During the long busride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, I gazed at the scenery of stretched out plains with sparse palmtrees as far as the eye could see. Underway, during the several stops we made, I enjoyed the milky white seeds of the lotus plant, which were sold as snacks.
Siem Reap is extremely touristy, and it’s probably Cambodia’s most expensive town, but it’s a base from which to explore the temples of Angkor.
“Angkor” literally means “Capital City” or “Holy City", and was indeed the capital of the Khmer empire between the 9th and 12th centuries, before Phnom Penh was established as a capital in 1432. During the Angkor era, many kings ordered the construction of temples, villages and many hospitals, as well as large water reservoirs, or barays. Most notably, king Suryavarman II ordered the construction of the famed Angkor Wat, as well as a number of surrounding temples. Several decades later, Jayavarman II launched a building campaign, during which hundreds of monuments and temples were constructed in less than a 40-year period.
The art and architecture of the temples are strongly influenced by the religion of the time. For over 350 years, Hinduism was dominant, until Mahayana Buddhism was made the state religion by Jayavarman II, followed by a Hindu resurgence, during which many Buddhist monuments, statues and carvings were vandalized.
At the entrance of the park, I purchased a three-day pass, and I spent two days going from temple to temple on the back of a motorbike with a local guide. On the last day, I rented a bicycle, and cycled through the incredible heat, revisiting some temples, and visiting some unseen ones.
Angkor Wat, the most famous temple of them all, is indeed very impressive. It’s surrounded by a moat and a large exterior wall. After going through the gate, approaching the temple along the long walkway, the five beehive-like towers seem to rise out of the structure. When you finally stand in the inner courtyard, you feel tiny indeed. The steps leading up to the towers are very, very steep, but you are rewarded with a spectacular view of the surrounding jungle once you stand at the top. The long walls of the temple complex are covered with bas-reliefs and nearly 2000 Apsara carvings, of mythological celestial nymphs. There are incredibly detailed reliefs depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology, and historical wars.
Even more stunning than Angkor Wat was, in my opinion, Bayon. It is a massive temple, with hundreds of large smiling faces, more than 2 meters tall, carved out of big slabs of stone. Inside, there is a maze of corridors and small plazas, and bas-reliefs on the exterior walls, depicting battle scenes including the historical sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham, from a neighbouring state in the south of Vietnam. There are also extensive and intruiging carvings depicting scenes of everyday life, including market scenes, cockfighting, chess games and even childbirth.
The monastic complex of Ta Phrom is fascinating in the way how it has slowly been overtaken by the surrounding jungle. Massive fig and silk-cotton trees grow from the towers and corridors, and have knocked down walls, leaving much of the complex in ruins. Its dark corridors are quiet, standing in the open plazas you hear the sounds of the jungle, as you look at the giant trees, their roots thicker than a man’s waist.
There are too many temples to see, each with their own distinct style, religious influence and historical significance. Although three days only allowed me to see a fraction of the number of temples, it was an amazing experience. As you walk around in this old city, you cannot help but wish to be transported back in time, to see Angkor in its full glory, to experience daily life in this advanced, thriving culture.
The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://blog.fmkworld.org/wp-trackback.php/55
No comments yet.
Leave a comment
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.