Siem Reap - Day 3

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October 25th 2022
Published: October 27th 2022
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Today we explored the temples in the old capital of Angkor Thom. After Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is probably the best known and most visited area amongst the temples and ruins of Siem Reap. This city, surrounded by a large wall with enormous gates and a crocodile infested moat was once home to as many as one million people. It is worth noting that this was at a time when the population of London was fewer than 100,000 people.

Our first stop was at The Bayon which is a richly decorated Khmer temple dedicated to Buddhism that was built late in the 12th Century or early in the 13th Century as the state temple of the King Jayavarman VII. The Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman’s capital, Angkor Thom. The temple is characterized by the 216 serene and smiling faces carved into its towers.

Although we could not access the third terrace we still enjoyed our visit constantly looking skywards to see how many faces we could spot. The enigmatic smiling faces seem to appear from nowhere as you look around corners and across courtyards to the towers. We had almost finished our visit when I stepped into the courtyard from one of the galleries to see a group of women posing for a photo. Hang on a second, I recognize that bloke in the middle! It was Bernie posing with his fan girls!

From Bayon, Cholna took us to Preah Palilay which he promised us would have no people even though it is situated only a very short distance from the Terrace of the Leper King. As good as his word, we found Preah Palilay deserted, but for the attendants. This small Buddhist sanctuary sits in a secluded wooded glade and was well worth the short detour.

From the beauty and solitude of this small, isolated temple we made our way back to the sun-baked Terrace of the Leper King located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. It was built in the Bayon style by Jayavarman VII, but its modern name is derived from a 15th-century sculpture of the Hindu God, Yama, the god of death, that was discovered at the site. The statue present today is a copy. The ‘Leper King’ title is linked to the discoloration and moss growing on the statue when it was found and ties in with Cambodian legends that told of an Angkorian King, Yasovarman I, who had leprosy.

The next structure is the 350 metre-long Terrace of the Elephants much of which is currently undergoing restoration. Attached to the Royal Palace, Phimeanakas, the terrace was used by King Jayavarman VII as a platform from which to view is victorious returning army. Despite the ravages of time and the restoration works in progress, we were still able to see the carvings of elephants on its eastern face.

We ventured from the terrace into Phimeanakas the ‘Celestial Temple’. It is a Hindu temple built in the Khleang style with relatively simple lintels and a central kala or god. It was built in the 10th-century during the reign of Rajendravarman (941-968), them completed by Suryavarman I (1006-1050) to form the focal point of his capital. The temple takes the shape of a three tier pyramid. It is located inside the walled enclosure of the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom north of the Baphuon.

Cholna had driven along from the Terrace of the Leper King to collect us out the front of the Terrace of the Elephants. He greeted us with cold bottles of water that we guzzled down. We clambered back into the tuk tuk and made our way out through Tonle Om, the southern gate of Angkor Thom. Cholna stopped on the far side of the moat so that we could walk back to take our photos of the gate. It took a bit of patience, but we did eventually manage to take photos without pesky modern day motor vehicles in them.

A very short drive from Tonle Om, Cholna stopped at Baksei Chamkrong Temple for us to view another one of the less-visited temples in this area. The name, Baksei Chamkrong means ‘The Bird Who Shelters Under Its Wings’ and comes from a Legend in which a king tried to flee Angkor during a siege when a huge bird landed and sheltered him under its wings.

The temple is dedicated to Shiva and used to hold a golden image of him. It was dedicated to Yasovarman by his son, King Harshavarman I (910-923). The temple was completed by Rajendravarman II (944-968). This temple is one of the first temples constructed of durable material such as bricks and laterite, with decoration in sandstone. Quite a pretty smaller ruin.

After this it was time to head back to base for some lunch and a refreshing swim with plans to head out again later to take in Ta Prohm Temple in the afternoon light. Cholna collected us again at 3.30pm and motored us out to the West Gate of Ta Prohm. This temple is the one made famous by Angelina Jolie’s ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ film in 2001. Yes, it’s the one with the massive tree roots growing in and around the ruins so in places it’s hard to tell where the temple finishes and the jungle begins.

The big problem with the more famous ruins is that everyone, EVERYONE wants to be photographed in front of the ruins! We had two young Asian women (possibly Japanese, maybe Korean?) in colourful, multi-tiered dresses with long flowing hair who fluffed and flounced their way around the ruins having their photos taken at every single vantage point! OK, really I’m just jealous that I don’t look that cool and unflustered when it is 33°C and around 97% humidity. I look like a tomato! Today, rather than clamber through the ruins and then all the way back again, we arranged for Cholna to meet us at the East Gate for the short drive back to Siem Reap.

Back in our hotel room Bernie put his leather hat brim down on the bed. Oops! When he moved it later on it was to discover that the brim, soaked with his sweat, had transferred a rather nasty leather ‘juice’ stain onto the doona cover. Lesson learnt, he won’t make that mistake again. I do hope the housekeepers won’t be too angry with us??! We did think about trying to explain the stain, but decided it would be too difficult to communicate what had happened to staff whose first language is not English. Although that leaves the problem that they may think it’s something way more gross than it actually is?

Tonight we ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We are eating our way around the globe without leaving Siem Reap! We enjoyed a great entrée of house made corn chips with salsa. Bernie then enjoyed a cheesesteak sandwich and Steve tucked into an enchilada. Cathy and I ordered the beef tacos that were very flavoursome BUT the beef in them was like chewing on bits of old tyre! Tonight’s drink was even better than last night’s passionfruit soda. Tonight the passionfruit was undiluted with soda, it was just straight up passionfruit juice. Yum. Although a bit of a challenge sucking all those pips up the straw!

After dinner tonight, rather than take a tuk tuk straight back to the hotel, we walked along to the market. I don’t thinkit’s officially a night market, but there were quite a few stall holders still open. Especially the ones selling souvenirs for the tourists to take home. Colourful silk scarves and table runners were piled height on their tables together with T-shirts and other items adorned with Angkor Wat’s iconic silhouette. There was jewelry and gemstones and cane baskets … and every stall holder wanted our business.

A definite plus was that the market was not heaving with people in the evening BUT, neither were there many other tourists to divert the stall holders’ attention from us. I had in mind to buy a Krama (traditional checked cotton Khmer scarf) to wear over my bathers down by the pool. I managed to escape with just one and haggled the price down from US$7.00 to US$5.00. Cathy purchased a couple of beautiful silk table runners. I think she only planned to buy one, but was haggled into a ‘two for’ deal. Extra items purchased can always be given away as souvenirs!

Steps for the day: 11,159 (6.91km)

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27th October 2022

Fantastic photos. Such a fantastic trip

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