Angkor Thom: Ancient Khmer Capital

On our last day we toured the spectacular Angkor Thom whose name translates into the “Great City”.  This last and most enduring capital of the Khmer empire lies about a mile from Angkor Wat on the right bank of the Siem Reap river.

The city was heavily guarded, fortified by a moat, wide embankment for solders and guard towers. Enclosed were the residences and administrative centers of the priest, palace officials and military. The first sight as we approached  Angkor Thom was the  imposing face of the 75 foot high tower gate.

The bridge is still a very functional entrance for an assortment of transportation vehicles be it tuk tuk…

or other…

Angkor Thom was first founded in 899 but a majority of the structures were constructed by Jayavarman VII who reigned from 1181 to 1220.  He was also the ruler who built Ta Prohm which I explored in the previous “tree temple” post.   Andy called this man the “Cambodian Donald Trump” which given the amount of buildings attributed to him seems accurate.

The ornately decorated Bayan was the official state temple and stands in the center of Angkor Thom.  From a far it looks chaotic especially when compared to the stately and symmetrical Angkor Wat.

Once a top the terraces the beauty of the Bayon expresses itself magnificently.  Especially impressive are the stone faces that look out in each direction from the towers in all there were 216 present.

In a Playful Moment Aidan Goes "Nose to Nose" with one of the Ancient Men

The temple was originally dedicated as a Mahayana Buddhist shrine, later rulers altered it to Hinduism and later back to Theravada Buddhist before being abandoned back into the jungle.  Today there is again some evidence of its religious importance.

This shrine was in a corridor of the Bayon

This impressive Buddha was located adjacent to the temple

The Baphuon is a temple located northwest of the Bayon.  It was built in the mid-11th century not by  “J VII” but by another ruler whose building style was not as sturdy.  By the 20th century most of the structure had collapsed but in April 2011 after 51 years it was reopened.  Unfortunately it was deemed to steep for children under 12 so we viewed it from afar.

However, nearby was Phimeanakas which was also quite steep but deemed accessible for adventurous 5 year old boys.  Aidan was more than happy to climb to the top while poor Sydney had to look on enviously from below. Legend has it that the King had to lie with Nagini, the girl with a serpents body, every night in this temple before going to his wives and concubines.  If he failed to perform this duty even one night the kingdom was doomed.  Hmmm-maybe that is why Andy offered to trek to the top while the girls stayed below…

Allegedly the view from the top...no oversexed Serpent Ladies

Sydney would scream with delight at each passing pachyderm…

I preferred the stoic Elephant Terrace with its spectacular carvings.

At the end of our tour we finally took a photo with all four of us.  Usually the photographer is left out.

Once again the vastness, expanse and intricacies of the Angkor Complex are overwhelming and stunning.

Tree Temples and Tomb Raiders

Angkor Wat may be the most famous temple but a short distance away lies Ta Prohm  which is more unusual and stunning.  Here fig and silk-cotten trees magically entwine ancient stone temples and carvings.   The beauty of Ta Prohm remains in large part to the foresight of a French Archeological team who in the early 20th century decided the site would be largely left as it had been found as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque”.

Wandering throughout this ancient beauty, I felt as though I had stepped into a Indiana Jones movie.

The site in fact is famous as the back drop of scenes in Tomb Raider released in 2001. I know this because I heard many tour guides discuss this in many languages, “Angelina Jolie” remarkably is  pronounced the same throughout the world.

This is me as not Jolie. I now it is hard to tell. 🙂

Ta Prohm was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and shrine beginning in 1186 A.D. The structures were dedicated in part to his mother.  When I asked Aidan what he would build for me someday he responded he has a few legos in Singapore.  Not quite an ancient temple but I am sure Aidan’s structure will be built with love none the less.

The carvings were fantastic.

Some of them like this ancient face peaked out from between the serpentine vines.

A Carved Face

The children had fun at the ruins. Sydney does a great interpretation of the 900 year old dancers.

The trees in the structure were very soft this contributed to their ability to surround rather than encompass the temples. There were naturally a lot of holes and breaks in the trunks.

There were a few surprises found in the day to entertain us all.

Colorful Temple Lizard

Sometimes the Ruins are a Relaxing Place

This site was fantastic and my favorite day of touring the Angkor area.  The ancient Ta Prohm was eerie, haunting and beautiful.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the most famous complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park which stretches over a massive 150 square mile area.  The temple was built but the Khmers or the traditional people of Cambodia for king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century.   A remarkable amount of the structure remains 900 years later.  Partially due to its importance  to Khmer people and also because of its surrounding  moat which provided some protection from the encroachment of the jungle.

We did not take this photo but I think it shows the complex well

Angkor Wat – the “Capital Temple” – is so much a part of Cambodia that it has been on every version of the Cambodian flag since 1863, the only building to appear on any national flag.

The temple was originally Hindu dedicated to the god VIshnu.  Later it was converted to Theravada Buddhism which continues to the present day.  The statues show elements of both religions.

The structures up close are wondrous.

The carvings are intricate and beautiful.

Ok some of the carvings are interesting and a little frightening.

Tourism is relatively new in Angkor.  The area was given World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO in 1992.  However throughout the 1990’s lodging options were very limited and it was still very dangerous to visit.  As recently as 1994, a western tourist was killed by a presumed Khmer Rouge member near the Wat.

A Man Sells Goods Around the Temples Periphery

Today things are very different over 2 million people visit annually and besides the shouting of tour guides it is a very serene peaceful place.

Aidan Plays in the Dirt by Onlookers Watching the Sunrise

When the view is so beautiful I do not think you can keep people away.

I just hope the preservation can be done in a way to sustain this view for the next millenia and beyond.