temple at the centre of the old city. Their faces are believed to be a merging of the face of King Jayavaran VII with that of Avolokileshvara - enough to stir admiration and fear of the God King in any citizen. Well that is if they are capable of any further emotion after viewing the amazing 1200m of Bas Reliefs on the outer walls of Bayon depicting every day life of the 12th Century Cambodia. Bayon has a time warp effect as 2 hours passed in a blink of an eye scrutinising the scenes, mesmerized by the detail the carvers had gone to and seeing how the early morning light changed the expression of the faces watching over our every move and no doubt smiling at the comical scene of 20 plus Chinese (Beijing) Tourists vying for individual photos with me and Rani - more fascinated by my braids and his dreads than the ancient temples that they had come to visit!!! 100 photos later and slightly blinded by flashes we eventually escaped and moved on to the next jewel behind the 12km of Angkor Thom city walls. Baphuon lies within a stones throw of Bayon and is often referred to as one of the worlds biggest jigsaw puzzle after the meticulous notes made by archeologists taking it apart for restoration were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge leaving it to become a scattered pile of stone blocks. But years of work has seen the pyramid structure pieced back together and it his this history that makes it worth looking at this temple rather than the quality of the structure itself. with time pressing we passed quickly on from the jigsaw to drool and gawp of the stunning bas reliefs on the Terrace of Elephants and The Terrace of the Leper King.

Three headed elephants flank the stairway to the tope of the Terrace of Elephants or in the case of the central stairways Garudas (Human-Bird like mythical creatures) and Lion Headed figures. Originally used for public ceremonies it would have had pavilions atop it but now is only topped with many tourists strolling its 300m length to the Terrace of the Leper King at the north end.

The Terrace of the Leper Kings has a statue atop which may be Yam - God of the Underworld or Death. Just in case we should meet him in future Rani and I made our acquaintance with his image. But some think it is one of the rulers kings that died of leprosy either way he sits on an impressive platform carved with Apsaras (celestial nymphs/dancing girls) and Nagas - those of which are in the hidden trench and protected from the elements are still almost as sharp and crisp as the day they were carved.

I think Angkor Thom has a time warp effect because 3 hours turned into 5 hours and our tuk tuk driver panicked at a lost fare and left messages with the various cafes to point us back to his tuk tuk - obviously we are distinctive because as soon as we stepped towards the cafes to get a drink and respite from the heat we got them rushing up with the message and our little tuk tuk driver appeared shortly afterwards, ready to take us on to our next temple, Preah Khan.

Preah Khan was one of the largest of Jayvarman VII projects and was probably a Buddhist University as well as a city in its days but is now crumbling confusion of stonework and inner enclosures and rooms from a central axis going East to West you move between Dancing Apsaras in the Hall of Dancers and watched over by Garudas on stonework corners but here is the place to see Hindu origins in the temples before Buddhism took over with Reclining Vishnu in the West temples and Shiva
And a little hug from meAnd a little hug from meAnd a little hug from me

Rani shook hands with the God of the Underworld but I gave him a hug - been the friendly sort!
in the North. Justifiable it is rated 3 star in the guide book.

As the day with our tuk tuk driver drifted on we visited the other temples on the Grand Circuit, Neak Prean (a island temple or would have been if it wasn't the dry season and the central pond hadn't become a cracked up mud bottomed hollow), Ta Som (a mini simplified Ta Prohm slowly been absorbed by the trees winding through the stone work) and finally finishing watching sunset from the raised terraces of Pre Rup.

Ta Som was more memorable from the time spent with playing with some kids that started by trying to sell us postcards and necklaces enticing us with a rendition of counting to 10 in 5 different languages. On the third round of counting we decided to engage in conversation with the kids rather than purchase postcards and soon they warmed to the idea of not actually selling but just talking oh and laughing at Rani's antics of entertainment of trying to catch peanuts thrown in the air which he proved very bad at but peals of laughter from the kids who then wanted to try and of cause with food on offer they were more than willing to keep trying throwing 1 in the air and eating a handful or two in between!

Climbing the steps of Pre Rup was a mountaineering expedition on the narrow crumbling steps up to the terrace, but the finally rays of sun glowing setting the stonework glowing red suggested a beautiful sunset awaited so we cautiously scrambled our way up and sat in silence as the sun dipped over the horizon and our tiring day came to an end and we wearily headed on back to our hotel - finally templed out after 3 days.

After several days of not eating healthily just snacking on rice and veg at the end of the day at the Mama's we had a urge for some food from home countries so Rani acquisitioned our guesthouses kitchen and rustled up food fit for a King. Now on my list of guest house priorities will be finding there willingness to hand of the kitchen.

But the last few days in Siem Reap was not complete without further visit to the Mamas but the last time left us in stitches when the long awaited dessert of
The Blending MamaThe Blending MamaThe Blending Mama

The Mama so proud after blending our delicious desert into a shake!
fruit topped with coconut ice, chocolate and sweet milk got blended to a shake!!! Rani has a serious sweet tooth and asked for some more sweet milk on top - making a circular hand gesture over the top of the delicious dessert in front of us. The Mama not speaking any English, grabbed the dish and headed off with a smile. We turned just in time to see our delicious dessert going into the blender and whizzed up into a shake and brought proudly back to us!!!! Not exactly what we had in mind - we slurped it up as she watched on nodding and smiling maybe wondering why we looked so crest fallen! The joys of not speaking the lingo!

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